When it comes to breastfeeding, sometimes enough is enough for you, and you just want your boobs back. I totally get it. And other times, your baby may even lose interest before you can cut them off. When you’re trying to wean, the fullness and heaviness of your breasts may be too much to bear at times, and you may be looking for some quick relief as soon as possible. You could be wondering what the fastest way to dry up your breast milk is, so you can have your body and life back as soon as you can — and for that pain to go away. Plus, how long should it take, theoretically, anyway?
As with any method, every woman is different, and there are multiple factors to consider when you’re ready to start the weaning process. Angie Natero, resident nurse and international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) with a bachelor of science in nursing, says it depends on how much milk was being produced and how long the mother has been breastfeeding for. Kristin Gourley, IBCLC at Lactation Link, tells Romper via email that in general, breast milk can take “a month or more to completely dry up once all breastfeeding and pumping has been stopped.” Breastfeeding counselor, and labor and postpartum doula Megan Davidson, PhD, breaks it down even further: “If you already had a very low supply or have slowly weaned over months, it might be very easy to stop lactating. It could feel largely resolved within days. If you have an oversupply and want to more abruptly stop lactating, it might have to be a slower process, stretched out over a few weeks.”
Before you go turkey once you’re ready to stop your breastfeeding journey, Davidson cautions moms not to rush. “While I have helped a lot of people dry up their milk supply, I do not always prioritize speed since the safest way to dry up milk supply is often more gradual,” she says. Natero warns it should be a gradual process, because if you force it too quickly, it’s not safe for the mom, and it’s not natural. “I really like to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis with clients who want to stop lactating, and often this means moving a little slower,”
As far as how to go about “drying up” your milk supply faster, Davidson says that simply stopping nursing altogether is a great first step, as breastfeeding is what's stimulating more milk producing in the first place. "This often means people will replace nursing with pumping or they’ll slowly drop the number of times that they are nursing over the course of a few weeks,” she says. As far as other tips and tricks, Davidson mentions a “culinary approach.” “Cold cabbage leaves in your bra for most of the day, and drinking lots of tea brewed from sage leaves can help a great deal,” she says. Additionally, she advises, going on birth control pills will reduce your supply drastically, but only do this if you were planning on going on the pill anyway.
Gourley adds that some moms have found success in taking over-the-counter pseudoephedrine medicine in normal doses, and also recommends eating sage or even peppermint, if you’re trying to take a holistic approach. “There are also prescription medications that can help you dry up, but they do have side effects that you should talk to your doctor about,” she says. If you decide to take this route, make sure you find out what effects the meds will have on you and if traces of them will make their way into your breastmilk, and eventually, your baby.
And since you know that supply meets demand, tell your breasts that they don’t need to be producing any more milk by pumping or breastfeeding less and less frequently (gradually, of course).
A couple of other tricks you could try, according to Natero, are, sticking to bras without underwire, and introducing ice packs: hold them to your breasts for 30 minutes, and then off for one or two hours.
As for what not to do: Gourley says not to bind your breasts with anything. While tight bras have the reputation of affecting milk supply and obstructing milk flow, which sounds favorable if you’re trying to stop producing milk, they could also potentially lead to clogged ducts or mastitis. She also says to not “check” for your milk by squeezing your breasts, because by doing this you are essentially stimulating them, and that will only encourage them to keep producing milk. In fact, “any breast or nipple stimulation could make it take longer, including that in sexual relations,” she says. So tell your partner to back off for a little while longer if you’re on the path to a breastfeeding-free lifestyle.
So when you’re ready to stop producing breast milk, the first step is to assess your current supply and map out a plan that works for you. If you’ve followed the advice above and still find that you haven’t made much of a dent, consult a lactation consultant or doctor (if you’re considering taking medications for weaning) to figure out what is safe for you and Baby.
Angie Natero, BSN, Resident Nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
Megan Davidson, PhD, Breastfeeding counselor, labor and postpartum doula, author of Your Birth Plan: A Guide to Navigating All of Your Choices in Childbirth
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