While breastfeeding is actively promoted in almost all Canadian communities, a new mother may need or want to prevent further lactation or dry up her milk.  Reasons include still-born, surrogacy, medical conditions requiring treatment contraindicated with breastfeeding, past abuse, and lifestyle choices.  For many women it’s a very difficult decision.  Women need acceptance and supported in their choices.  To that end, here’s information to help a woman cease lactation in the safest and least painful way.

Breastmilk “comes in” about 3 days postpartum.  Plan to use these techniques right from the first hours if planning to not breastfeed.  If milk has already come in and the decision is made to not breastfeed, then it usually takes 3-5 days for lactation to cease.

Discomfort

Breast wrapping is no longer recommended due to risk of infection, mastitis.  A snug sports bra (or two) is an acceptable method of supporting breasts until lactation ceases.

Donating breastmilk is an option in some communities.  Some women find donating their breastmilk after a loss helps them heal, while others find it too painful a reminder.

Engorgement:

  • Cold green cabbage leaves worn in the bra can provide relief. Change them when they’re warm.
  • A bit of pumping or hand expressing can relieve the worst of it but do as little as possible as these methods are also used to increase supply.
  • Cold water or ice packs.  Ice packs should never be applied directly to skin.

Pain passes within a few days and can be controlled with medication.  Medical staff can arrange pain meds, and pharmacists can offer guidance.

Suppress Lactation

Please note none of these substances are safe during pregnancy, and are to be used only after baby is born and/or weaned.

  • No More Milk Tea by Earth Mama Angel Baby (sage is the main ingredient).
  • Sage (Salvia Officinalis) tea or Tincture is stronger than tea, but tastes icky.
  • Other herbs can help but don’t work on their own e.g. mint. Sage is the most effective by far.
  • Ask a pharmacist about drugs that suppress lactation.  You can ask midwife or doctor for a prescription if it’s not an OTC drug, but pharmacists know much more about drugs and side-effects.  (Reduced lactation is only a side-effect to certain drugs, not the main purpose) e.g. some antihistamines decrease milk; estrogen heavy birth control pills decrease lactation.
  • Pure high quality peppermint essential oil applied topically to breasts in a carrier oil may decrease milk and offers some pain relief.

Choice

A woman might not breastfeed due to lack of education or support; others are highly informed and still chose to not breastfeed.  Babies need to eat and if mother or donor breastmilk isn’t an option, then formula is available.  Do not operate under the myth that formula is “almost as healthy as breastmilk.”  This isn’t a decision to make lightly.  If formula is needed then do some research into ingredients and quality of various brands or consult with a naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist.  Most importantly, remember that we all do the best we can with the information we have and the circumstances presented at the time.

Nurses in most Canadian postpartum units are required to teach women the benefits of breastfeeding.  If a woman has a healthy baby and chooses not to breastfeed, then the staff will likely encourage her to “at least try.”  Be prepared for this.  They can also offer you help and information about formula.  Consider talking with health care providers prenatally if planning to not breastfeed.