Some mothers choose not to breastfeed their babies, and so need to undertake the process of drying up their milk supply, known as lactation suppression. Other mothers may breastfeed for a period of time before deciding to wean. Drying up milk after birth or weaning may take about a week, although you may notice a small amount of leaking milk for several weeks. Although drugs are no longer prescribed for drying up breast milk, there are things you can to do help with the process and alleviate the discomfort.
Pressure and Support
While your breasts are adjusting and discontinuing the production of milk, apply pressure and support. Wear a well-fitting, supportive bra at all times, including while sleeping, advises the Children's Health Network. In the past, many women would attempt to stop milk production by binding their breasts with a towel or stretchy bandage. However, medical professionals now caution against binding breasts as doing so may lead to plugged ducts and mastitis.
Apply cool cabbage leaves to your breasts to relieve some of the discomfort. Choose crisp, fresh whole cabbage leaves. Wash and dry the cabbage leaves and place one leaf onto each breast directly on the skin. Place your bra on over the cabbage leaves. If you wish to keep your nipples dry, cut holes in the leaves and apply them without your bra. Leave the cabbage leaves on your breasts for 20 to 30 minutes and then remove them. Repeat this treatment several times each day for pain relief.
It's typical for the breasts to become hard and tender while drying up milk, known as engorgement. You may feel tempted to relieve some of this pressure by manually expressing a small amount of milk. However, expressing breast milk will stimulate more milk production. As uncomfortable as the fullness and tenderness can feel, it's best to avoid expressing milk, if at all possible. Avoid contact with your nipples, as this can also stimulate milk supply, cautions the Maricopa OBGYN physician group.
Dried sage or sage tea can be effective for drying up milk, offers lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata, founder of the Kellymom website. Check with a physician or lactation consultant for dosage recommendations of dried sage, also called Salvia officinalis. You shouldn’t need to take sage for more than three days. Other spices such as parsley, oregano, peppermint and jasmine can also have a negative impact on milk supply as does caffeine.
Other Pain Relief Measures
Apply cold compresses to your breasts if they feel swollen and painful, advises the Mayo Clinic website. Leave the ice packs on your breasts for 15- to 20-minute intervals, repeating every one to two hours during the day. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be effective for reducing your discomfort during the worst of the process. Always speak with your health care provider before taking nonprescription medications to ensure that you can safely take them.
Avoid Camphor Oil
While camphor oil compresses used to be recommended for relief from the pain of engorgement, this practice is no longer recommended by healthcare professionals. Camphor oil is poisonous if ingested and was never recommended for use when the baby was still occasionally breastfeeding. Professionals now point mothers to the many other forms of relief rather than this outdated and dangerous practice.