The cat’s out the bag, now everybody knows breastfeeding is some good stuff. I am one of those mommas that breastfed my child but at some point I knew all good things must come to an end.
With my busy schedule, I pondered how much time it would take for me to stop making breast milk if I stopped breastfeeding right away. While some mothers have the time and patience to slowly wean, what if I wanted to, or I needed to stop now?
How long does it take to stop breastfeeding cold turkey? While there is no ‘one shoe fits all’, normally once a mother stops breastfeeding completely, the majority of her milk supply may dry up in about 7 to 10 days.
She may still experience some drops of milk for weeks or even months beyond when she stopped breastfeeding.
Summary of today’s article:
- Factors that affect cold turkey duration after weaning
- What can help you wean cold turkey faster?
- What to avoid when stopping breastfeeding?
- Why we do not recommend stopping breastfeeding cold turkey (unless unavoidable)
- How to cope with challenges breastfeeding cold turkey?
- Choosing cold turkey
To stop breastfeeding cold turkey is to abruptly or suddenly stop and resist any desire to start doing it again. Breast milk production naturally slows down on its own if you don’t breastfeed or stimulate your breast.
The process of drying up breast milk is called lactation suppression. It can take just a few days for some mothers, or up to several weeks for others.
Many mothers report that even after their breast milk is gone, they still produce some milk or experience let-down sensations for months later. How long it takes for breast milk to dry up when you stop breastfeeding cold turkey will depend on how much milk your body is producing, and how long you’ve been breastfeeding.
Let’s examine the two:
- How long you’ve been breastfeeding
The sooner after childbirth you stop breastfeeding, the faster your breast milk should dry up. This is why mothers who stop breastfeeding their newborn have a shorter time expectancy for milk drying up, usually a few days.
On the other hand, frequent breastfeeding until your baby is much older may cause longer times for milk drying up, in some cases many weeks or even several months.
- How much milk you are producing
The amount of breast milk your body is making may be determined by several factors including how much milk your baby needs, how often you breastfeed, health status, and your hormones. The less breast milk you are currently producing, the faster it should take your body to dry it up.
Although our bodies are different and we may experience different lengths in time, there are ways to help mothers get through the process of stopping breastfeeding more quickly when choosing to go cold turkey.
1. Using Green Cabbage Leaves
Cabbage leaves may impact lactation suppression when used for long periods of time. It’s advised to separate and wash the leaves, chill in the refrigerator, then put one leaf over each breast before putting on your bra.
After the leaves have wilted, change them (about every few hours).
2. Using Herbs
Before using herbs it’s a great idea to check with your doctor or lactation specialist.
- A study conducted in 2014 concluded that Sage may help with oversupply issues by reducing excess milk supply. It’s recommended to start with small quantities to see how your body reacts.
- Peppermint, Chaste berry, Parsley, and Jasmine may also help with drying up your milk. Peppermint oil and jasmine flowers can be applied topically as well.
3. Taking Birth Control
Birth control pills that contain estrogen may help to suppress lactation, even in mothers with well established supply. Your doctor can help you determine when is a good time to start taking a contraceptive with estrogen.
4. Taking Cold Medicine
Studies show that lactating mothers who take a single dose of 60 mg of pseudoephedrine cold medicine, commonly known as Sudafed, may have a significant reduction in milk production. Discuss with your physician or lactation consultant prior to taking it for this purpose.
5. Trying Alternative Medications
Cabergoline is said to suppress milk production by stopping the production of prolactin, the hormone that your body uses to make breast milk. Some mothers notice that their milk dries up after one dose of this drug, and others may need more doses.
Speak with your doctor about the benefits and risks before trying this and other drugs for stopping breastfeeding cold turkey.
You may have heard about some other options to speed up the process of drying up your milk, but are they really true or safe? Let’s look at the most common ones to avoid:
1. Dehydrating Yourself
Breastfeeding mothers are often told to drink plenty of fluids to keep up their milk supply. It is for this reason that some mothers believe restricting their fluid intake or dehydration may do the opposite and dry up their milk.
The truth is that research discovered that there is no clear evidence to support that claim. So it is best to stay hydrated and avoid causing harm to your body.
2. Wrapping Up The Breasts
This is known as binding, and there are records throughout history of women doing this in an attempt to help stop breast milk production. A 2003 study compared the effects of binding to women wearing supportive bra, and found that binding creates more pain and discomfort without any increase in effectiveness.
As a result, they do not recommend binding.
3. Getting Pregnant
There may be a drop in milk supply but this is usually between the 4th and 5th months of pregnancy. This is definitely not a reliable or proven source to dry up milk supply, as many mothers successfully breastfeed throughout their entire pregnancy.
Stopping breastfeeding suddenly will have a greater impact on you and your body. The territory comes with adverse effects, and some may lead to medical issues. Challenges a mother may face are:
- Leaking breasts
Some women leak for a few weeks, others may leak for as many as 6 months.
- Increases the risk of breast infection
Mastitis happens when a milk duct gets clogged and bacteria begins to grow in the milk causing an infection. This makes one part of your breast feels very sore and tender to the touch.
- Breast engorgement
Swollen and painful breast tissues. A breast abscess may also develop
- Hormonal crash
Your hormone levels may take a drastic plunge which can cause you to become a little unbalanced leading to depression, mood swings, anxiety, and overeating.
- Emotional or mental stress
Some mothers report feeling inadequate once their baby is no longer dependent on them for breast milk. Others experience a feeling of sadness, guilt, or anger.
- Milk fever
Flu-like condition with symptoms such as chills, fever and muscle weakness
Luckily there are things you can do to minimize the impact of suddenly stopping your breastfeeding journey and getting some relief.
- Gently express a little milk by hand if your breasts are engorged to ease the pain. Avoid too much stimulation which could lead to more milk production and cause your milk to take longer to dry up
- Wear a bra that supports and holds your breast in place.
- Wear breast pads to help with leaking
- Use Ice-Cold Cabbage leaves to help reduce swelling and engorgement, (change when they become warm),
- Try over the counter medications like ibuprofen, motrin, advil, and paracetamol to help with pain and inflammation
- Apply ice packs or cold compresses such as flannels to your breasts to ease discomfort and reduce blood supply
- Massage your breast gently to reduce the risk of breast infections
- If your doctor prescribed birth control to manage your milk production, try taking them on time and avoid missing doses
- If you’re feeling down, talk to your partner, family or friends about your emotions. You may also find support in local or online breastfeeding groups. If you think you are depressed or experienced depression or psychiatric issues in the past, reach out to your doctor for help.
- If unable to unblock a milk duct within 12 hours or if you spike a fever, contact your doctor, who may be able to prescribe oral antibiotics to treat breast infections before they become worse.
- If you need help, contact your lactation consultant who may suggest different methods to help you through any issues you may be facing related to stopping breastfeeding cold turkey.
While stopping breastfeeding cold turkey is not the recommended choice for most people, drying up your milk supply quickly is a personal decision that may be made for several reasons. If you’ve made this choice, try to prepare yourself for the physical as well as the emotional changes you may experience as your body adjusts to the sudden changes.
Use your available resources to minimize distress. If you haven’t yet decided, I recommend talking to your doctor or lactation consultant for advice and suggestions that may be best for you.