How Long Does It Take for Breastmilk to Dry Up?

The process of drying up your milk can take days to weeks. The length of time it takes will depend on how long your body has been producing milk. Generally, the longer you have been nursing, the longer it will take to dry up your milk. In fact, some mothers report being able to express small amounts of breast milk long after their child has stopped nursing.

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.

You will continue to 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.

Tips to minimize discomfort during weaning
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin  

Preventing Milk Production

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 these processes.

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.

When to Start Drying Up Milk

Moms who choose not to breastfeed will dry up their breast milk in the early days after giving birth. Some choose to pump and donate the breastmilk they make but are not planning to use.

Mothers who experience the loss of a baby may want to stop producing milk as soon as possible. Other moms need to stop making milk 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.

Making a decision about weaning is up to you and your specific situation. It can help to discuss timing with a lactation counselor or your health care provider. After you have made the decision to dry up your milk, decide what approach you will take. You have more than one option to choose from.

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

Medication Options

Some medications need to be avoided while you are breastfeeding because they are known to decrease breast milk supply. That said, if you're trying to decrease your milk supply, your doctor might suggest taking these medications to help the process along.

Birth Control Pill

The first medication moms can try to help dry up their milk supply is a combination birth control pill. This option requires a prescription.

Unlike the mini-pill—which is approved for breastfeeding moms and only contains progestin—combination pills contain estrogen and progestin. It's the estrogen in the pill that prevents the production of 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.

Decongestants

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. 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 over-the-counter decongestant to help dry up your milk supply.

Medications No Longer Used

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

Your mom or grandmother 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 came with negative side effects.

Pyridoxine, Parlodel (bromocriptine), and high doses of estrogen were once used to help dry up a woman'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.

Natural 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 breastmilk production. Sage can be found at health food stores in tincture, pill, or tea form.

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.

Temporary Weaning

If you have been told that you will need 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. You can 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 go back to feeding your baby at the breast.

If the reason for temporary weaning does not involve any medications passing into your breast milk, ask if you can properly store the breast milk to use at a later time.

Steps for Lactation Suppression

The importance of breastfeeding and breast milk is often the focus of new-parent education, but weaning basics are important, too. Understanding how the process works will help ensure it goes smoothly for you.

Breast milk is made according to a "supply and demand" system. 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.

Decrease Feedings and Pumping

If you were previously feeding your baby or pumping, decreasing feedings or pumping sessions slowly will cause you the least pain. If you were not expressing breast milk, avoid pumping for comfort and any nipple stimulation (which includes sexual stimulation).

Don't Squeeze

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

Avoid Hot Showers

Some women 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.

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.

Minimizing Discomfort

You may experience some discomfort during the weaning process. Here are some tips to minimize pain associated with drying up your milk supply:

  • 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.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) to help with any pain and pressure you experience.
  • Cold compresses can ease pain and also reduce swelling. While it was once recommended that moms put cabbage leaves in their bras, research has found no difference in comfort between moms who used cabbage leaves compared to other cold compresses.
  • Avoid hot showers and don't use warm compresses on your breasts. Warm or hot water can stimulate breast milk production.
  • 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.
  • If you are in extreme pain, 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 milk.

Weaning and Mastitis Risk

If you try to stop making breast milk too abruptly, it can put you at higher risk for an infection called mastitis. Contact your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of a breast infection, including:

  • 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

These symptoms can indicate you have a breast infection. While slow weaning will help prevent infection, if one does develop, you need prompt treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Drying up your 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 pain. It will also help prevent breast infections like mastitis.

Never hesitate to reach out to a medical professional, like your doctor or an IBCLC, if you have questions or concerns about weaning.

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

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Article Sources
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