Breastfeeding, oh the joys and challenges! It’s no secret that breastfeeding can be an experience with quite a few different ups and downs during the process. In fact, as much as we want breastfeeding to be a simple straight shot, it’s quite the opposite. From feeding times to actual milk supply, each situation varies for every new mother. Some women choose not to breastfeed altogether, and that’s completely understandable too!
But for now, let’s focus on milk drying up in the midst of breastfeeding. It’s actually super common among women who choose to breastfeed, especially as they begin to wean off of it all together. We’ll look into what might cause your milk to begin drying up, how long it takes, and how to ease the discomfort that may come with the process.
Time to get started!
How Does Breastmilk Production Begin?
Milk production actually begins around the midway point of pregnancy, usually beginning around 16 to 22 weeks, and is ready for the baby just a couple of days after mom gives birth.
There are also signs you can look for to tell if your breasts may be increasing in fullness. Here are a few ways to know your milk is coming in:
- Your breasts become full, heavy, engorged, swollen, warm, or tingly.
- Your breasts may begin leaking milk.
- There’s a change in your baby’s reaction to your breasts or feeding patterns.
- The overall appearance of your milk changes. More mature milk looks more white
How Long Does It Take for Your Milk to Dry Up?
If you do decide to stop breastfeeding, the amount of time it will take for your milk to dry up can vary.
Think about it like a simple lesson in supply and demand. If your infant is breastfeeding frequently, then your milk supply will replenish quickly. On the other hand, if the demand for the milk simply isn’t there, then the need to supply it will slowly fade away.
With that said, the average amount of time for milk to dry up is within 7 to 10 days after completely stopping the breastfeeding process. Depending on how it’s approached, the process might be slightly more uncomfortable if it’s sped up.
How to Ease the Discomfort
If you’re trying to wean, you may notice extra feelings of discomfort. This is due to your breasts becoming swollen or engorged because you aren’t pumping or feeding as regularly. If this is something you’re experiencing, try out these simple methods to ease some of your discomfort.
Take a Hot Shower
When your breasts are swollen, the hot water may provide some relief to your body.
While hot water can sometimes cause milk to leak out of your breasts, that shouldn’t be the case as long as you keep the shower short.
Use Cabbage Leaves
There is no scientific proof to back this particular method, but some women swear by it. If you cut up refrigerated cabbage leaves and place them in your bra, you’ll begin to feel relief from extreme engorgement.
While it won’t completely eliminate engorgement, you will feel some temporary relief. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can do the trick in the short term by helping you feel better while trying to wean off or quit breastfeeding.
Take Advantage of Cold Packs
Any sort of ice pack wrapped in a cloth or towel will help reduce inflammation and take away the pain that comes from breast swelling.
If you use cold packs alongside pain medications, the relief may arrive faster because they’ll be working as a true duo.
Wear a Supportive Bra
Wear a bra that lifts and supports your breasts instead of binding them. If you wear a bra that’s too tight, you could create the potential for clogged milk ducts.
How Do You Dry Up Breastmilk?
If you want your milk to begin drying up, there are actually quite a few actions that can be taken to make this happen. Sometimes, your body may not get the hint that you don’t want to breastfeed as frequently or that you simply don’t need to anymore. If this is the case, follow these simple tricks and find a helpful method that best suits your needs.
Try Sage Tea
Sage is often used to stop lactation because it contains a natural form of estrogen. Try it out by having a cup of sage tea one to two times per day in order to start seeing results.
Take Birth Control Pill
Since birth control also contains estrogen, it will also slow down your milk supply. Consult your doctor about starting birth control pills. Never just start taking birth control pills or any other prescription medication on your own without the guidance of a doctor.
If you still want to have a good supply of milk while taking birth control, your doctor can prescribe you with progestin-only pills or other forms of non-hormonal birth control.
Decongestants normally work by opening passageways and drying up any mucus in your system. They’re not usually recommended for breastfeeding because it normally dries up other bodily fluids such as your breast milk.
This particular method isn’t normally tried or suggested first because it’s not the most natural method.
There Are Fake-Out Signs of Low Milk Supply
There are actually a few scenarios where you might believe your milk supply is running low, but it may not really be the case. In fact, the following actions or feelings might indicate low milk supply even though your milk supply is still at the same levels. This particular study illustrates all of the scenarios listed below.
- You don’t feel like your breasts are full of milk
- Baby feeding lengths are unpredictable
- There’s no feeling of a let-down
- Your baby wants to breastfeed frequently
- Your baby seems unhappy
- Your infant is fussy before bedtime
- You don’t pump as often
- Your breasts don’t leak or have stopped leaking
- Your baby isn’t feeding for as long
- Your baby is able to drink a bottle after breastfeeding
- There is a sudden increase or frequency in nursing
These Are the Real Signs of Low Milk Supply
On the other hand, there are some very real signs that indicate that you do have a low milk supply. The best way to be able to tell is by checking on the overall health of your baby. By checking to see if any of these signs for the following three symptoms are present, you’ll have better reason to believe your milk supply is diminishing.
- Your baby isn’t gaining weight
- There aren’t enough wet or dirty diapers for their age per day
- Your baby is dehydrated
Avoid These Actions When Drying Breastmilk
Drying up breastmilk production and stopping lactation is not the easiest task! However, to make it easier, try to avoid some of these common methods. All of these below methods are more prone to hurting your body than aiding it.
Wearing Tight Bras and Binding
When you end up wearing a tight bra or any set of tight binding, it easily makes swollen and tender breasts even more likely to become painful. This can also cause your breasts to have blocked milk ducts and cause further issues down the line.
Take this pain away by wearing comforting padding and protection. This will allow that tender area to breathe and not feel so constricted.
When you decide to pump, then the body’s automatic response is to replenish the supply. By slowing down how often you pump, your body will take the cue to slow down production.
Although it might be tempting to pump for easier relief, it won’t benefit you in the long run. It will immediately send the signal for increased demand to the rest of your body.
A good way to combat pumping is by introducing formula milk to your baby. If they’re at the age where they can start enjoying solids, then start introducing those, too.
Massaging Your Breasts
If you begin to massage your breasts because they’re achy, it may not actually be the best action to take. This type of touch will signal the milk to start flowing, especially since your breasts are used to similar stimulation from your baby.
When your body receives more stimulation, it’s similar to giving the body a cue to producing even more milk.
Quitting Without Weaning
Quitting “cold turkey” might sound like a great idea, but it’s actually much more difficult on your body and can be much more painful. Think about it the same way you might use your breaks on a car. You need to ease into pressing your foot down on the breaks, not slam it! If you do, it will not only be abrupt, but your car will be reeling from the aftermath of the sudden and somewhat painful stop.
Our Final Thoughts
Weaning off of breastfeeding is easier said than done–it can be uncomfortable and unpredictable. Although, if you partner with a medical professional and take the necessary steps that you feel are right for you and your baby, then you’ll feel much more at ease.
If you feel that breastfeeding is not something you want to take part in, then that’s completely understandable as well. Every woman goes through their own special journey when bringing new beautiful life into the world. One way should not be criticized over the other. We should help, love, and embrace our differences and celebrate the unique, but different, journeys of parenthood we all take!