There are many reasons you might want to know how to dry up breast milk quickly. This process of drying out breast milk is called lactation suppression. Either way, slow, stress-free weaning is best for you and your baby. This guide outlines how to dry up breast milk using safe methods, what to avoid doing and when to see a doctor.
Do I really have too much breast milk?
Sometimes you may feel like you are producing too much breast milk, especially in the first few weeks of your breastfeeding. Here you can find out whether you really have too much milk and what you can do about it.
Some symptoms of oversupply (described below) can also have other possible causes. It is therefore not wise to try to cut your milk production unless you are sure that oversupply is the problem in the first place. Otherwise you will end up with less breast milk than your baby needs, especially in the crucial first month when you are still trying to build up your milk production.
Is too much milk a problem for me or my baby?
If you are sure that you have an oversupply of breast milk but you and your baby are satisfied, there is no need to do anything. In most cases this will level off after the first few months. And as your baby grows, they will be better able to handle a fast flow of milk and may even enjoy it!
Leaking doesn’t always mean you have too much breast milk
During the first four to six weeks after your baby is born, the level of the lactating hormone prolactin rises whenever milk is drawn from your breasts. In these first few weeks, your breasts learn how much breast milk your baby needs and how much they have to produce per hour. As a result, excessively leaking breasts and breasts that fill up quickly – and which sometimes splatter milk during the milk ejection reflex – are common and normal.
At the same time, your newborn also learns to coordinate sucking and swallowing, so some coughing and spitting on your chest is quite normal.
After about four to six weeks, your prolactin levels will slowly decrease, and your milk production should now follow a more distinct “supply and demand” process based on your baby’s needs. But as with so many hormonal changes happening in your body right now, it’s no surprise that it can take a while for everything to level off. For some mothers, milk production adjusts quickly, while for others it takes a little longer.
Signs of an oversupply of breast milk in your baby’s reaction
Excessive milk production seems to be associated with rapid milk flow, especially during the first milk reflex. Your baby may respond by coughing and spitting at the beginning of the feeding, by tensing up or biting, or by holding their breasts very loosely in their mouth. Also read what to do when a baby cries all the time
Shocked by the rapid flow of milk, they may let go of their breasts and then cry because their meal has been interrupted. Your baby will likely swallow large amounts of milk with lots of air, and will spit a lot and belch a lot. Be as gentle as possible when helping him to pound – jerky movements combined with a quickly filled belly can cause vomiting and scare some babies. Also read how to stop hiccups in a baby
At the beginning of a breastfeeding meal, the milk your baby has is relatively low in fat and consists mainly of lactose (sugar) and protein. During the course of breastfeeding, when your breasts are emptied, the fat content of your breast milk increases constantly.
If your baby has an oversupply of milk, your baby may be full before it has completely emptied your breast. That is, it receives a lot of lactose-rich breast milk, but less high-fat milk that comes towards the end of the breastfeeding meal. Too much lactose instead of a balanced meal can be difficult for babies to digest and leads to explosive, frothy, green stools.
Paradoxically, in this situation, your baby may want to drink constantly and whine between meals – although he eats a lot of calories, the low fat content of the milk means that he will never be fully satisfied. The reason for this is that the fat in the food makes us feel full. This is like eating dozens of rice cakes or some cheese and crackers – the cheese will make you feel fuller because it contains more fat.
However, all of the above symptoms can also be caused by other things, such as reflux, allergies, or vice versa, low milk production. Excess breast milk is likely to be the cause only if symptoms are accompanied by excessive weight gain. Babies gain about 900 g a month, but if there is an oversupply of breast milk, the amount is much greater – usually twice as much.1 If your baby is showing symptoms of oversupply but is only gaining an average amount of weight, contact a lactation consultant or midwife.
Possible symptoms from too much breast milk
Mothers with too much breast milk often feel uncomfortable swelling of the breast glands and tension in the breasts, which constantly feel overly full.3As I said before, leaking breasts are normal for the first six weeks and are usually not a sign of an oversupply of breast milk. But if your breasts still leak afterwards every time your baby is breastfed, that can be a problem.
Since a baby cannot always completely empty a very full breast, if there is too much breast milk, blocked milk ducts or mastitis can occur more often. However, these problems can also have other causes.
How to produce less milk but not dry up
If you have concluded that you have too much breast milk and that is a problem, here are a few simple things you can do to help. For some mothers, these are sufficient:
- Try breastfeeding in a reclined position. Breastfeeding in a reclined or lying position can help as it gives your baby more control. It can set the speed and pull its head back for a break if your milk flow is too fast. Make sure you put a towel underneath to catch any excess milk!
- Release the pressure. If your breasts feel very uncomfortable, you can use your hand or a breast pump to express some pressure to relieve the pressure – but try to express as little as possible. Every time you take milk, you are sending your breasts the message to produce more. While expressing provides temporary relief, it could make the problem worse in the long run. If you need to express and store breast milk when you can’t be with your baby, it is best to wait until you have managed your overproduction.
- Use nursing pads. If you are leaking milk, place breast pads or milk drip trays in your bra to keep them dry. If you leak small to medium amounts of breast milk or your breast loses some milk during pregnancy, ultra-thin disposable nursing pads will help you feel safe – very discreetly.
- Avoid breast teas and supplements. If you started out drinking mom breastfeeding teas, eating breastfeeding cookies, or taking herbal supplements to boost your milk production, be sure to stop – they could be part of the problem now.
Block breastfeeding to lower your milk production
If you’ve tried all of the above and you or your baby are still having a problem, a technique called block breastfeeding could bring your milk production back to a more manageable level. Before attempting this method, seek advice from a lactation consultant or midwife. Also read How to wean a baby off breastfeeding.
With block breastfeeding, you feed your baby whenever it wants within a period of four hours, but only on one breast at a time. Your other breast will become very full of milk as a result. Because your breast milk contains something called a Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL), the excessive fullness of that breast signals your body to cut down on milk production and is a safe method for how to dry up breast milk partially. This is how your body ensures that your breasts do not fill up endlessly.
Use this technique for 24 hours, changing breasts every four hours. If there is then no improvement, you can extend the period to six hours per breast.
Complete emptying and block breastfeeding
If there is still no improvement after an additional 24 hours, another version of this technique may work for mothers with even more overproduction: complete emptying and block breastfeeding.
In this method, you use an electric breast pump to completely empty your breasts at the beginning of the day, and then feed your baby immediately afterwards. The milk flow is then slower, which your baby should be able to cope with better. This means that they receive more milk with a higher fat content that comes at the end of a breastfeeding meal and is therefore more satisfied.
Then, as described above, you start breastfeeding for four hours at a time. If that doesn’t help, move on to blocks of six, eight, or twelve hours the next day, depending on how big your oversupply is. Talk to a healthcare professional before using this technique.
You may not need to empty your breasts completely after the first time, but some mothers may need to do this once or twice more. Some mothers notice improvement after a day or two or a little later. Basically, you shouldn’t breastfeed for more than five days. Also read how to prepare a baby bottle when travelling
How to dry up breast milk with safe methods
Breastfeeding a practice full of love and health, for the mother, but especially for the baby. But there comes a time when breastfeeding becomes inviolable for certain reasons, or when women cannot? Continue to breastfeed, wean, or somehow or end up needing breast milk for every event of your life. We show how to dry up breast milk so that it does not harm you.
The ideal time to wean is when the mother and baby so wish. Sometimes you need to stop breastfeeding faster than you want, however. Several factors affect how long it takes your milk to dry out, including the age of your baby and the amount of milk your body produces.
Some women may stop producing after a few days. For others, it can take several weeks for their milk to dry out completely. It is also possible that after suppressing lactation, they may experience a feeling of slackening or leaking for months.
Gradual weaning is often recommended, but it is not always feasible. Still, abrupt weaning can be uncomfortable and lead to infection or other medical problems. Talk to your doctor about your options before trying any of these methods.
Your milk can slow down on its own if you aren’t breastfeeding or if you don’t stimulate your breasts. Depending on how long you’ve been breastfeeding, this may take some time. Keep these tips in mind when trying this method:
- Wear a supportive bra that will keep your breasts in place.
- Use ice packs and over-the-counter pain relievers (OTC) to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Squeeze the milk with your hand to relieve the swelling. Do this sparingly so that you don’t stimulate production any further.
According to a 2014 study , sage could help with withdrawal or oversupply problems. However, there are no studies examining the specific effects of sage on excessive milk production. Not much is known about the safety of using sage if your infant drinks your breast milk after consuming sage. You should start with a small amount of sage and see how your body reacts. Herbal teas with sage are available. These can be diluted slightly until you find an amount that works best for you.
According to the 2014 study, this includes other herbs that have the potential to dry out breast milk:
Little is known about the effects of these herbs on infants, but some can be dangerous to a baby. Since herbal substances can cause negative side effects for you or your baby, speak to your health care professional or lactation consultant before using these methods.
Cabbage leaves can suppress lactation when used for long periods of time, although more study is needed. To use cabbage:
- Take apart the leaves of a cabbage and wash them.
- Place the leaves in a container and place the container in the refrigerator to cool.
- Before putting on a bra, place a sheet over each breast.
- Change the leaves as soon as they wilt, or every two hours or so.
- The leaves can help reduce swelling if your milk supply decreases. They are also used to reduce symptoms of swelling in early breastfeeding.
The cold compress on the chest for a few minutes a day is recommended 3 to 6 times a day. This technique will restrict milk production vessels and stop production until the end of the day. Never try to put the packaged ice pack on for more than 15 minutes in a row. Use a cloth wrapping to prevent skin ice burns through direct contact with the skin or by lingering there too long.
Birth control pills
Gestagen-only birth control does not necessarily have an impact on supply. Contraceptive pills containing the hormone estrogen, on the other hand, can work well to suppress breastfeeding. These effects can still be felt even if the milk supply is already well established and is sometimes used for how to dry up breast milk.
Not all women will experience these suppressive effects, but many will experience them. Talk to your doctor or health care professional about the recommended time to take an estrogen-containing pill after giving birth. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved birth control for this use, but it can be prescribed in certain situations. This is known as off-label drug use.
Off-label drug use
Off-label drug use means that a drug that is approved by the FDA for one purpose is used for another purpose that has not yet been approved. However, a doctor can still use the drug for this purpose. That’s because the FDA regulates drug testing and approval, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients. So your doctor can prescribe a medication that they think is best for your treatment.
There are several drugs that help dry breast milk, but all of them, without exception, should be indicated by the gynecologist. You never know if the woman will have allergic reactions.
A small study in 2003 of 8 breastfeeding women showed that a single dose of 60 milligrams (mg) of the cold medication pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) significantly reduced milk production. In addition, taking the maximum daily dose of this drug did not adversely affect the infants who continued breastfeeding because lactation was suppressed. The maximum daily dose is 60 mg four times a day.
Talk to your health care professional before taking any over-the-counter medication while breastfeeding. Sudafed is used off-label to dry breast milk and may cause irritability in breastfed infants.
A drug used to treat the production of hormone prolactin in women, this has sometimes been used as a method for how to dry up breast milk.
This is analgesic that it is claimed dries milk faster, but its effectiveness has not been scientifically proven.
If you have not yet breast-fed your infant, high doses of vitamins B-1 (thiamine), B-6 (pyridoxine), and B-12 (cobalamin) can work well to suppress lactation. A study on B-6 from the 1970s showed that this method did not cause any unpleasant side effects in 96 percent of participants. Only 76.5 percent of the participants who received a placebo were free of side effects.
Recent studies, including those of a literature review in 2017, have conflicting information about the effectiveness of this option presented . According to the 2017 review, study participants received a B-6 dosage of 450 to 600 mg for five to seven days.
There is not a lot -12 B about the negative effects of taking too much vitamin B-1, B-6 and known , or how long it is safe to take increased doses. You should speak to your healthcare provider or lactation consultant before taking a new vitamin supplement.
Cabergoline can be used for milk suppression. It works by stopping the production of prolactin in the body. This drug is not approved by the FDA for this use, but it can be prescribed off-label. Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks to you. In some women, the milk dries out after just one dose of the drug. Others may need additional doses.
Little is known about the safety of cabergoline for breast-fed infants whose mothers have used cabergoline. You should talk to your doctor or lactation consultant before taking it.
Some milk suppressant drugs you may have heard of – such as bromocriptine – are no longer recommended for this use because of long-term side effects.
Women used to be given an injection with high-dose estrogen to stop milk production. This practice has been discontinued due to risk of blood clotting.
3 ways to avoid
Below are a few methods that you may have heard anecdotally about, but that are unproven or potentially dangerous.
To bind means to wrap the breasts tightly. Breast pads have been used time and again throughout history to help women stop producing breast milk. A 2003 study of postpartum women who were not breastfeeding compared the effects of tying with those of wearing a support bra.
While the suppression symptoms for both groups did not differ significantly in the first 10 days, the attachment group had more pain and leakage overall. As a result, the researchers do not recommend binding. A supportive bra or soft tied wrap will help provide better support for tender breasts when moving and can reduce discomfort.
- Restrict fluids
Breastfeeding women are often told to stay hydrated to maintain their milk supply. You may wonder if restricting your fluid intake could have the opposite effect. This method has not been well studied.
Researchers have found that increasing your hydration intake may not actually result in an increase in supply. Without clear evidence that more drinking increases (or decreases) supply, it’s best to stay hydrated regardless.
If you become pregnant while breastfeeding, your milk supply or the taste of your milk may change. The breastfeeding lobby group explains that a decline in supply can often be observed between the fourth and fifth month of pregnancy. Because changes vary from person to person, pregnancy is not a reliable “method” for drying breast milk. Many women successfully breastfeed throughout their pregnancy.
How long does it take for the milk to dry out?
How long it takes for milk to dry out depends on the method you try and how long you have been breastfeeding. It may take as little as a few days or up to several weeks or months, depending on your lactation suppression method and your current supply. Even if most of your milk has been used, you may still produce milk for months after weaning. If your breast milk comes back for no reason, talk to your doctor.
Abruptly stopping breastfeeding carries the risk of congestion and the risk of blocked milk ducts or infections. You may need to express some milk to reduce the feeling of swelling. However, the more milk you squeeze, the longer it will take to dry.
When to seek help
Lactation suppression can be uncomfortable at times, but if you experience pain and other worrying symptoms, call your doctor. Sometimes a blocked duct can cause breast tenderness. Massage the area gently while expressing or nursing.
If you cannot clear a blockage in a milk duct within 12 hours, or if you have a fever, see a doctor. Fever is a symptom of a breast infection such as mastitis. Other symptoms of a chest infection are
- Warmth or redness
- general malaise
- Breast swelling
Oral antibiotics can help treat this condition before it gets worse.
You can also contact a certified breastfeeding and lactation consultant. These professionals are trained in all aspects of breastfeeding and can suggest different methods or help you troubleshoot any problems you are having.
The dehydration of your milk supply is a very individual decision and sometimes necessary for various reasons.
Donating breast milk
If you are weaned because of an illness (or any other reason) but still want to give breast milk for a baby, there are milk banks in the United States and Canada. You can find one through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).
Breast milk is tested and pasteurized so that it can be safely consumed. These organizations also accept donations from mothers who have either lost a child or otherwise wish to donate their milk.