There are many reasons why some mothers can’t breastfeed after birth, whether they have a say in this or not. Unfortunately, some mothers lose their infants. Others give theirs up for adoption because they are unable to raise a baby on their own.
If the mother is very ill, she should avoid breastfeeding the baby until she gets better. It is in the best interest of the infant. Doctors also advise against breastfeeding if the mother is infected with HIV. Some women still choose to do it, while some are pressured into doing it for cultural or sociological reasons. However, this is very risky as the virus could be passed on to the infant.
Mothers can decide not to breastfeed based on their personal beliefs or to follow the cultural norms of some societies. No matter the reason why you don’t want to breastfeed or have decided to stop, you will want to know how to stop making breast milk.
Reasons for Concern
Milk production stops on its own when there is no infant suckling on the breasts. However, this can take quite some time during which moms may experience milk leakage, breast engorgement, pain, and discomfort.
Breast engorgement is the least pleasant of all the symptoms. It takes time for the body to realize milk is no longer needed, usually enough for your breasts to get engorged. Despite being large and hard, they can become overly sensitive to touch, perhaps even more than during pregnancy.
In most cases, all the symptoms will go away in a matter of days, even without any treatment. However, during this time, women can feel extreme pain. There is also a higher risk of a bacterial infection called mastitis, where bacteria clog the milk duct.
Doctors can prescribe medication to ease these symptoms and suppress lactation, which is a medical term for stopping milk production. The medication includes bromocriptine to lower the levels of prolactin, which is responsible for lactation, and estrogens. You can find more info on this in the treatment section.
If the pain is unbearable, you can use some over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Besides medication, you can ease the process of lactation suppression with some other methods. These include:
- Wearing tight bras, or binding the breasts for support
- Using ice packs to cool down
- Taking care of what you eat and drink
- Applying Jasmine flower to your breasts may also be helpful
- Application of infrared lamp light
Lactation Suppression with Medication
How to stop making breast milk? Is medication the answer? There is not enough research, especially reliable research with evidence to show that medical treatment for lactation suppression works.
Bromocriptine was used in many trials, but it had no visible effects. Another diminishing factor to these trials was the fact that most moms who participated decided to stop breastfeeding on their own and were completely healthy.
In the past, moms that did not breastfeed used to get prescriptions to stop lactation. It was a regular practice until it was discovered that these drugs were not so safe. Cycloset and Parlodel, which are brand names for bromocriptine, have caused a bunch of side effects, including nausea, lightheadedness, loss of hair, and even heart attack. These medications alongside cabergoline even caused some women to die.
Sudafed, a decongestant which is normally used to relieve nasal congestion, showed to be helpful in stopping breast milk production. Although it may sound odd, it was confirmed by a study published in 2003, where the subjects had a sizeable decrease of lactation after just one dose of Sudafed. Many new moms have used it to suppress lactation ever since.
Nonetheless, the FDA did not confirm Sudafed has any effect on breast milk production halt, so this use stays off-label. If you still want to take it, ask your obstetrician if it is a good idea. It is not an OTC medicine, even though you do not need a prescription. You will need to show your ID and sign the receipt.
Alternatives for Drying Out Breast Milk
Engorgement can be a real pain, but luckily there are many things you can do to help relieve it.
Eastern medicine has used herbs and vitamins to fight this pain for centuries. Its practitioners claim that vitamin B6 does wonders. To feel the benefits, you should take 200 mg over a period of 5 days.
Similar to ice packs, you can also apply soft and cold cabbage leaves without stems directly to your chest, without covering the nipples. Switch out the leaves when they get limp, approximately every hour. Keep the leaves in the fridge so they stay cold.
Sage tea is beneficial as well. It is available for purchase in natural food stores. You should drink a cup of it each six hours. You can add some honey and milk to make the taste better, as some do not find it pleasant.
Staying hydrated is very important. If you cut down on your liquids, it will do nothing to reduce the lactation.
Lying on Your Back
Engorged breasts can even make lying down uncomfortable because of the amount of milk in them. You can try to lie on your back or on the side, with a pillow to support your breasts.
Expressing milk is always a good option to ease the pain and discomfort. However, you should not empty your breasts completely. Progressively decrease the amount of milk you are expressing. This way, the supply of milk will dry out naturally and will not cause any complications.
Drying up the milk supply takes a different amount of time for everyone. It depends on how big the supply is. Women with low supply often do not even need to express, but those who do can mostly dry the supply in two to three weeks. Expect to express a little milk over the following weeks after you suppressed lactation. After you are done breastfeeding, natural fertility will return in a month or two.
It is up to you to decide whether or not you will suppress lactation. Of course, this only applies in case you are well and healthy. Seeing how the research on drugs for drying up breast milk is limited and lacking, it is maybe best to let nature do it for you.