After you’ve made the decision to wean your baby, your breasts may be the last on board with the idea.
Even though you’re no longer giving your baby breast milk, you’ll continue producing it. This could continue for some time. It’s best for you and for your baby to wean gradually by increasing the time between breast-feeding episodes, and shortening feedings. You may also replace one to two feedings with formula or solids over a few days to a few weeks until there’s no more breast-feeding.
But sometimes, this isn’t an option if a mother and child are separated or the mother is very ill. Abrupt weaning is not recommended. If you’ve weaned suddenly, follow these tips to slow and eventually stop your milk production.
How should you dry up breast milk supply?
When your baby is no longer draining your breasts regularly, you may notice that they feel uncomfortably full. They could also feel swollen or lumpy.
Your breasts will produce milk faster when they’re being emptied on a consistent schedule, so after you’ve weaned your baby, try pumping or hand-expressing only as much milk as you need to relieve the sensation of being overly full. Doing so will reduce the chances that you’ll develop a plugged duct or a breast infection like mastitis.
It may be tempting, but avoid emptying your breasts completely. Instead, allow most of the milk to remain in the breast. It’s filled with a specific kind of peptide that will signal milk glands to cease production of breast milk.
What to expect after weaning your baby
At first, your breasts may feel swollen and uncomfortable every few hours, especially during times when you used to breast-feed. This may last for several weeks, depending on how much you were breast-feeding.
Don’t use heat on engorged breasts. A cold compress will reduce swelling in the milk glands and ducts. It’ll make you feel better, too.
Binding the breasts used to be recommended to help dry up existing milk and stop production. This is a dated practice that can result in plugged ducts and breast infections. Instead of wearing a breast binder, wear a supportive bra that is snug, but not tight.
Finding relief from breast discomfort after weaning
Engorgement is a common problem when weaning. Because it usually self-resolves fairly quickly, there is not a lot of research about what management techniques work best. If you still notice discomfort after lightly pumping or hand-expressing to relieve engorgement, you can also try the following:
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce swelling and pain. Check with your doctor before taking any medication.
- Cabbage leaf compresses are a popular remedy for reducing swelling and decreasing milk production.
Cabbage leaf compresses are often recommended when a woman’s milk comes in soon after delivery, and she’s experiencing painful engorgement. It may sound bizarre, and there is little clinical research behind this treatment, but many women have found cabbage leaf compresses helpful in relieving engorgement due to oversupply. That makes them effective in the beginning stages of breast-feeding, and during the weaning process, too.
How to make a cabbage leaf compress
- To use cabbage leaf compresses, begin with clean, refrigerated cabbage leaves. Note: Green or red cabbage can be used, but be aware that red cabbage may leave stains on your bra or top.
- You can choose to leave the cabbage leaves whole (as long as you remove the large central stem portion), or tear them into smaller pieces.
- Apply them directly to the breast inside the bra, and leave them there until the leaves become warm and wilt.
- Replaced wilted leaves with fresh, cool new leaves as needed.
During the weaning stage, regular applications of cabbage leaves can help reduce swelling and discomfort. They may also decrease your milk supply.
If you don’t have any cabbage leaves handy, regular cold compresses are effective as well. Try a bag of frozen peas or soft gel ice packs. Wrap them in a light cloth and lay them across your breasts for up to 20 minutes throughout the day.
How long will you continue producing breast milk?
Some women find that they continue leaking breast milk long after weaning their babies. Remember, it took your body and breasts nine months to prepare for lactation. It makes sense that they don’t immediately return to their prepregnancy state after your baby weans.
If you notice that your breasts are leaking months or even a year after breast-feeding, it likely isn’t a problem. Signs of a potential medical issue include:
- breasts are still swollen, hard, or tender
- breasts are producing a lot of milk and continue months after weaning
In some cases, pituitary, uterine, and ovarian tumors may cause excessive milk production in a woman who has already weaned her baby. This is very uncommon, but speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing the symptoms listed above.
Gradually weaning your baby will help your milk supply decrease naturally. If you stop suddenly, be prepared for your breasts to continue producing milk for some time. Express or pump for comfort, use cold compresses on your breasts, and wear a supportive bra that isn’t too snug.
Pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help reduce swelling. Keep in mind that the process of halting milk production will take time.