Your baby has been the lucky recipient of nature’s best possible nutrition for newborns, a mother’s breast milk. But all good things eventually come to an end. Breastfeeding experiences may last from one feeding to one year or longer. There are many reasons for choosing to stop breastfeeding and many mothers are torn when the time comes. Perhaps your baby wouldn’t latch on and it is difficult for you to express enough milk to keep up with your baby’s needs, or you may be returning to a work environment where pumping is not acceptable, or you’re tired of dealing with breast milk storage. Whatever the reason, your body needs to slowly wean itself from breast milk production.
So how long does it take for breast milk to dry up?
As soon as your body becomes accustomed to producing milk, teaching it to stop can prove to be a daunting and very uncomfortable task. Once you begin the process weaning, be prepared to feel uncomfortable as it can take several weeks or even months after a mother stops feeding to fully deplete the milk supply. In order to stop milk production there are not only things you can do to stop it, but also things you can do to expedite the process and make for a more comfortable transition.
There are several do’s and don’ts.
- Wean gradually. This will tell your body to slow production over time. Gradually substitute feedings with an alternate method, primarily bottle-feeding with formula. Wait a few days before substituting another feeding and so on, until the transition is made.
- Pump or hand-express just enough milk to keep you from feeling swollen and overfilled. When milk is already in the breasts, additional production slows, therefore only remove a small amount at a time.
- Apply cold compresses, gel packs or cold cabbage leaves to your breasts. This helps reduce swelling and can contribute to diminishing the milk supply if used consistently. If you use chilled cabbage leaves, replace every couple of hours.
- Try over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve some discomfort from the weaning.
- Check breasts frequently for blocked ducts and potential mastitis or breast abscess. If you have any breastfeeing questions or concerns, contact your doctor or a lactation consultant.
- Don’t allow your child to feed in order to relieve pressure. The natural supply and demand kicks in and alerts your body that it needs to produce more breast milk, putting you back to square one.
- Don’t stop breast feeding abruptly unless absolutely necessary. This will cause frustration for your baby and discomfort for you.
- Don’t bind your breasts. This may actually increase the pain, while providing no real benefits to depleting your supply.
- Don’t allow room for nipple stimulation. This also activates the production of your milk supply.
- Don’t use heat, such as a heating pad, hot water bottle or even running hot shower water on swollen/engorged breasts. This may just aggravate the situation.
After your breasts remain softened over 24 hours, you should be in the clear. However, watch for signs of your breasts filling and if necessary, repeat the above steps.