Do you have to stop breastfeeding? Perhaps your baby recently weaned. Or maybe you don’t even want to breastfeed! This guide has got you covered – everything you need to know about how to dry up milk supply – hopefully in a pain-free matter!
Dry Up Breast Milk Supply
At some point or another, most mothers want to know how to dry up their milk supply.
For some, it’s because they are choosing not to breastfeed, and they want to stop the lactating process as quickly as possible.
For others, they have an oversupply – and accompanying downsides to that (recurrent clogged ducts, mastitis, or an overwhelming letdown, to name a few), and they need to lower their supply.
And for many, as their nursing journey winds down (at any point), they just want their bodies to stop lactating.
There is any number of reasons why a mom might want to dry up her milk – fast or slow – and there is a lot of misinformation out there.
In this post, I will be sharing lots of information about drying up milk supply – whether it’s because you don’t want to breastfeed, you need to lower your supply, or maybe your baby has just weaned!
I hope that this will be helpful! Please leave any comments below with additional questions.
Stop Lactation in The Beginning
Regardless of your plans to breastfeed or formula feed, your body is designed to initiate lactation as soon as the placenta is expelled from the uterus.
I talked about this in the past in this post – When Does Milk Come in? 8 Secrets for Establishing Milk Supply – but it is a very biological process. Even if you don’t stimulate the breast, once that placenta is out of your body, your body (in almost all situations) will start to produce milk.
However, according to Kelly Mom, women who frequently latch and do skin to skin in those first few days have higher milk production on days 3 and 4.
Which is great – but the question is, how do you stop lactation when you don’t want to breastfeed from the start (or if, tragically, you had a miscarriage or stillbirth).
Well, first off – don’t pump or latch the baby! If the breast doesn’t get stimulation, it will produce PIF (prolactin inhibiting factor), which tells the body that milk isn’t needed (source).
But still, you may still have some milk coming in for a while.
There are several suggestions that you can do right after birth:
- Wear a supportive bra – Kindred Bravely is one of my favorite brands for newly postpartum mothers
- Put cold cabbage leaves in your bra
- Use cool compresses/ice packs to relieve pain
- Talk to a doctor or lactation consultant about using Advil or Tylenol to relieve pain.
- Do not pump! If you are super uncomfortable, hand express gently (here are some good tips on how to hand express)
Work with a Lactation Consultant
As always, I suggest working with a lactation consultant to come up with a plan for your situation – in person help is ALWAYS best, especially as you try to decrease your supply or dry up your milk.
I strongly suggest this if you are just trying to manage an oversupply and not completely dry up – it can be a delicate situation that can go south quickly.
If you don’t have access to a lactation consultant in person, you could look into an online consult with Lactation Link.
Lowering Milk Supply Due to Oversupply
As I mentioned above, oversupplies can have some rather uncomfortable side effects.
I often see women who say they are jealous of women with oversupplies…but I think the women who have had major issues associated with them will tell you it’s not a great situation to be in!
Some of the downsides to an oversupply?
- Increased risk of clogged ducts and mastitis
- Fast letdown – which can make it harder for baby to eat, increase the chance of reflux, and can cause gassier babies
- Sore nipples
- Painful letdown
- Excessive leaking
If you are struggling with an oversupply and want to get it under control, again, I would first suggest working with an IBCLC. But here are a few common suggestions:
- Block Feeding – this is the most common approach. Essentially, try limiting the baby to one breast each feeding. If you have an oversupply, one side should have plenty of milk. You should allow the baby to nurse as long as they want on that side but just limit it to that one side and try to feed every two hours or so.
- Laid Back Nursing – if your oversupply is causing a fast letdown, and in turn, causing your baby discomfort or to have trouble eating. Sometimes, an oversupply can be due to a baby not having a good enough latch, thus not transferring enough milk, and this can be a more natural way for baby to latch.
Here is a great resource about oversupplies, problems associated with them and what to do.
How Long Does it Take to Dry Up Milk Supply?
The process to dry up milk will vary from woman to woman. There are women who have reported being able to lactate for years after they last nursed!
While you may still produce milk for a while after you’ve gone through the process of drying it up, you should see an improvement within a few days or weeks – just depending on how long you’ve been nursing, if you stopped abruptly, and how your supply was.
Personally, I weaned both of my boys very slowly, and I didn’t have any engorgement or leaking immediately after I weaned. However, if you were to suddenly go from nursing 10 times a day to not nursing at all, it’s going to take a lot longer to dry up.
If you find that you are leaking a lot, just use some nursing pads for a little while.
Drying Up Milk Supply Quickly
We occasionally get questions in our breastfeeding support group on Facebook about drying up quickly.
While we suggest going slow, for some, this isn’t an option.
Some women have to wean abruptly for one reason or another, and it can be a very painful process.
If you have to dry up your milk supply quickly, I would suggest working with your lactation consultant to come up with the best things to do.
Drying Up Milk Supply After Weaning
When it comes to weaning, I always recommend the slow and easy approach. I nursed into toddlerhood, and we did a “don’t ask, don’t refuse” approach.
This is what I did with both of my boys, and when they had their final day of nursing, I didn’t notice any engorgement or leakage.
When you wean slowly, your body is given a little bit of time to adjust to the new supply and demand, which is why people generally have less problems.
However, if your baby is still nursing a fair amount when you decide to wean, here are some tips to help reduce the pain:
Reducing Pain While Drying Up Milk Supply
These are very similar to the tips above for stopping your milk from fully coming in.
- Have a well-fitting and supportive bra. However, you should not bind your chest, as this can encourage clogged ducts.
- Cold Cabbage Leaves on your breasts are a popular remedy
- Cold compresses (heat may temporarily help the pain, but it encourages milk flow, so try to avoid the heat). I always like the Lansinoh therapearls – you can make them hot or cold, and they fit snuggly inside your bra.
- Tylenol or Advil can help relieve any pain or discomfort
What to avoid
When you are trying to dry up your milk supply, there are a few things you should try to avoid. Unfortunately, these are some things that may temporarily help with pain, but they can just make the process a lot longer and drawn out.
- Long, hot showers – heat encourages milk flow, and long exposure to heat while drying up your milk will end up hurting you more than helping.
- Pumping – it can be really tempting to pump to relieve pressure, but this just tells your body to keep pumping. You can hand express a little bit, which can be gentler.
- Massage – again, this is just another way to encourage milk flow.
Milk Supply Medications
There are some medicinal ways to dry up breast milk. While some of these are over the counter, you should ALWAYS consult with your medical professional before doing any of these.
In the past (so, perhaps your mother or grandmother – I have seen them prescribe them in Call The Midwife!), women were given certain prescription medications to dry up their milk supply or even prevent it from coming in. However, these are no longer prescribed because of potentially dangerous side effects, and their high doses of estrogen.
Birth Control Pills
Women who are breastfeeding typically are not supposed to take birth control medications that contain estrogen, because it can cause you to dry up or have a big drop in milk supply. Sometimes, they will be prescribed for moms who are having trouble drying up.
Breastfeeding mothers are also told not to use decongestants – because they not only dry up your sinuses, but they dry up your milk. Some mothers have success with taking these to dry up their milk.
Natural Ways to Dry Up Milk
Of course, people always want to know some natural solutions (which is great!). Here are a few things that can assist with that.
- Sage and Peppermint – these can be taken in any of their various forms – teas, in food, or even as an essential oil. I know people who have mixed peppermint oil in with a carrier oil or lotion to rubbed it on the breasts to decrease supply. This peppermint roll-on is a good option. I highly recommend essential oils from Rocky Mountain Oils.
- No More Milk Tea – This is a tea created by Earth Mama, Angel Baby specifically for mothers who are trying to dry up their milk supply.
- Cabbage Leaves – I have already mentioned this one, but it is really one that tops the list for many people!