Drying up breast milk takes time, but it can be more comfortable with these tips.
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How To Dry Up Breast Milk, With Tips From Lactation Consultations

Your best friend: Time.

Whether you just gave birth and have decided to use formula or you’re a year into breastfeeding and ready to wean, figuring out how to dry up breast milk can be a bit confusing. A quick Google search will give you countless tips and tricks to sort through, and it’s impossible to know which ones really work or have the blessing of medical experts.

While there’s no magic pill that will *poof* away your milk supply and let you skip that uncomfortable engorged phase, there are both natural and medication-based techniques you can try at home. How to dry up breast milk, and how long it takes, will depend on how long you’ve been breastfeeding or pumping, as well as your body and hormone levels. So, if your first attempts don’t seem to help, don’t be afraid to try something different or reach out to your doctor or lactation consultant with questions.

How long does it take to dry up breast milk?

Drying up your milk (which just means quickly stopping your milk production) can take a different amount of time for everyone, experts say. The biggest determining factor is how much milk you’re producing at the time you decide to stop. The less breast milk your body is trying to make, the quicker it shut down production.

“It’s very individual. It tends to take about 40 days on average, but some people can still express a little fluid even years afterward,” says Lynnette Hafken, MA, IBCLC, Director of Support Services at the Fed is Best Foundation.

“It’s very different for women who have decided not to breastfeed from the very start. For them, it takes a much shorter time than a woman who’s fully breastfeeding and suddenly stops, or a woman who slowly weans her baby off,” says Sherri Mendelson, PhD, IBCLC, nurse scientist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center and lactation instructor at California State University Northridge.

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Mendelson explained that, for example, if you’ve been breastfeeding for six months and wean your baby by cutting down one feeding every few days, it could take about a month to dry up.

“Typically when people choose not to breastfeed, they prefer that the cessation of milk production be as quick as possible. When someone is a year into it, they could use the same methods if they want to or have an urgent need to dry up, but it’s more comfortable and easier on their bodies to do so gradually,” Hafken says.

When your breast milk does finish drying up and your body stops producing more, Hafken says any unexpressed breast milk is simply reabsorbed by the body.

Does it hurt?

It depends. If you are producing a lot of milk, quitting cold turkey will likely be quite uncomfortable and painful. The trick is, you need to slow down milk production first to avoid engorgement and mastitis. But if you are producing a small amount of milk — barely enough to cover a feeding a day, for example, then drying up that breast milk shouldn’t take very long or feel very uncomfortable.

How to dry up breast milk naturally

Don’t pump or nurse to express milk

If you’re trying to dry up your breast milk ASAP, experts say doing it the old-fashioned way is the fastest, for most people. “The fastest and most natural way to dry up milk is to leave milk in the breasts,” says Hafken. “Milk remaining in the breast sends the signal to slow down, and eventually stop, milk production. It does this by the accumulation of a protein in the milk called FIL (feedback inhibitor of lactation) and other regulatory hormones.”

Wear a tight-fitting bra

Of course, not feeding your baby or pumping can lead to engorgement and discomfort. Hafken recommends wearing a supportive bra, taking an anti-inflammatory medicine, like ibuprofen, and using cold compresses to reduce pain and swelling. You can also try this technique:

Encourage fluid drainage

“Lying on one’s back and gently stroking the breasts from the nipple back towards the armpit and chest wall can encourage fluid drainage and help reduce pressure without increasing milk production,” Hafken says. “Use gentle strokes like you would use to pet an animal — never massage or firm manipulation of the breast tissue — which can increase swelling and pain.”


Use old cabbage leaves

Mendelson seconds wearing a tight-fitting bra while drying up, along with another popular natural technique: putting cold cabbage leaves on your boobs. Yep, it’s a thing.

“I’ve seen cold cabbage leaves used many times with success,” she says. “It’s all about, ‘try this and see if it works for you.’ Cold packs put on the breasts can help dry up the milk. Cabbage leaves fit around the breast a little bit easier. Take them out of the fridge. Take a rolling pin and roll it over the leaves to break up the substances in the leaves, and put them inside your bra.”

Hafken notes it’s important to thoroughly wash cabbage before using it this way, as it may be harboring the bacteria listeria.

Consider herbal treatments

If you’re considering adding herbal teas or supplements to your diet to try and dry up — many brands sell products including peppermint, parsley, and sage that claim to slow milk production — just know it probably shouldn’t be the only method you try.

“People certainly talk about herbal treatments, and wonder, ‘If I drink this with that in it, will it help?’ How effective they really are is not well proven scientifically,” Mendelson says.

Medications to dry up breast milk

If drying up breast milk naturally isn’t cutting it, sometimes taking over-the-counter medications can help. “Medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can be used, but can have undesirable side effects for some people,” says Hafken. “Benadryl is probably the gentlest medication with regard to side effects.”

Benadryl is considered safe to take while nursing, if your baby is still breastfeeding, but Hafken cautions that it can make you drowsy (which, if you’re already sleep-deprived, might be harder to cope with than usual). She added that Sudafed is sometimes brought up as an alternative OTC medication to help dry up breast milk, but that there isn’t much evidence supporting its effectiveness. The National Institutes of Health report that it does decrease milk supply. They add that, if taken while breastfeeding, Sudafed is “unlikely to harm the nursing infant,” but it can make your baby more irritable.

You might hear about two prescription medications used to dry up breast milk, bromocriptine and cabergoline. Hafken says these are rarely used anymore because the side effects can be severe. If you have questions about taking them or their safety, discuss them with your doctor.

How you go about drying up your breast milk depends on your goals. Would you rather take the slow and steady path to avoid engorgement, or stop as soon as possible and accept your fate? There’s no right or wrong way, and these expert tips can help make the process a little easier, whatever it looks like for you.


Lynnette Hafken, MA, IBCLC, Director of Support Services at the Fed is Best Foundation

Sherri Mendelson, PhD, RNC, CNS, IBCLC, nurse scientist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center and lactation instructor at California State University Northridge