My first child decided at 8 months to self-wean. Cold turkey, she nursed for breakfast and then for her next session, she just wouldn’t have it. Every time after that, when I would try to latch her, she would freak out, push me, and cry as if I was torturing her. She never nursed again, much to my dismay. For a while, I tried to pump but that was really hard for my body so I finally decided I needed to start drying up my milk… but how? I had no idea what I was doing until after the fact, when you learn from your experiences and say, “Oh, I should have done this and that.”
With my second, he nursed until almost 13 months and we would’ve kept going if my milk supply hadn’t weaned itself out, despite all my efforts to keep my supply up.
Both of my breastfeeding experiences were way different, but between the two, I picked up a few good tips on how to dry your milk up when the time comes. Hopefully I can save you some of the engorgement and clogged milk duct pain I experienced when drying my supply with these tips!
Tip 1: Go slow and set realistic expectations. Don’t expect your breasts to be all dry and back to “normal” within a day or two from when you started. That’s just not realistic. Your body will learn to adjust and start producing less (remember that supply and demand you established with your newborn?) but it needs time to do so. Expecting to be dry too quickly will just lead to disappointment.
Tip 2: Don’t just stop cold turkey—wean. With my first, I just decided to skip a couple of pumping sessions, hoping my body would adjust quicker than it could. This led to extreme engorgement and incredible pain. I was trying to force my body to stop producing milk right on the spot, instead of slowly weaning it out of my system. Instead of skipping a pumping/nursing session, try extending the amount of time between sessions by an extra half hour or hour. When your body adjusts to that, you can try going longer. Thus, weaning out your supply.
Pump/nurse shorter each session. If you don’t want to, or can’t, extend the time between feeding sessions, just shorten the amount of time your baby is at the breast. I learned that I needed to still pump at the normal times I would’ve breastfed my daughter, but just enough to release a little milk, get some relief, and that’s it. Don’t drain the breast. This will make your body realize less milk is needed so it will start producing less and less milk.
Tip 3: Hand express some milk. If you don’t have a pump or can hand express well, this works to just relieve the milk pressure. I suck at hand expressing so I had to use my pump. Remember—just enough to give relief, not enough to stimulate more production.
Tip 4: Use peppermint oil. Peppermint oil has long been used to dry up milk supply and it’s easy to get. I use it for my headaches all the time but couldn’t while nursing, since it would affect my supply. So to dry it up, it’s perfect. I rubbed some between my breasts and on my wrists and head and I do think it helped. Since I already had the oil, why not try it?
Tip 5: A hot shower or warm washcloth might help you let down. If you become engorged during this process, holding a warm washcloth or standing in a hot shower might help trigger your let down, easing your pain.
Tip 6: Cold compresses help relieve pain. These Jack Frost cold packs are my favorite to use because they can mold to your breast (or head—they are great for migraine relief!) and never freeze too hard. They can also be used for warm compresses as well!
Tip 7: Get a comfy bra and live it in for a week or two. I used this bra from Motherhood Maternity, by Jessica Simpson, though I don’t think they carry it anymore. But any like it will work–soft, comfy, sports bra-esque. The bra needs to be tight enough to give some support but not too tight that your ladies are squished and you’re in pain. A supportive, not-too-tight bra will help your breasts because it will keep your nipples from brushing up on the cups and being stimulated, making them leak milk or get tender. I’d suggest staying away from underwire during this time, if you can help it.
Tip 8: Stay hydrated. Big surprise—water will help (it’s pretty much the common denominator advice in everything, right?).
Tip 9: Some medicine can help. Speak to your doctor to see what advice they give. Mine suggested I use Diphenhydramine (aka Benadryl) at night for a little while because it helps dry up milk. So I tried it and I honestly think this was the way my milk dried up the quickest. Not everyone likes to take drugs though, so if you’re against this method, you can disregard this tip.
Tip 10: Prepare emotionally. Whether you decided to wean, were forced to wean, or just realized your milk was decreasing no matter what you tried, prepare yourself emotionally for the separation you might feel when you stop breastfeeding/pumping. Your postpartum body is constantly throwing your hormones out of whack and drying up your milk gives no exception. Prepare by getting excited for the next stage in your baby’s life, instead of mourning the past experiences.
Pick and choose which of these tips will work the best for you and hopefully your drying up process will be a quick success!