How To Dry Up Breastmilk And How Long Does It Take?

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Most mothers may look for ways to dry up breast milk due to excess milk production and less need for breast milk after weaning the baby. Though breast milk can be fed to babies for up to two years, some mothers may consider stopping it before the breast milk is dried up due to personal or medical reasons. Early drying up is recommended if there are any health issues related to breastfeeding in the mother or baby.

Cessation of feeding or pumping can lead to breast engorgement and mastitis in nursing moms. Hence, it is recommended to dry up breast milk as per a lactation consultant’s recommendations.

Read on to know the reasons to dry up breast milk, the ways to do it, and the risks involved in this process.

Why Might A Mother Dry Up Breast Milk?

A breastfeeding mother may consider drying up breast milk due to the following reasons (1) (2).

  • The mother does not wish to breastfeed due to personal reasons.
  • The mother cannot breastfeed due to medical reasons.
  • The breasts have not stopped milk production despite the baby being weaned.
  • Oversupply of breast milk, also known as maternal hypergalactia or hyperlactation. This condition could lead to breast engorgement, clogged ducts, and infections such as mastitis (3).
  • The baby has abruptly stopped breastfeeding or cannot breastfeed for some other reasons.

Despite the reason to stop breastfeeding, it is best to consult a lactation expert to decide a suitable approach to dry up breast milk.

How Long Does It Take For Breast Milk To Dry Up?

It may take several weeks to months for milk to completely dry up. The time to dry up breast milk could depend on how long you have been breastfeeding, your current milk supply, and the method used for lactation suppression.

In some cases, even after cessation of milk supply, breasts may produce some milk occasionally. If your breast milk doesn’t dry up or suddenly secretes after a long gap, consult your healthcare provider to determine the possible causes.

Methods To Dry Up Breast Milk

Non-medical methods

These methods may work for some mothers. Consult a lactation expert or doctor before choosing a method.

1. Cold turkey

You can observe a gradual cessation of breastfeeding to slowly reduce breast milk supply and eventually dry up breast milk. Sudden weaning may make breasts painfully engorged and may increase the risk of breast infection (mastitis) (4). You may prevent these effects by wearing a supportive bra, using ice packs, and expressing breast milk with hands occasionally (5) (1).

2. Cabbage

Research shows topical application of cabbage leaves on the breast may help reduce breast pain and relieve engorgement (6). However, its role in suppressing breast milk still needs more research. You can wear washed and dried, cold cabbage leaves inside the bra and change them every two hours. Continue use until the breasts stop feeling too full (1).

3. Herbs

In traditional medicine, the consumption of sage tea and sage leaf extracts is recommended to reduce milk supply. The topical application of jasmine flowers and oral consumption of chasteberry reduce the prolactin levels in the body and thus minimize milk supply (7).

4. Vitamin B

A few studies note that vitamin B1, B6, and B12 could suppress breast milk supply (8). For instance, vitamin B6 may block milk lactation by suppressing the prolactin levels in nursing mothers (9). However, clinical data supporting these effects are inconsistent and insufficient (10).

5. Binding

Breast binding is an age-old technique to cease breast milk production. However, this method doesn’t prove to be any more effective in drying up milk than other methods. Moreover, breast binding may increase breast pain due to breast engorgement.
Some other non-medical methods that may reduce breast milk secretion are decreasing breastfeeding or pumping, avoiding hot showers, and preventing massaging and stimulating the breasts.

Medical methods

Using medicines to dry up breast milk may have side effects. If you breastfeed occasionally, then the baby could be affected, too. Consult a doctor before trying any medicine for drying breast milk.

6. Sudafed

Pseudoephedrine, sold as Sudafed, is an oral decongestant known to relieve nasal decongestion (11). A study showed that Sudafed suppresses prolactin secretion and reduces breast milk production (12) (13). However, its use during breastfeeding needs a doctor’s consultation.

7. Birth control pills

Consumption of combination oral contraceptives containing estrogen may reduce postpartum breast engorgement by reducing breast milk supply (14) (15). However, the use of contraceptives isn’t suggested for lactation suppression unless advised otherwise by a medical professional.

8. Other medications

Cabergoline is a medication that reduces prolactin levels in the body and reduces breast milk supply. It is commonly used for lactation suppression (5). However, this drug isn’t approved by the FDA. Your doctor may prescribe it under exceptional conditions as the drug’s efficacy and safety are not fully known.

If you experience pain and discomfort due to breast engorgement, you may consider over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory and anti-analgesic medications after doctor consultation.

Note: The use of bromocriptine for lactation suppression isn’t advisable as it raises the risk of health issues, such as maternal stroke and possibly psychosis.

What Are The Possible Risks Of Drying Up Breast Milk?

Ceasing breast milk suddenly may lead to milk duct clogging. It may increase the risk of breast infection called mastitis, a painful condition that often resolves on its own, but if it doesn’t, it may turn severe.

Below are some symptoms that indicate breast infection.

  • Painful hard lumps in the breast
  • Warm breasts with red streaks
  • Chills and fever
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as sweating

You can express breast milk to relieve engorgement but keep it less frequent as it may re-stimulate breast milk supply.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can breast milk suddenly dry up?

No. Breast milk cannot dry up suddenly, but it can experience a sudden decrease in supply due to various factors, such as lack of sleep, stress, skipping breastfeeding, sickness, and not feeding on demand (16).

2. What does it mean for milk to dry up?

Drying up breast milk refers to gradually decreasing breastmilk supply through pharmaceutical approaches (such as drug treatments), or non-pharmaceutical approaches (such as wearing a tight bra, using jasmine flower and ice packs on breasts). This process of drying up breast milk is known as ‘lactation suppression’ (17).

3. How do I know if my breast milk is drying up?

In mothers, signs of decreasing milk supply include being unable to express milk and having soft breasts. You may also notice breastmilk drying up in babies, such as poor weight gain, low urine output, crying even after feeds, and a desire to be fed more frequently (18).

An oversupply of breast milk and the inability to breastfeed due to medical or personal reasons are some common reasons drying up breast milk becomes necessary for some mothers. Your current milk supply, how long you have been breastfeeding, and the method of lactation suppression are factors that determine how long it will take to dry up breast milk. Generally, gradually reducing your feeding frequency is the best way to dry up breast milk. However, you could try alternative methods after consulting a doctor.

Key Pointers

  • Seek advice from a lactation specialist before deciding on any method to dry up breast milk.
  • Placing cold cabbage leaves or ice packs under the bra, a supportive bra, and sage tea are a few non-medical methods that help.
  • Certain medications, such as pseudoephedrine and oral contraceptives, can also dry up breast milk.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Lactation suppression; Australian Breastfeeding Association
2. Suppressing Lactation And Weaning; The Royal Hospital For Women
3. Oversupply of breast milk and how to reduce it; NCT
4. Weaning: How To; La Leche League International
5. Lactation Suppression and Milk Production Following Perinatal Loss or Other Maternal Reasons; Saskatchewan Health Authority
6. Cabbage; Drugs and Lactation Database; NCBI
7. Anne Eglash; Treatment of Maternal Hypergalactia; NCBI
8. R G Marcus; Suppression of lactation with high doses of pyridoxine; NCBI
9. L B Greentree; Dangers of vitamin B6 in nursing mothers; NCBI
10. D. AlSaad et al.;Is pyridoxine effective and safe for post-partum lactation inhibition? A systematic review; Online Wiley
11. Pseudoephedrine; Medline Plus; US National Library Of Medicine
12. Khalidah Aljazaf et al.; Pseudoephedrine: effects on milk production in women and estimation of infant exposure via breastmilk; NCBI
13. Medications and breastfeeding; Government Of Western Australia
14. Contraceptives, Oral, Combined; Drugs and Lactation Database; NCBI
15. Medication Safety Tips for the Breastfeeding Mom; AAP
16. 4 factors that can decrease breast milk supply – and how to replenish it; The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
17. Oladapo OT and Fawole B; Treatments for suppression of lactation; Cochrane
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Mary Miller

(MA, IBCLC, RLC, CLC, CPD, MCH)
Mary Miller received her degrees in Interpersonal Communications and Maternal Health and Lactation and founded the Breastfeeding Support Center of WNY in Buffalo, New York. She’s currently a doctoral candidate and is continuing specialized study and fieldwork in the field of human lactation and oral restrictions, including but not limited to tongue-tie, with a focus on public policy. Mary offers... more

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