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Drying Up Breast Milk: How Long Does It Take And Methods To Try

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Breastfeeding is the best way to nourish a growing baby. While babies can breastfeed for up to two years, some cases may require cessation of breastfeeding. A few reasons for a mother to stop breastfeeding and consider drying up the milk include the gradual weaning of the baby and excess milk production despite the baby being weaned.

Drying up breast milk may also be considered when the baby is unable to breastfeed, or the mother cannot breastfeed for some reason. This post tells you about reasons to dry breast milk, how to dry up breast milk, and the potential risks involved in the 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.

Drying up breast milk could be a necessary choice in certain conditions. Gradually reducing the frequency of feeding is the best way to dry up breast milk. However, if you wish to use any alternative methods of drying up breast milk, consult a lactation expert. It will ensure your safety and comfort and that of your baby, as well.

References:

MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) 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