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When it comes to stoppage of breast milk production, natural weaning is the ideal way as it happens gradually. It also gives both the mother and the baby adequate time to emotionally, as well as physically, adjust to the change.
But sometimes, lactating mothers may be compelled to opt for sudden weaning due to certain reasons such as a medical condition, or in case of a tragic loss of their baby. Sudden weaning can lead to emotional and physical anguish in lactating moms like increased risk of developing mastitis, blocked ducts, along with a deep sense of loss and sadness.
Therefore, it may become necessary to come up with strategies to quickly and effectively stop breast milk production.
Reasons to Suppress Lactation
Suppression of lactation may become a consideration for nursing moms due to the following reasons:
1. You Are Not Keen on Breastfeeding
You may not want to nurse your baby due to personal reasons. But, breastmilk is still being produced and getting accumulated. This can become a source of pain and discomfort.
2. You Wish to Wean the Baby Off Breastmilk
As the baby grows, you may wish to introduce the baby to formula food or solid foods. This will reduce the baby’s consumption of breast milk. As a result, breast milk may get accumulated and can cause considerable physical distress to the mother.
3. You Are Unable to Breastfeed the Baby
Sometimes you may develop certain medical conditions like mastitis (breast infection) or blocked ducts which can make breastfeeding a painful task. Certain treatments like chemotherapy may also leave mothers with no choice but to stop breastfeeding.
4. Milk Secretions Do Not Stop Even After the Baby Has Been Weaned Off Breastmilk
At times, breasts continue to discharge milk even after the baby has shifted from breast milk to formula or baby food. In such instances, you may choose to suppress lactation and avoid the resulting discomfort.
5. Unfortunate Incidence of Baby’s Death
In the tragic case of loss of a baby after birth, during infancy, or in the case that the mother has put up her baby for adoption, she may go in for breast milk suppression.
How to Stop Breast Milk Production
It is always desirable to wean off slowly. Sudden weaning may result in engorged and painful breasts or can trigger medical conditions like mastitis. Some of the ways to stop breast milk are listed below:
- You may start by substituting one or two feeds in a day and gradually progress to stopping fully. This is preferable as the body gets time to regulate the change and will eventually stop producing milk.
- Be careful not to stimulate the nipples as this can start milk production.
- Refrain from pumping your milk often because your body may take it as a cue to produce more milk. In case you feel engorged, slowly hand pump to express milk sufficient enough to lessen your distress.
- You can also discuss with your doctor regarding taking some prescribed drugs for suppressing milk supply.
- Dehydration may prompt your body to increase milk production. You can stay hydrated to ensure that your milk supply is stable. It must be noted that studies have shown that increased water consumption does not increase the supply of milk.
- You can try natural remedies to dry up breast milk like drinking sage tea. You can also use sage essence mixed with your favourite drink.
- Taking Vitamin B6 may also aid in reducing milk production as Vitamin B6 stops the release of plasma prolactin in the body, which is chiefly responsible for producing breast milk.
- Your body supplies milk based on how much is expressed every day. You could try lowering the amount of milk expressed in a gradual manner.
- Drop one feed at a time. Day wean first and then proceed to night wean.
- You can try the ‘don’t offer-don’t refuse’ method. This involves not offering to nurse, and also not refusing your child’s desire to nurse.
- Postponing feeds is another way. If your child asks to be nursed, tell them, “not now, later”. In this way, your child will learn to wait a while. Also, later may become never if your child gets busy with something else.
- Gradually lessen the time taken for each feeding, until that particular nursing session no longer exists.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations exclusive breastfeeding up to six months and complementary solids introduction from six months onwards while continuing to breastfeed until the child is a minimum of two years.
How Much Time Does It take for Breast Milk to Dry Up?
Drying up of milk can take up anywhere from months to a year. As long as the mother is not engorged and hurting, it is normal.
How to Treat Blocked Ducts and Mastitis
Mastitis is a form of breast infection which causes the breast tissue to inflame and become painful. When breasts become full, it may happen that a duct gets blocked due to which milk doesn’t clear up, and some part of it may enter the nearby tissue causing inflammation. The breast becomes sore, and the skin may turn red as well. The affected mom may experience flu-like symptoms such as aches and trembling. Some of the ways to treat blocked ducts and mastitis can be:
- Make an effort to express milk so that breasts do not become overfull and further aggravate the situation.
- For expressing milk, softly massage the breast and then gently stroke along the length of the duct line, gradually moving towards the nipples.
- You can use a warm compress to the affected breast and then try to express milk.
- While massaging the breast, you can provide support to your breast with the other hand. This can help in easing your discomfort. Using a massaging oil will ensure smooth strokes.
- You can also try to hand pump your milk under a warm shower or while soaking in a bathtub filled with warm water.
- Applying cold packs or cold cabbage leaves on the sore breast can prove helpful in relieving pain and reducing inflammation.
- Seek medical treatment in case you develop fever, and the blockage doesn’t clear because untreated infectious mastitis can lead to a lactational breast abscess.
- Taking mild painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can prove useful in combating the pain and swelling. Please consult your doctor first before taking any medication.
Other Things to Consider
It is better to wear a firm, well-fitted bra than a tight bra. Breast pads may be used to soak up any excess milk discharge. If nothing is working and your breasts are still painful and sore, you may like to consider pumping out all your breast milk with the help of an electric breast pump. You can have a detailed discussion with your doctor before taking a decision.
Sometimes a mother has to stop breastfeeding due to some medical treatment like chemotherapy. In such a situation, the baby can still be provided with breastmilk if the mother so desires. In some tragic cases where a nursing mom loses her baby, she can offer her breast milk to help other babies. There are certain milk banks and non-profit organizations like Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Network that supports breast milk donation and aim at sharing human milk on mom to mom basis. This can be a healing experience for nursing moms as they struggle to cope up with the loss of their baby or the feeling of guilt and sadness.
Notwithstanding your reason, it is important to prepare yourself emotionally for the advent of lactation suppression. Hormone levels are likely to fluctuate considerably as milk production will reduce. Mood swings can set in. Therefore, a good support system becomes crucial to maintain your psychological and physiological well-being.
Also Read: Breast Milk Storage: A How-to Guide