There are many reasons you may want to quickly dry up your breast milk supply. Whatever the case, try to wean slowly and without stress for the mother or baby. The ideal time to wean is when mother and infant both want to. The process of drying up breast milk is called lactation suppression.
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 how old your baby is and how much milk your body is making.
For some women, you may stop producing over just a few days. Or it may take several weeks to dry up completely. It’s also possible to experience let-down sensations or leaking for months or even years after suppressing lactation.
Weaning gradually over time is often recommended, but it may not always be a feasible option. That said, abrupt weaning may be uncomfortable and lead to infection or other medical issues. Speak with your doctor about your options before trying these methods.
1. Cold turkey
Your milk can slow on its own if you don’t breastfeed or stimulate your breasts. It may take time depending on how long you’ve been breastfeeding.
When using this method:
- Wear a supportive bra that holds your breasts in place.
- Use ice packs and over-the-counter pain medications to help with pain and inflammation.
- Hand express milk to ease engorgement, but do this sparingly so you don’t continue to stimulate production.
Sage may help with weaning or oversupply issues, though there are few studies to support this claim.
Use dried sage (Salvia officinalis) in the amount of 1/4 teaspoon, three times a day for 1 to 3 days to see results.
Mix the herb into food or drink if you don’t want to take it plain. You may also make a tea by infusing 1 tablespoon of dried sage into 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 to 15 minutes, and drink a cup 2 to 6 times a day.
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 it in the refrigerator to chill.
- Apply one leaf to each breast tucked into the bra.
- Change leaves once they have wilted, or about every two hours.
The leaves may help to reduce swelling as your milk supply diminishes, and they’re also used to reduce symptoms of engorgement in early breastfeeding.
4. Birth control
Progestin-only birth control does not 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.
Although not all women will experience these suppressive effects, many will.
In a small study on eight lactating women, a single 60-milligram (mg) dose of pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) was shown to significantly reduce milk production. Not only that, but taking the daily maximum dose of this medication, 60 mg, four times each day, was shown to not adversely affect babies who continued nursing as lactation was being suppressed. Before you take any over-the-counter medication while breastfeeding, talk to your doctor.
6. Vitamin B
High doses of vitamins B-6, B-1, and B-12 (pyridoxine) may work well to suppress lactation if you haven’t yet breastfed your infants. A 1970s study showed that this method produced no unpleasant side effects for 96 percent of the participants compared to 76.5 percent who received a placebo. The recommended dosage is 450 to 600 mg over five to seven days.
However, other studies have presented conflicting information regarding the effectiveness of this option.
7. Other drugs
Women used to get a shot of high-dose estrogen to stop milk production. This practice has stopped due to blood clotting risks. Cabergoline is another drug that can be used for milk suppression. It works by stopping the body’s production of prolactin. This drug is not approved for this use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it may be used in certain situations.
Your doctor can explain the benefits versus the risks. Some women see their milk dry up after just one dose of medication. Others may need four doses, usually divided over two days.
Previous medications you may have heard of for suppressing breastmilk were removed from the market because of long-term side effects.
The following are some methods you may have heard about anecdotally, but which are unproven or potentially dangerous.
Breast binding has been used throughout history to help women stop producing breastmilk. Binding means to tightly wrap the breasts.
Researchers compared binding to wearing a supportive bra in a study on non-breastfeeding, postpartum women. While the breast engorgement symptoms with both groups didn’t differ significantly over the first 10 days, the binding group did experience more pain and leakage overall. Researchers do not recommend binding for these reasons. A supportive bra or a gentle binding helps better support the tender breasts when moving and can reduce the discomfort.
2. Restricting fluids
Breastfeeding women 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 is not well studied.
Researchers have discovered that increasing fluids does not actually increase supply. Without clear evidence over whether drinking more increases or decreases supply, it’s best to stay hydrated regardless.
If you become pregnant while breastfeeding, your supply or taste of milk may change. Breastfeeding 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 are so individual, pregnancy isn’t a reliable “method” for drying up breast milk, and many women breastfeed successfully throughout their pregnancy.
How long it takes for milk to dry up depends on the method you try and how long you’ve been nursing. 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 up to two years after you wean. If your breastmilk comes back in without any reason, talk to your doctor.
Abruptly stopping nursing does come with risk of engorgement and the potential for blocked milk ducts or infection. You may need to express some milk to relieve feeling engorged. The more milk you express, the longer it will take to dry up.
Lactation suppression can be uncomfortable at times, but if you experience pain and other worrisome symptoms, call your doctor.
Sometimes, the breast becomes tender with a plugged duct. Gently massage the area while expressing or nursing. Contact your lactation consultant or doctor if you cannot unblock a milk duct within 12 hours or if you have a fever. A fever is a sign of a breast infection, like mastitis. Other symptoms include:
- warmth or redness
- general malaise
- breast swelling
Oral antibiotics can help treat this condition before it becomes more serious.
You may also contact a certified lactation consultant. These professionals are trained in all things breastfeeding, and can suggest different methods and 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 are 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, like 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 mothers who have either lost a child or otherwise wish to donate their milk.