How to Dry up Breast Milk
Turning Off the Faucet
Whether by choice or out of necessity, many women find that they want to dry up their breastmilk. Gradual weaning is easiest but drying up quickly is also safe.
Breastfeeding rates in the United States continue to increase, but with an interesting twist. In 2011, 79 percent of newborns started breastfeeding, but only 49 percent were continuing to breastfeed at 6 months and 27 percent at a year. No matter your feelings about breastfeeding, the math says that there are significant numbers of mothers who wean their babies and may need to dry up their breast milk quickly. Maybe you are returning to work and don't want to pump, or your baby has a medical condition that requires formula feeding, or your older baby or toddler has weaned himself, or perhaps breastfeeding just didn't go the way you wanted it to. Regardless of your reasons for weaning, if you simply stop breastfeeding, your hormones will stabilize in seven to ten days, and your body will stop producing milk. Cold compresses, cold cabbage leaves, and sage teas will also help reduce your milk production.
Unless you have a significant need dry up your milk immediately, gradual weaning will be most comfortable for you and your baby. Try dropping one feeding session per week and replacing it with either a bottle or cup depending on your child's age. Starting with midday feeding sessions is often easier because children are more active during the day and less attached to these sessions. Morning and nighttime feeding sessions are often more difficult to drop because babies are used to nursing when waking up or going to sleep. Be sure to spend time cuddling with your little one while he eats or drinks, even if you aren't nursing any more.
Drying Up Quickly
If you need your milk to dry up quickly, it is safe to stop breastfeeding entirely although it can be very uncomfortable. Your milk supply works on a supply-and-demand feedback loop and if you stop breastfeeding your body will gradually stop making milk. Your breasts will become very heavy and full of milk while the hormones stabilize. Use breast pads to soak up any leaking milk and be sure to change them whenever they are wet. Wearing a supportive bra at all times can help with the pain, as can cold compresses on your breasts. You can use a pump or hand express to drain off just enough milk to keep you comfortable. As unusual as it sounds, raw cabbage leaves contain an enzyme that suppresses milk supply. Placing cold leaves in your bra is both soothing and helpful. Be sure to change and discard the leaves every few hours or when they get limp. Remember to keep drinking fluids when you are thirsty, and handle your breasts carefully as they will likely be tender or bruise easily.
When to Seek Help
While most women find that their milk dries up within week or two of stopping breastfeeding, it is typical for some women to continue to let down or leak milk for several weeks. If your breasts are particularly engorged or painful, ask your doctor about over-the-counter painkillers to help. If you develop a fever or flu-like symptoms, a red patch on your breast, or if your breasts feel hot to the touch, see your doctor. These can be symptoms of a clogged duct or mastitis. If the circumstances that led you to need to dry up your milk supply were traumatic or not your own choice, counseling or other professional support could be helpful.