In this guide:
As a mother, the time will come when the milk bar is having its going out of business sale, and everything must go.
Although the intimate moments that breastfeeding provided you and your baby with will be sorely missed, taking back your boobs is pretty exciting. Unfortunately, lactation suppression isn’t as easy as flipping the sign from Open to Closed.
Drying up your milk supply will happen, but it won’t always be pretty or painless. There are plenty of outdated or misguided methods that can hinder the drying up process, further prolonging it or even leading to health concerns.
Luckily, there is an equal number of herbs and other practical techniques that can ease you through the process of drying up your breast milk.
How Long Will It Take
Alas, there is no definitive answer to this question. It can depend on a lot of factors, including how long you have breastfed and with what daily frequency.
By tapering off on feeding or pumping sessions, many mothers, even those who began the process with a full supply, will find themselves able to go without expressing any milk within two to three weeks. (source)
Can Lactation Suppression Cause Health Problems?
You might notice your magnificent milk-makers acquiring a lumpy or hard feeling as your supply is drying up. Pain and/or an uncomfortable sensation of engorgement is also a common complaint among mothers, especially with those who have opted to go cold turkey (which is not something I personally recommend doing).
There is the possibility of slightly more serious side effects. These include:
- Clogged duct(s);
If you begin feeling like you have the flu, or notice excessive swelling or red streaks on your breasts, it is time to call the doctor; you are probably going to need a round of antibiotics to get back to feeling your best. (source)
Practical Techniques for Drying Up Breast Milk
Going through the drying up process is not something you need to (or should) do cold turkey, nor do you need to suffer through every moment without relief. Here are some simple, totally practical ways to help your journey along:
Taper Down Technique
While it can be tempting to just be done with all things breast milk related, you are going to notice a significant improvement in your life if you take the slow road.
- If You Breastfeed — Gradually reduce your child’s breastfeeding sessions by eliminating one breast milk meal, preferably one where she seems to suckle the least amount from you. Continue this over the course of several weeks, giving your baby (and you) a few days to adjust to each change. Before you know it, your body will naturally figure out that it is time to turn off the milk taps. (source)
- If You Pump — Begin to spread your pumping further out over the day. So, instead of pumping every three hours, do so every four hours, gradually increasing the time between each session. During the pumping sessions themselves, you will want to lessen the amount of milk you are expressing. Be sure to do this gradually, cutting back an ounce or two at a time. Like the breastfeeding taper technique, pumping and expressing less will signal your body to stop producing milk in the (I promise!) near future. (source)
Avoid Touching Your Breasts
Remember: there is no ‘off’ switch on your boobs; as far as your body is concerned, if your nipples are consistently being stimulated, you have a baby that needs some good eatin’.
While the taper off technique works because you are steadily decreasing the stimulation of your breasts, you probably have some everyday habits that add a bit of extra activity around your bust.
While it’s impossible to lock your breasts in a drawer while you go through the drying out process, try to avoid:
- Allowing the shower stream hit you directly in the chest (warm or hot water can trigger your let-down reflex);
- Too much breast-play in the bedroom;
- Over-expressing to relieve engorgement
Note that last bullet point said ‘over-expressing’. There is nothing wrong with occasionally expressing a small amount of milk to help with engorgement. Just remember; you want to slightly soften your breasts, not empty them. (source / source)
Invest in Good Bras
You will want something that offers plenty of support, but that is not overly tight. Feel free to wear your bras to bed during the drying up period; every bit of comfort helps!
“A Non-binding Agreement”
While breast binding was once considered a great way to dry up the ol’ breast milk, it is now known to do more harm than good. We’re talking a much bigger chance of clogged ducts or even mastitis, so let’s leave this old wives’ tale in the past. (source)
Ice, Ice, Boobies
The always dependable icepack will do wonders for reducing swelling and alleviating some of the pain that comes from engorgement. Sure, it won’t directly dry up your milk supply, but hey, a little comfort goes a long way in this whole motherhood thing.
Personally, I’m a big fan of a bag of frozen peas (but feel free to use whichever chilled veggie you prefer) for the simple fact that I can mold it to my body much easier than with a traditional ice pack.
All Natural Aides for Drying Up Breast Milk
Mother nature knows the score, and she has provided her fellow moms with plenty of all natural helping hands.
Whether you like it br
ewed in your tea or boiled in your broths, sage is known to help women reduce their milk supply. This is thought to be due to the estrogenic effect it can have on women.
The only caveat is that it must be ingested; steer clear of essential oils or lotions when you want to decrease your breast milk supply. (source)
And to think, as kids we used to turn green at the thought of cabbage. Who knew it would end up becoming an integral part of our lactation suppression efforts?
This one is simple:
- Rinse and dry some leaves from a plain green cabbage.
- Chill them in the fridge or freezer.
- Separate the leaves, scoring or gently pounding them so that their juices flow (you want these juices to come out on your breasts).
- Wrap your breasts in the leaves. Feel free to line your bra with them if that makes life easier, just leave your nipple cabbageless.
- Leave them on for twenty to thirty minutes, or until wilted.
- Repeat up to three times a day.
- Vow to never sully the good name of cabbage again.
For a little extra ‘drying up’ power, consider lining your bra cups with jasmine leaves. While still under scientific investigation, there is evidence that jasmine can help speed up the lactation suppression process. (source)
The Do’s and Don’ts of Drying Up Breast Milk
Now that the time has come where you are ready to start being done with breastfeeding, we hope the above tips will make it less convoluted than the first part of this sentence. Hey, every breastfeeding mother has been there; this is a complicated time fraught with mixed feelings and breast engorgement. That’s never a fun place to be.
At the end of the day, be sure that you are taking care of your health so that you can take care of your baby. If you ever find yourself struggling, physically or mentally, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor or lactation consultant. Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.