How to Dry Up Breast Milk

Parent feeding baby a bottle

Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Whether you have been breastfeeding for months (or years) and are ready to wean or you plan to feed your baby formula from the start, it's important to know how to dry up breast milk. Suppressing lactation can be a gradual process done over many weeks or you may seek to move the process along more quickly, particularly if you don't intend to breastfeed or are experiencing engorgement.

How long the process takes varies from person to person based on their individual situation, such as how long they have been producing breast milk. Generally, the longer you have been nursing, the longer it will take to dry up your milk. In fact, some breastfeeding parents report being able to express small amounts of breast milk long after their child has stopped nursing. Methods for ceasing breast milk production include decreasing or avoiding nursing or taking certain medications.

Whatever your reasons for suppressing lactation, there are a variety of ways to effectively and safely dry up your breast milk while minimizing the risk of infection or engorgement. Here's what you need to know about drying up your breast milk.

Illustration of person dealing with the discomforts of weaning

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin  

How to Dry Up Breast Milk

  • Avoid nipple or breast stimulation
  • Stop or gradually reduce breastfeeding, pumping, or hand expression
  • Take medications (under your doctor's supervision) that may curtail breast milk production, such as birth control pills containing estrogen or some cold medications
  • Try herbal remedies, such as sage or peppermint teas

How Milk Production Works

You'll begin to make a small amount of breast milk while you're pregnant. After your baby is born, breast milk production increases. By the third or fourth day after delivery, your milk will "come in." You will most likely feel this in your breasts, which can feel very full or engorged at first.

Breast milk production works on a supply and demand system. So, the more you breastfeed, pump, or hand express breast milk, the more will be produced. The process works the same in reverse. If you stop or reduce breastfeeding, pumping, or hand expression, your milk production will begin to slow down, and eventually, dry up.

However, even if you don't breastfeed at all, you make breast milk for at least a few weeks after your baby is born. If you don't pump or breastfeed, your body will eventually stop producing milk, but it won't happen right away.

If you have chosen not to breastfeed, you might wonder if there is anything that you can do to prevent lactation. When you are pregnant, you will experience the same hormonal changes (including those that stimulate milk production) whether you decide to breastfeed or not. There is no way to stop this process.

That said, after giving birth your breast milk will dry up if it is not used. This means that the less you stimulate your nipples or breasts after giving birth, the faster your milk supply will dry up. However, how long this takes is different for each person.

When and Why to Start Drying Up Breastmilk

There are many different reasons for wanting to dry up your breast milk—and just as many "right" times to do it. New parents who choose not to breastfeed will dry up their breast milk in the early days after giving birth. Some people choose to pump and donate the breastmilk they make but are not planning to use. Other parents are ready to wean.

Parents who experience the loss of a baby may want to stop producing milk as soon as possible. Other parents may need to stop making milk due to going back to work, needing to travel away from their baby, or for a medical reason, though the weaning might only be temporary.

Be sure to consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) if you are told you need to wean for a medical reason, as there are typically options that will allow you to maintain your breast milk supply and continue breastfeeding afterward.

Additionally, parents of babies who are transitioning to formula, cow's milk (recommended after age 1), and/or solid foods (recommended at 6 months old) may want to start drying up their milk at various points in their baby's development. For example, some parents choose to stop breastfeeding at 3 months old, 6 months old, 1 year old, or at any time before or after. Ultimately, there is no one right time, just what works for you and your family.

How to Dry Up Breastmilk

Making a decision about weaning is up to you and your specific situation. It can help to discuss strategy and timing with a lactation counselor or your health care provider. After you have made the decision to dry up your breast milk, you'll make a plan for which approach you will take. There are multiple options, but generally, you can choose between faster or more gradual methods.

Some people decide to take a more natural approach and let their milk dry up on its own. Others use medications as well to help dry up their milk faster. Choose the method that works best for you, but be sure to ask your medical practitioner before taking any medications or herbs to help dry up your milk supply.

Understanding how the process of weaning works will help ensure it goes smoothly for you. Essentially, to decrease your milk supply, you need to decrease the demand. This means that you will want to express your breast milk as little as possible. Follow the below steps.

Decrease or Stop Feedings and Pumping

Reduce the amount of time you spend breastfeeding or don't do it at all. If you were previously feeding your baby or pumping, decreasing feedings or pumping sessions slowly will cause you the least discomfort. Avoid pumping for comfort and any nipple stimulation (which includes sexual stimulation). However, if you are experiencing engorgement, brief periods of hand expression or pumping can help to relieve pain without overstimulating breast milk production.

Don't Squeeze

Resist the temptation to squeeze your breasts or nipples to see if you're still making breast milk. Stimulating your breasts or nipples while they're drying up could lead to the continued production of a small amount of breast milk, which prolongs the process.

Avoid Hot Showers

Some people find that a hot shower can elicit the milk ejection reflex (sometimes called a “let down”). Standing with your back to the water can keep this from happening. If you must face the showerhead, try using a towel draped over your breasts. However, a warm bath can help relieve discomfort while also not overstimulating breast milk production.

Pay Attention to Diet

Some foods (known as lactogenic foods) can make your body produce more breast milk. If you're trying to dry up your breast milk supply, avoid eating lactogenic foods such as oats, flax, and brewers yeast.

Medication Options

While not necessary, in addition to cutting back or not breastfeeding, there are medications that may help curtail your supply. These are medications that need to be avoided while you are breastfeeding because they are known to decrease breast milk supply. So, if you're trying to dry up your milk supply, your doctor might suggest taking these medications to help the process along.

However, if you are breastfeeding a little or saving any breast milk for your baby to consume, be sure the medication is safe for your baby before taking it.

Birth Control Pill

The first medication parents can try to help dry up their milk supply is a combination birth control pill. This option requires a prescription, so consult with your OB/GYN on if this is a good option for you.

Unlike the mini-pill—which is approved for breastfeeding parents and only contains progestin—combination pills contain estrogen and progestin. It's the estrogen in the pill that may prevent or reduce the production of breast milk supply.

Keep in mind that this medication is a contraceptive. If you have plans to become pregnant again soon, it might not be the best method for you.


Another category of medication that is sometimes recommended to help decrease breast milk supply is decongestants. These drugs are typically used when someone has a cold, but a possible side effect is decreased breast milk production.

Pseudoephedrine, commonly sold under the brand name Sudafed, treats cold symptoms because it decreases secretions—including breast milk. In one study, a 60-milligram dose of pseudoephedrine decreased milk supply by 24%.

The medication is usually available over-the-counter (OTC). However, pseudoephedrine is sometimes used off-label and even illegally, so the ability to purchase it is limited in some states. Even when used correctly, pseudoephedrine can have serious side effects. Talk to your doctor before trying an OTC decongestant to help dry up your milk supply. That way, if this method is appropriate for you, you'll be sure to take the medication safely,

Medications No Longer Used

In the past, certain medications were sometimes given to new parents in the hospital to dry up their breast milk supply—especially if they chose not to breastfeed.

Your parent or grandparent might have mentioned that they received a shot in the hospital to stop their milk supply, but this practice is no longer used in the United States. The drugs are no longer given because many were found to not only be ineffective but also have adverse side effects.

Pyridoxine, Parlodel (bromocriptine), and high doses of estrogen were once used to help dry up a new parent's breast milk supply, but these drugs are no longer given.

Many of these medications were found to not only be ineffective at drying up breast milk, but potentially dangerous.

Herbal Options

If you are looking for a more natural approach to drying up your milk, there are various herbs that have been used by different cultures for centuries. Remember, though, that herbs can act like medications, meaning they have risks and side effects. It's important to talk to your health care provider before trying any herbal supplement or remedy.

Sage and peppermint are often recommended to help decrease breast milk production. Sage can be found at health food stores in tincture, pill, or tea form, Peppermint is often consumed as a tea. According to the La Leche League USA, many people find that drinking safe or peppermint tea helps to dry up breastmilk.

Herbalists often recommend drinking several cups of herbal teas throughout the day to help dry up breast milk. Companies have even created tea blends specifically for this purpose, such as the No More Milk Tea by Earth Mama Angel Baby. However, note that herbal and dietary supplements are not as rigorously tested as medications are for safety or efficacy. So, the promises on the labels may not be accurate.

Temporary Weaning

If you have been advised to temporarily wean your baby from breast milk, you'll need to understand why weaning is necessary before you pick a method of drying up your milk (even temporarily).

For example, if you are having a medical procedure that requires you to take a medication, it might need to clear from your breast milk before you'll be able to feed your baby. In this situation, you would need to follow different procedures than if your baby simply needed to go without breast milk for a short time to have a medical test.

The key to temporary weaning is maintaining your breast milk supply. Talk to a lactation consultant about supply maintenance, as there are different strategies you can use. You'll likely need to use a breast pump or hand expression to mimic your baby's natural feeding schedule as closely as possible. This will help you be prepared to quickly go back to feeding your baby at the breast with the least disruption.

If the reason for temporary weaning does not involve any medications passing into your breast milk, you may be able to simply pump or manually express milk until you can breastfeed again. If desired, you can store the breast milk to use at a later time.

Minimizing Discomfort

You may experience some discomfort during the weaning process. It's common to experience some engorgement. Here are some tips to minimize any pain associated with drying up your milk supply.

Support Your Breasts

Make sure your bra fits properly. A bra that is slightly too tight can cause pain and may increase the risk of plugged milk ducts or mastitis.

Cold compresses can ease pain and also reduce swelling. While it was once recommended to put cabbage leaves in your bra to provide relief, some research has found no difference in comfort between those who used cabbage leaves compared to other cold compresses. However, many people find cabbage leaves to be a helpful and convenient option.

Take Pain Medication

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) to help with any pain and pressure you experience.

Avoid Heat

Limit hot showers and don't use warm compresses on your breasts. Very warm or hot water can stimulate breast milk production.

Use Breast Pads

Your breasts might leak breast milk when they become full or when you think about your baby or hear them cry. Wearing breast pads inside your bra can soak up unexpected leaks.

Minimize Breast Stimulation

If you are in extreme discomfort, you might need to remove a little bit of milk from your breasts for comfort. Do not empty the entire breast—only express enough milk to relieve pain and pressure. Pumping and hand expressing, or emptying the breast completely, signals your body to keep making breastmilk.

Weaning and Mastitis Risk

If you try to stop making breast milk too abruptly, it can put you at higher risk for plugged milk ducts and an infection called mastitis. Symptoms of a breast infection include the following:

  • Breast pain
  • Breasts that feel warm to the touch
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • "Flu-like" symptoms
  • Hard lumps in your breast (along with other symptoms)
  • Red streaks on your breast
  • Sweating

Slow weaning will help prevent engorgement and plugged milk ducts, which can lead to infection. If signs of infection develop, contact your doctor right away, as you'll treatment to clear the infection.

A Word From Verywell

Drying up your breast milk is a process that can take time. Whether you have breastfed before or not, patience, medication, and a few tricks can help you reduce your milk supply with less discomfort. Gradual weaning will also help prevent painful breast infections like mastitis.

Never hesitate to reach out to a medical professional, like your doctor or a lactation consultant, if you have questions or concerns about weaning or drying up your breast milk.

Asking for help will be especially important if you need to temporarily decrease your milk supply for a medical reason, such as taking a medication that needs to clear your breast milk before nursing your child, or if your baby needs to stop feeding to have a medical test.

18 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.