Stopping the Production of Breast Milk

Most drugs once used to end lactation aren't considered safe

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Whether to breastfeed or not is a very personal decision, one that new mothers make for themselves or that Mother Nature makes for them, in the case of those women who for some reason aren't able to nurse their babies. If you're a new mom-to-be or have just given birth and won't be breastfeeding, or if you've been breastfeeding exclusively or at least most of the time and have decided to stop, you'll have one challenge to deal with: Before your body realizes it no longer needs to produce milk and stops lactating, it's quite likely your breasts will become engorged.

Breast engorgement isn't pleasant. The breasts can become rock hard and even more tender to the touch than in early pregnancy. Usually, these symptoms disappear after a few days without any sort of treatment but in the meantime the pain can be excruciating and even increase the risk of mastitis, an infection that results from bacteria in a clogged milk duct. But what if you're in a hurry to get back to normal? Is there any drug you can take to move things along?

Stopping Lactation With Medication

Although in the past, new moms who didn’t breastfeed their infants were routinely prescribed medication to prevent lactation, the drugs were found to be unsafe and are no longer used. One of them, generic bromocriptine, which is sold under the brand names Cycloset and Parlodel, caused a range of unpleasant side effects ranging from dizziness and nausea to hair loss and heart attack. Some women even died after taking bromocriptine.

The same is true of a similar medication called cabergoline (once sold under the brand name Dostinex but now available only in generic form).

Surprisingly, a common decongestant, Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), may be helpful for putting a halt to lactation, according to research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2003.

The women in the study (there were only eight) reported a significant decrease in milk production after a single dose of Sudafed. Even though the research was published some time ago, using Sudafed when weaning is a popular topic among moms on parenting websites.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved Sudafed for the purpose of ending milk production, which is considered an "off-label" use of the medication. And although you don't need a prescription to purchase Sudafed (it isn't sold over-the-counter; you have to ask a pharmacist for it), you should check with your obstetrician or midwife first. Note although you don't need a prescription to buy Sudafed, it's not sold over the counter.

Easing the Pain of Engorgement

For centuries, herbalists and Eastern medicine practitioners have used certain vitamins and herbs to relieve breast engorgement. Here are few things you can try, but do consult an alternative medicine specialist before you take a supplement or herb.

  • Vitamin B6. Take 200 milligrams for five days.
  • Sage tea. You can buy this at a natural foods store or make it at home by steeping 1 teaspoon of rubbed sage in 1 cup boiling water for 15 minutes. Drink a cup of sage tea every six hours. The flavor is strong, so feel free to add milk and honey or sugar.
  • Cold cabbage leaves. BreaK off any stems and soften leaves by pressing or pounding them before applying them directly to your breasts. Don't cover your nipples, however. Change the leaves after 30 minutes.

Sources:

Aljazaf K, Hale TW, Illett KF, et al. "Pseudoephedrine: Effects on Milk Production in Women and Estimation of Infant Exposure Via Breastmilk."Br J Clin Pharmacol. Jul 2003; 56(1): 18–24.

Medline Plus, "Bromocriptine." April 15, 2017.