Making the decision to wean your baby from the breast is a very personal decision that parents should make together and with their health care professional.
In the United States most mothers stop breastfeeding when their child is 6 months old. Some will make it to a full year, and very few go beyond this.
Part of the reason for breastfeeding to stop at 6 months for US women is that exclusive breastfeeding is only recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics until the baby reaches 6 months old. Then solids are to be introduced.
While the AAP recommends breastfeeding as the source of liquids, many mothers wean at this age to make feeding times more manageable and to involve the other parent in feedings more often.
Many US mothers are also not afforded maternity leave and pumping when working may not be the best option for all mothers.
Mothers that suffer from frequent clogged milk ducts, engorgement or mastitis may also wish to decrease their milk supply as there are overproducing in some situations. Clogged milk ducts and mastitis can be painful. This can create a negative experience while breastfeeding, which no mom enjoys or wants.
Regardless of your decision of when and why to wean, decreasing your milk supply requires planning and patience. No mother wants to be victim to the unsuspected, surprise leakage in a social or work situation.
Decreasing your milk supply can be done naturally at home, but it is a process and won’t happen overnight.
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If you are looking to reduce, rather than stop, your milk supply this can be done through specific at home routines naturally. The adjustment can take 9-12 weeks to become regular and the milk production to slow down to a more manageable amount for mom.
Some ways to decrease your milk supply slowly include:
- Offering baby only one breast instead of switching during a feeding.
- Apply cold compresses after feedings
- Drink sage and peppermint tea
- Cabbage Compress
The most important aspect of breastfeeding is making sure that baby gets enough to eat. Let him feed on one breast for as long as he wants without switching.
When he is content, hand express or pump the other breast so that engorgement doesn’t occur. But not enough to completely empty the breast.
Applying cold compresses after feedings will deactivate the letdown reflex quicker and reduce leakage.
Drinking sage and peppermint tea is not medically proven, but many women swear by this method of decreasing their milk supply. Sage contains oestrogens which will decrease the milk supply slightly. Peppermint tea is said to have a similar effect but is not as strong as sage tea.
Start with drinking just a half glass of tea at a time to ensure you won’t have any adverse reactions such as nauseas, and don’t be afraid to consult your health care professional to ensure that the tea is safe and will not cause any interference with any medications you may be on.
Cabbage compresses are another natural way of reducing milk production although not medically proven. Wrap fresh, cold, cabbage leaves around your breasts to reduce swelling and limit your milk production. They will need to be changed every 2 hours or so.
Keep in mind that breasts will produce milk at a faster rate when the breasts are empty, so constantly pumping, expressing, or feeding more than usual will only increase your milk supply.
You want your breasts to remain full without being uncomfortable so your body is signaled to halt or slow production.
After your breasts have remained soft, with no engorgement or leakage, you can most likely discontinue the expression or pumping.
Leakage will still occur, and if the breasts begin to fill up again and become swollen or painful, start with the expression and feeding methods outlined above again.
For some more techniques for eliminating entire feeding sessions check out our guide to stop pumping here.
Medication to Decrease Breastmilk Supply
Some women need to stop breastfeeding quickly or don’t plan to breastfeed at all.
There are prescriptions that your health care professional can provide to you to dry up the milk in your breasts or stop the production before your milk comes in completely.
Bromocriptine is NOT FDA approved so all side effects should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor before taking this drug. This drug is no longer recommended by most physicians as it can lead to heart attack and stroke in some patients.
Cabergoline has been shown to be safer for milk suppression but is currently not USFDA approved either.
The safest way to decrease your milk supply is to let it happen on its own, naturally. Over the counter pain medications such as Ibuprofen can be beneficially to reduce pain and inflammation associated with engorgement.
Cold compresses and a good supportive bra can also help with issues of tenderness, pain, and discomfort.
The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has also recently reported that Sudafed can cause a significant decrease in milk supply, however, the FDA has not approved this medication as an effective way of decreasing or halting milk supply.
Remember no medications should be taken without the approval of your physician, especially if mom continues to feed baby milk that has been expressed or pumped while on medication.
What Else to Expect
The process of decreasing your milk supply is going to vary depending on how long you nursed, if at all.
For many women that never do nurse, the colostrum may be produced when the baby is born. This is triggered by hormones that release before, and during birth.
However, if mom does not nurse, the milk may not come in or it may come in and then decrease rapidly over a few days. The longer you nurse the longer it will take for the supply to decrease or stop production.
Breastfeeding is also said by many doctors to hinder fertility. If you stop breastfeeding and start decreasing your supply, your fertility will increase within 4-8 weeks.
Make sure that you talk to your health care professional about getting on birth control, or alternate methods of pregnancy prevention if you do not wish to get pregnant again right away.
Decreasing your milk supply should always be done under the supervision of your physician and the baby’s pediatrician. The child’s doctor especially needs to be aware that you no longer wish to breastfeed, or you are considering reducing your supply.
The team of health care professionals you have will be able to help you and baby adjust to this new feeding routine.
If you stop feeding and producing and change your mind, a lactation consultant can help you to start producing again within the first 6 weeks of stopping in many cases.
Although this is not always the case for some moms, there are many mothers who can start and increase their breastmilk supply quickly if they decide to start nursing again.
Mothers could also consider donating breastmilk.
If you want to wean your baby off the breast, or decrease your milk supply because you feel as though you are producing too much, instead of stopping or slowing milk production, there are ways to pump, store and donate breastmilk to babies in the NICU for moms that are not producing enough milk or have a low supply.
There are places to donate in most states and your physician or local hospital can point you in the right direction to get started with the donation process.
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