How long does it take for breastmilk to dry up?
Let us first understand the process of milk production. A mother’s milk glands are activated during pregnancy and once the baby is born, your body releases a hormone called prolactin which controls the release of breastmilk.
The more milk you feed, the more prolactin is released to produce more milk. When you stop breastfeeding or slowly start weaning your baby, the hormone called Prolactin Inhibiting Factor (PIF) gets released, which sends signals to the body that breastmilk is no longer required and eventually it dries up.
It takes the body about 7 to 10 days to balance the hormones and up to a couple of weeks to dry up the breastmilk completely. These 10-15 days can be very painful to a mother, with the breasts feeling full and heavy and you may be tempted to start expressing your milk.
However, do this with caution because, remember the more milk you express, the more milk gets produced. One of the golden rules of drying up the breastmilk, also known as lactation suppression is to express only for comfort unless you are trying to prevent mastitis.
Personally, my breastmilk took almost 10 days to dry up completely.
Things to wath out
When I was trying to get rid of excess breastmilk when I was not breastfeeding, I suffered from engorged breasts as well as leaking breasts. Mothers who are planning to stop breastfeeding need to watch out for these symptoms:
- Engorgement (Painful breasts)
Engorged breasts are those filled with excess milk. They can be very swollen, tender and hard. Often engorged breasts are very painful and can even lead to mastitis.
- Blocked ducts and mastitis
Due to engorgement, one or more of the milk-carrying ducts can be blocked. A lump starts to get formed and it gets very painful. Sometimes this leads to fever and aches and this is called mastitis. At this point, please do go to the doctor if you suffer from any of the mentioned symptoms and the blockage does not clear within 12 hours.
- Leaking breasts
Drops of milk may continue to leak from your breasts, as you try and wean your baby.
Tips to dry up the breastmilk supply
There are some ways you can dry up your breast milk supply:
1. Wean slowly
I found this one of the best ways to slowly dry up my breastmilk supply – To gradually wean my baby, one feed at a time. I started with one feed at a time and worked it up slowly so that my baby was comfortable with external feed and my body adjusted automatically to the lowered demand of breastmilk, slowly lowering its production.
Since breastmilk production is a supply and demand process, and more is the demand, more is the supply. So by lowering the demand for breastmilk, the supply eventually lowered down and stopped. I was able to wean my baby successfully and had only a little bit of discomfort.
2. Wear a bra which fits and provides strong support
Some women even recommend wearing two tight sports bras. A well-fitting bra which is not very tight, helps to decrease the pain of the breast and reduces the amount of milk leakage and decreases the symptoms of engorgement.
While earlier people used to recommend breast binding, it is not the right way to help in the drying of milk, since it increases the chances of blocked ducts or mastitis.
I ensured that I wore a tight sports bra which made it easy for me to slip it on and take it off, even when I had engorged breasts for a week, while stopping breastfeeding.
3. Apply ice compress
Placing ice packs on the breasts helps decrease the breast swelling and pain. Even a pack of frozen peas or any ice compress, when placed on the breasts, can provide relief. I used to apply ice packs twice a day, to relieve myself from the pain caused by engorged breasts and it helped me a lot.
4. Anti-inflammatory drugs
Sometimes taking medication like ibuprofen helps to relieve the pain. However, ensure that you get your doctor’s nod to take these kinds of medication.
5. Drink fluids
A lot of mothers feel that lowering their fluid intake will lower the milk production. There is absolutely no scientific backing behind this and in fact, may cause other side effects. Hence it is important to keep drinking fluids.
6. Express breastmilk for comfort
Expressing some of the milk from your breasts, can definitely reduce the pain from engorged breasts. However, remember that you should express just to reduce the pain. If the entire breast is emptied then it signals the body that you need produce more breastmilk and it will start producing the milk again.
You can also consider a warm shower as it helps relieve the pain from engorgement, but again be careful not to provide too much warmth as it increases the milk supply.
Use breast-pads to prevent leaking of milk. I used breast-pads for almost a month, because I used to have leaky breasts.
8. Eat Vitamin B6
Some research is of the opinion that eating vitamin B6 supplements may help dry up the breastmilk production, though these studies have not been proved to be completely correct.
Here are some videos which will give you a good idea on how to stop breastfeeding!
Home remedies to dry up breastmilk
- Use cabbage leaves to relieve pain
While some researchers believe that cabbage leaves contain chemicals which help to lower engorgement swelling, others feel it is just a matter of belief that cabbage leaves help relieve pain. However, most mothers do recommend this home remedy since it provides a relief from pain.
Tear up refrigerated cabbage leaves and wash them well. Remove the thick white veins of the cabbage and place them inside your bra. Replace them once the leaves turn soggy.
- Drink sage tea
Sage is thought to contain a natural estrogen which helps to quicken the process of milk drying up, hence many mothers recommend drinking sage tea.
- Jasmine flowers
Some Asian cultures believe that tying a garland of jasmine flowers around your breasts can have a similar effect as that of lowering prolactin levels and reducing milk production, just like the drug bromocriptine, without any side effects.
My mother in law says that her mother used jasmine flowers to stop her milk production and it worked really well for her.
While eating small amounts of parsley is not expected to have any effect on milk supply, eating dishes full of parsley is said to reduce the milk supply.
- Peppermint oil or candies
Peppermint is said to have a depressant-like effect on breastmilk production and eating peppermint candies regularly or sipping on large quantities of peppermint tea is likely to lower breastmilk production.
A friend of mine used to have peppermint candies all the time when she was trying to get rid of breastmilk, when she stopped breastfeeding. She feels it helped her a lot.
No matter what you try, do remember that drying up for the milk from breasts does take some time, usually 7 to 10 days. You can consult your doctor if you have severe pain or blocked ducts. If your breasts become very hard and very sensitive to touch for more than 12 hours, do speak to your doctor.
Start the process of weaning gradually, because any abrupt changes to your body will result in unnecessary pain and trouble. Reduce the breastfeeding one feed at a time, as it helps the body adjust to the schedule and the hormonal balance is gradual and in stages.
Trying out some home remedies definitely does not harm, since there are no major side effects. Before taking any medication, do consult with your doctor, whether it has any major side effects. Do what you think is the best for your baby and yourself.
Do you have any remedies which you followed when you stopped breastfeeding your baby? Did you use cabbage or drink loads of sage tea? Did you have parsley filled food or did you take up vitamin B6 supplements? Do let us know in the comments section, so that our readers can benefit from your experience and knowledge.