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There are many reasons why you may want to quickly dry up your breast milk supply. This process of drying up breast milk is called lactation suppression.
Whatever the case, weaning slowly and without stress is best for both you and your baby. The ideal time to wean is when both the lactating parent and the infant are ready.
Sometimes, you have to discontinue breastfeeding more quickly than you wish. Several factors will affect how long it takes for your milk to dry up, including your baby’s age and how much milk your body’s making.
Some people may stop producing over just a few days. For others, it may take several weeks for their milk to dry up completely. It’s also possible to experience let-down sensations or leaking for months after suppressing lactation.
Weaning gradually is recommended, but it may not always be feasible. That said, abrupt weaning may be uncomfortable and lead to infection or other medical issues. Speak with your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant about your options before trying any of these methods.
Your milk can slow on its own if you don’t breastfeed or stimulate your breasts. Depending on how long you’ve been breastfeeding, it may take time.
Keep these tips in mind when trying this method:
- Wear a supportive bra that holds your breasts in place.
- Use ice packs and over-the-counter pain (OTC) medications to help with pain and inflammation.
- Hand express milk to ease engorgement. Do this sparingly so you don’t continue to stimulate production.
Not much is known about the safety of using sage if your infant consumes your breastmilk after you’ve consumed sage.
You should start with a small amount of sage and see how your body reacts. Herbal teas containing sage are available. These could easily be diluted until you find an amount that works best for you.
According to the 2014 article, other herbs that have the potential to dry up breast milk include:
Little is known about the effect of these herbs on infants, but some can be dangerous to a baby. Because herbal substances can cause negative side effects for you or your baby, you should talk with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant before using these methods.
Cabbage leaves may suppress lactation when used for long periods of time, though more studies are needed.
To use cabbage:
- Take apart and wash the leaves of a green cabbage.
- Put the leaves in a container and put the container in the refrigerator to chill.
- Place one leaf over each breast before putting on a bra.
- Change leaves once they’ve wilted, or about every two hours.
The leaves may help to reduce swelling as your milk supply diminishes. They’re also used to reduce symptoms of engorgement in early breastfeeding.
Try it: Shop for cabbage.
Progestin-only birth control doesn’t necessarily impact supply. Contraceptive pills that contain the hormone estrogen, on the other hand, may work well for suppressing lactation.
These effects are even notable after milk supply is well-established.
Not everyone will experience these suppressive effects, but many will. Talk with your medical provider about the recommended timing for starting a pill containing estrogen when you’re postpartum.
Birth control isn’t approved for this use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it may be prescribed in certain situations. This is known as off-label drug use.
Off-label drug use
Off-label drug use means a drug that’s approved by the FDA for one purpose is used for a different purpose that hasn’t yet been approved. However, a doctor can still use the drug for that purpose. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients. So, your doctor can prescribe a drug however they think is best for your care.
In addition, taking the daily maximum dose of this medication didn’t adversely affect babies who continued breastfeeding as lactation was being suppressed. The maximum dose is 60 mg, four times each day (maximum 240mg in any 24-hour period).
Talk to your healthcare professional before you take any OTC medication while breastfeeding. Sudafed is used off-label to dry up breast milk and may cause irritability in breastfed infants.
Try it: Shop for Sudafed.
More recent studies, including ones from a 2017 literature review, have presented conflicting information regarding the effectiveness of this option.
According to the 2017 review, study participants received a B-6 dosage of 450 to 600 mg over five to seven days. Two of the studies included found that vitamin B-6 was effective in suppressing lactation, but the other five studies did not.
There’s not much known about the negative effects of taking too much vitamin B-1 or B-12, or how long it’s safe to take elevated doses.
However, at doses of more than 200mg per day, vitamin B-6 can cause a loss of feeling in the arms and legs. In some cases, with prolonged use, this effect can become permanent.
You should talk with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant before starting a new vitamin supplement.
This drug isn’t approved for this use by the FDA, but may be prescribed off-label. Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks.
Some people see their milk dry up after just one dose of medication. Others may need additional doses.
Not much is known about the safety of cabergoline for breastfed infants whose lactating parents took cabergoline. You should talk with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant before taking it.
Some milk-suppressing medications you may have heard of — such as bromocriptine — are no longer recommended for this use because of long-term side effects.
Women also used to get a shot of high-dose estrogen to stop milk production. This practice has stopped due to blood clotting risks.
The following are some methods you may have heard about anecdotally, but which are unproven or potentially dangerous.
Binding means to tightly wrap the breasts. Breast binding has been used throughout history to help women stop producing breast milk.
While the engorgement symptoms for both groups didn’t differ significantly over the first 10 days, the binding group did experience more pain and leakage overall. As a result, researchers don’t recommend binding.
A supportive bra or a gentle binding helps better support the tender breasts when moving and can reduce the discomfort.
2. Restricting fluids
Breastfeeding parents are often told to stay hydrated to maintain their milk supplies. You may wonder if restricting fluid intake may have the opposite effect. This method isn’t well studied.
Researchers have discovered that increasing fluids may not actually increase supply. Without clear evidence that drinking more increases (or decreases) supply, it’s best to stay hydrated regardless.
If you become pregnant while breastfeeding, your milk supply or the taste of your milk may change. Breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League explains that it’s common to see a drop in supply between the fourth and fifth months of pregnancy.
Since the changes vary by individual, pregnancy isn’t a reliable “method” for drying up breast milk. Many people breastfeed successfully throughout their pregnancy.
Gradual weaning is generally the safest plan, when possible.
How long it takes for milk to dry up depends on the method you try and how long you’ve been breastfeeding. It may take just a few days, or up to several weeks or months, depending on your method of lactation suppression and your current supply.
Even after most of your milk is gone, you may still produce some milk for months after you wean. If your breast milk comes back in without any reason, talk to your medical team.
Abruptly stopping breastfeeding does come with the risk of engorgement and the potential for blocked milk ducts or infection.
You may need to express some milk to relieve the feeling of engorgement. However, the more milk you express, the longer it’ll take to dry up.
Lactation suppression can be uncomfortable at times, but if you experience pain and other worrisome symptoms, call your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant.
Sometimes, a plugged duct will lead to breast tenderness. Gently massage the area while expressing or breastfeeding.
Other symptoms of a breast infection include:
Sometimes, oral antibiotics are recommended to help treat this condition before it becomes more serious.
You can also contact a certified lactation consultant. These professionals are trained in all things breastfeeding and can suggest different methods or help troubleshoot any issues you’re having.
Drying up your milk supply is a highly individual decision and is sometimes necessary for a variety of reasons.
If you’re weaning due to a medical condition (or other reasons), but still want to provide breast milk for a baby, there are milk banks across the United States and Canada. You can find one through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).
The breast milk is tested and pasteurized so it’s safe for consumption. These organizations also take donations from parents who’ve either lost a child or otherwise wish to donate their milk.