Imagine that you have a son that is only a few months old. Since birth, he has been dependent on your breast milk for nourishment. However, your maternity leave is almost depleted and you have to return to work soon, so you consulted your pediatrician to ask if your baby can be weaned into drinking infant formula already. Your doctor said yes, and you are able to ease your baby into drinking infant formula. What bothers you though is that your breast still produces milk even after you stopped breastfeeding. What should you do?
This scenario is experienced by millions of mothers worldwide. The reasons for choosing to terminate breastfeeding vary. Some halt breastfeeding for medical reasons while others do it because their work compels them to. No matter what the reason is, waiting for your milk to dry up can be a hassle – it might take weeks or even a couple of months. Don’t worry! In this article, you’ll see that there are things you can do to slow down or completely stop breast milk production.
Further Reading: How To Keep Baby Awake During Breastfeeding
How do you stop producing milk when not breastfeeding?
The process of making your breast stop producing milk is common in medical practice, and it is called lactation suppression. As previously mentioned, different women have different experiences when it comes to suppressing their breast milk production. Some might be able to completely dry up their supply in a few weeks, while others take months or even years.
Perhaps you are considering transitioning your little one from breastfeeding to a different source of nourishment for whatever reason you have. In this case, there are some things you have to do to help you go through lactation suppression more bearably.
Consult your doctor
This is always the first step. Your breast milk does not just concern you; it also concerns your infant. That is why it is important to consult a health professional first prior to making this decision to put an end to your milk production. Talk with your baby’s pediatrician. You may lay down your situation, and ask him or her to check if your baby can now survive on other sources of food. There are some cases wherein even if the mom wants to stop breastfeeding, they are not able to do so because the baby still needs breast milk. That is why it is integral that you ask your infant’s pediatrician first.
Another health professional you need to consult is your OB-gyn or a family doctor who could be a lactation consultant. Lactation is a natural response of a woman’s body, and suppressing it surely has accompanied risks like a breast infection. As risky as it is, you really need to consult your doctor first.
A lot of moms never ask the guidance of a health professional, but don’t fall for that mistake. If you are busy, you can just send an inquiry to your doctor’s email address, or maybe do a teleconsultation. Consider this as your own little way to prevent you or your baby from getting harmed. After all, the decision to dry up your milk supply will concern both you and your little one.
As soon as you get a go signal from your baby’s pediatrician and your own lactation consultant, you may start with lactation suppression. Most moms prefer to do it naturally, and there are several steps for that.
First, reduce the frequency of your breastfeeding. This is a no-brainer. If you want your breasts to stop producing milk, then you should not give them a reason to. Your body is naturally wired to replenish your milk supply as long as your baby is suckling on your nipples, so you should transition them to bottle feeding if you want to dry your supply. Some infants are sensitive, though, and in this case, moms might have to gradually wean their baby by slowly introducing formula milk.
Now, if you’ve stopped breastfeeding for so long but your breasts are still plump with milk, you can try modifying your diet. Even before the advancement of medicine, a lot of cultures are already using sage as a solution to excessive milk supply. Up until now, this herb is still popular because it apparently restricts milk production in most moms. Aside from sage, peppermint and jasmine are also used for this purpose.
You can just buy these herbs fresh, and then make them into tea. This is a good way to ensure that what you are taking is freshly made. Or, if you lack time, you can just buy tea products at the store. You may try No More Milk Tea by Earth Mama Angel Baby, which has some rights reserved for their lactation suppressing tea products.
Aside from adding food items to your diet, you should also remove some. Lactogenic foods, which boost milk production, are to be avoided. Examples of lactogenic food are green leafy vegetables, almonds, oats, and legumes. While these foods are healthy, they replenish your milk supply fast, so try to find substitutes for them.
For other people, drinking tea or changing their diets may not be enough to dry up their breasts fast. If this is the case, they can take medications upon the prescription of their doctors.
The most common option is the birth control pill. These are cheap and accessible to everyone. Birth control pills have estrogen which slows down the process of milk production. Moreover, birth control medicines have beneficial side effects like hormone regulation, and they also positively impact menstrual cycles.
Another common medication used is decongestants. Normally, these are used by people with clogged noses due to colds, but decongestants also work in helping the milk to dry. Decongestants like pseudoephedrine are sold as over-the-counter drugs, so they are easy to get hold of.
An important reminder for you if you plan to take medications is to get a prescription from your doctor first. Birth control pills and decongestants may be widely-used by moms who want to stop breastfeeding, but they can still have side effects that could harm you. Your doctors would know if you have any history of side effects to those drugs or medicines similar to them, and they could give you sound advice to assure your safety.
How do you know if your milk is drying up?
The steps proposed in the previous paragraphs are easy to do, and you may have already started doing them. But, sometimes you are not sure if they are really effective. You constantly ask yourself if the milk is actually drying up because it feels like it is not. Thankfully, there are a couple of ways to know that your lactation is starting to be suppressed, and they can be conveniently done at home by yourself.
Check for discharges
Your breasts are the organs responsible for producing milk, so it is just intuitive that you check them for any signs of milk production. If your bra or shirt frequently gets wet with milk, then chances are your lactation is not yet fully suppressed. Again, the time to completely dry up your milk supply varies from woman to woman. If you have started taking lactation suppressing medications but it is still leaking like crazy, just be patient.
The thing with leaking milk is that oftentimes, it is inconvenient. They could soak through your clothing, making your shirt visibly stained. These leaks could also give people the notion that you have poor breastfeeding hygiene. To avoid this, you can put nursing pads under your bra. These nursing pads soak the excess milk, and they are also made to be thin so they would be practically unnoticeable. These pads are widely available in supermarkets, specifically in the baby care section.
Check for firmness
One characteristic of an actively lactating pair of breasts if tenderness. For some women, the tenderness would be too extreme that the breasts would look like they are borderline swollen. You can check your breasts from time to time to see if they are already firming up and shrinking slightly.
Most of the time, you would find that your breasts are still reddish and plumb. That is because of the build-up of milk. Once you stop breastfeeding your little one, the milk production still continues. And as the milk accumulates, they make your breasts swell. This is completely natural and will get better as your lactation starts to slow down.
How do you take care of your breasts while drying them up?
Through the process of stopping your lactation, your breasts will be going through constant stress. Because of this increased sensitivity, you really have to take care of your breasts. Here are some tips on how you could provide comfort to your breasts as they go through lactation suppression.
Taking pain relievers
With swelling comes pain. Remember that when your milk production continues even if breastfeeding has stopped, breast milk will accumulate, causing engorgement. The swollen parts of your breast will activate the pain receptors, making you feel pain and discomfort.
To address this, you can take some over-the-counter pain relievers. Commonly used pain medication for breast swelling includes ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which are both widely available in any pharmacy. However, as a warning, these drugs might still have adverse side effects on some people, so it is best to consult your doctor first before taking them. You don’t necessarily have to go to the hospital. Just sending an inquiry to your doctor’s email address will be enough.
Wearing the right type of bra
Pain and general discomfort can also be mitigated by wearing the right type of clothing, especially the bra. You can use a supportive bra instead of the usual undergarment you wear. A supportive bra is suited for engorged breasts because they are not too tight and they also minimize wobbling.
Applying cold compress
During times when swelling is really bad, you may apply ice packs to your breast area. Ice packs soothe swelling by reducing blood circulation in the swollen parts. Think of how soccer players apply a cold compress to their injured ankles. Using an ice pack will help you feel less pain.
Using cabbage leaves
This may sound weird, but cabbage leaves are actually effective for managing pain. Get a cabbage, wash the leaves, and put them inside the fridge. Once the cabbage leaves are cold, you may put them inside your bra. The cabbage leaves act similar to an ice pack, so they also provide relief for the pain and swelling.
Going to a doctor
When things get out of hand, go to your doctor. There are cases wherein too much breast inflammation leads to breast infection or mastitis, which is a serious case. That is why if you feel like the pain you feel starts to become unbearable, or if you show symptoms like fever, chills, and formation of hard lumps on your breast, you should go to the hospital right away.
What are the things to avoid when drying up your breasts?
Ask any mom who is trying to transition from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding, and you will know how delicate their breasts can be. That explains why there are some practices to avoid during this process. They are not really difficult to monitor, but these things are taken for granted. Make sure that you refrain from doing these following practices.
Inadequate intake of water
You might think that drinking water will add up to the swelling, but water actually helps in managing the inflammation. Never deprive yourself of water, or fruit juices for instance, because they are important in regulating your bodily functions. As soon as you feel your throat dry up, drink water right away. Keeping yourself hydrated all the time will not only benefit your breast condition, but it will also improve your general health and well-being.
Applying warm compress
This is another rookie mistake. A lot of moms who are trying to halt breastfeeding apply a warm compress to comfort their breasts. However, this is not applicable to a breast that is inflamed due to suppressed milk production. Putting something warm to an inflamed body part actually improves blood circulation, so it does not relieve the swelling. The same is true with warm showers. As much as possible, take a shower using room temperature or cold water to avoid further inflammation.
Yes, the entire process of suppressing your milk production is long and arduous. However, it is not impossible! Just make sure that you ask for the opinion of health professionals before you halt breastfeeding. After that, you can do the steps mentioned above for letting your milk dry up.
Moreover, the choice of whether you want to put an end to breastfeeding is a personal one. You have all the rights reserved to make this decision, but always remember that your baby depends on you too. Any impact of this choice will also affect your little one. So, in saying bye-bye to your breastmilk, keep your safety as your priority. Always.