When it comes to nursing mothers and their breast milk supply, the majority of problems you hear about revolve around milk supply running low and drying up, and a lot of confusion about how to get the body to increase milk production.
If our bodies don’t produce enough amounts of milk for us to have baby feed on, whether we’re exclusively pumping or directly breastfeeding, we’d have to resort to feeding them formula milk instead.
However, not all moms are looking to increase their breast milk supply – some are looking to have it decreased. While this is sometimes a process that takes care of itself by itself and just happens naturally for some mothers, this isn’t the case for most mothers who’s supply won’t dry up without them interfering and pulling a few strings.
Even though milk oversupply is usually a problem that nursing mothers face more than exclusively pumping mothers do, you can equally implement the tips we’re going to discuss in this article no matter which of the two methods you use to feed your baby.
Why Would I Ever Want To Reduce My Milk Supply?!
It may seem counter-intuitive to do so, given that most mothers try to do exactly the opposite for breastfeeding purposes, but the following is a shortlist of circumstances in which you would want to have your milk supply reduced.
Oversupply: Having your body produce enough breast milk to meet your baby’s nutritional needs is a wonderful thing, but having an oversupply is a nightmare.
You’ll end up having more milk in your breasts than you can deal with, and that’s when you may begin experiencing physical pain from engorged breasts, blocked ducts and infections (such as mastitis).
Leakage: You may be experiencing breast milk leakage in between sessions, at night during sleep time or at random times throughout the day.
This may be causing you embarrassment if other people notice spots on your top when you’re not home, or may just be annoying because you now have to wash a perfectly fine top only because of breast milk leakage.
No More Room For Stash: You may have already expressed and stored all the breast milk your baby needs for the foreseeable future in your freezer, and may not have much room for storing more any time soon (not that you need to in that case, anyways).
Done With Nursing: Mothers having their kids shift from breastfeeding onto formula milk or from breastfeeding onto solid food will want to do so in a gradual manner, and will want to reduce their milk supply slowly over a period of time.
Done With Pumping: You may also be currently weaning off the breast pump, and just don’t need as much supply as you used to now that this phase is over.
How to Dry Up Your Breast Milk Supply
Before implementing any of the following tips, it’s very important that you take into consideration beforehand why it is exactly that you want your supply reduced.
That’s the only way you’ll be able to monitor how things are going over the course of the next few days and weeks, and tweak (or stop) whenever necessary.
Some mothers may see a decrease in a fairly short period of time, while others may need double the time to see the same results, so it varies from one person to the other.
As soon as you reach your “milk supply goal”, that’s your cue to stop so your body adjusts to the situation and understands that this is what you want from it.
If you don’t have a clear plan before implementing these tips, you’ll run the risk of running your supply way too low, which is basically solving one problem only by creating another.
It would also be ideal if you discuss your situation with your doctor, just to stay on the safe side and make sure that none of this is going to affect your health negatively. (This is particularly important if you have any ongoing health issues or conditions you’re working on treating with your doctor).
Consider discussing your situation with a lactation consultant as well.
I know I love eating my fair share of cabbage, and many of you reading this do as well, but topical application of it? Well, it turns out that whether you’re eating cabbage or just topically applying it on your breasts, it does its job in reducing milk supply really well.
And for those of you who want to keep it natural, cabbage is as natural as it will ever get!
Ideally, though, make the most use of cabbage when you’re in the process of weaning. Results may kick in much faster than you’d expect them to when you’re using cabbage outside the context of weaning.
Also, and before you make topical use of cabbage whatsoever, make sure that you don’t have any skin sensitivities to it, and that you don’t apply it on your breasts if you experience problems such as cracked nipples.
Cabbage application on such areas will only make these existing problems much worse, so aim to treat these problems first.
If you’re eating cabbage, then that’s easy and you don’t need anyone to guide you on how to do that, but when you’re topically applying them on your breasts, you should make sure to first properly compress the leaves so that your entire breast is covered.
Topical use of cabbage is an especially popular practice among mothers who experience engorged breasts, due to enzymes it secretes that are responsible for reducing milk production in the body.
Lactation consultants often recommend that you properly wash green cabbage leaves first, and then leave them on your breasts in between feeding sessions for around 15 to 20 minutes, around 2 to 4 times every 24 hours.
The leaves do not need to be refrigerated beforehand for them to work, but doing so is up to you based on what you’re more comfortable with. Some mothers feel that cooled cabbage works better for them because of the effect that anything cold has on reducing swelling.
You can also feel free to wear a bra during this topical application, as this will help hold the leaves more tightly and will give you freedom of moving around and getting stuff done instead of laying still, doing nothing at all. Tight bras (such as sport bras) are best in this case because of their ability to hold the leaves in more securely.
Be sure to change the green leaves you wrap around your breasts once every 2 hours for maximum effectiveness. You should definitely not leave the same cabbage leaves on your breasts for more than 24 hours, because they will become wilted and will lose much of their effectiveness.
Because such use of cabbage is known to affect milk supply relatively quickly, discontinue use as soon as you notice a decrease in your milk supply or engorgement.
One of the most popular herbs that mothers with oversupply take to reduce things a little bit is sage.
Sage comes in different forms that all have the same effect on your supply, so choosing the one you’re most comfortable with is up to you.
You can go with dried form that you can mix with food you’re having or swallow on its own, swallow-able sage capsules or ones you can make tea with (similar to how you would drink lactation tea when you want to improve your milk supply instead).
Sage is notorious for containing oestrogens that are responsible for reducing milk supply in mothers.
Again, if you’re going to start taking sage in any of its available forms, go gradually. Not all bodies react to it the same way, some take more time than others, so that’s why you should start slow to see how your body reacts.
3) Peppermint (And Other Mints)
Peppermint is also known to contain properties that slow milk supply down, especially peppermint tea.
With that said, results from sage often kick in faster than peppermint, so peppermint may be a suitable option for mothers who don’t want to try the most powerful of “tools” right from the start.
Speaking of peppermint, there are several other mints that could help you reduce your milk supply as well. Some of the most popular ones are spearmint, lemon balm, parsley and thyme.
4) Vitamin B6
Even though there’s very few scientific studies to back this claim up, it’s worth noting that there might be a correlation between Vitamin B6 intake and decreased milk production in a mother’s body.
Some experts claim that increased levels of Vitamin B6 in the body leads to decreased levels of plasma prolactin, which is one of the driving forces of milk production.
This should only be taken under the supervision and guidance of a doctor, after they’ve given you the go ahead to use it.
6) Change In Pumping Routine
Mothers who exclusively pump are able to decrease their milk supply by changing their pumping routine.
By gradually decreasing the number of pumping sessions you have a day, decreasing the volume of breast milk you pump in these sessions, decrease the duration of these sessions and increasing the time between them, you’ll be sending your body just the right message it needs to receive.
A gradual approach is the most important thing here, because breasts that are rapidly weaned and not given enough time to cope with the changes are much more likely to become engorged, develop mastitis and have you feel excruciating pain.
That’s the general gist of it, but there’s many more details to it, so read this article we wrote about how to wean from the pump if you’re interested in learning more about all of this.
This ties back to the fact that a body’s milk production is affected by “supply and demand”. The more milk you extract from your breasts, the more signals you’ll be giving your body to keep up the good work and the more milk it will produce – and vice versa.
7) One Breast At A Time
During breastfeeding sessions, do not offer your baby both breasts during a single session if you need production to decrease in one breast more than the other.
If that’s the case, then stick to only offering your baby one breast to feed on. They should be able to get all the nutrition they need from that breast alone.
As for the other breast, you shouldn’t completely let it be and not put it to use at all when it’s feeling full and starting to annoy you, you should express minimally with it just till the discomfort is gone.
Pumping minimally from it will help prevent engorgement, but won’t signal the need for more milk production.
Do not empty the engorged breast, because an empty breast is one that will produce milk at a faster rate than one that still had plenty of milk stored.
You should only minimally express milk from it to relieve some of the excruciating pain and get it down to livable levels.
As soon as your breast doesn’t feel like it’s going to burst anymore, that’s your cue to stop pumping.
8) Cold Compresses
When dealing with engorged breasts, heat is your enemy – applying heat on engorged (or swollen) breasts will only make the situation worse.
Instead, applying ice packs on that area is the way to go, as cold packs will take care of the swelling you may have around that area.
9) Minimize Breast & Nipple Stimulation
Anything you do that stimulates your nipples will also, whether directly or indirectly, lead to more milk production.
So for starters, avoid wearing any piece of clothing that constantly rubs against your nipples. Try to keep breast massages to a minimal as well.
This is also why it’s advised you make as minimal use of your pump as possible, because that will be stimulating your breasts into producing more milk.
10) Don’t Dehydrate Yourself!
Because one of the easiest (and most effective) tips to increase milk supply in women is staying properly hydrated through the day, some mothers may think that decreasing water intake will decrease milk supply.
Purposefully dehydrating yourself is something you should never do, no matter what it is you’re trying to achieve.
Your milk supply may dry up, but it’s going to be at the expense of your health and well being, which is a terrible idea no matter how you look at it.
Also, the pain you’re experiencing and swelling you have won’t go away if your body is dehydrated – they’ll only get worse.
When Will I Start Noticing Results?
The answer to this question will almost always vary from mother to mother, depending on what’s being done to slow down the milk supply and how the body is reacting to all of it.
Even though it could possibly take up to 9 to 12 weeks for you to notice a significant reduction in your milk supply, most mothers begin noticing a difference during the first 1 to 3 weeks of implementing the tips we’ve discussed above.
Will Anything Happen That I Need To Know Of Beforehand?
When your body’s milk supply slows down, there are a few changes you’ll likely go through that you should be aware of beforehand. This way, you won’t be surprised when they rear their ugly heads, but you’ll be prepared for them before they happen.
The first issue many mothers experience during this phase is mood swings. This is normal and is nothing you should be overly worried about, because with reduction in milk supply comes changes in hormone levels that cause these mood swings.
Another issue is the feeling of guilt and resentment.
Even though this is something that has to be done sooner or later, many mothers feel like they’re doing something unnatural that they shouldn’t be involved in.
When you’re drying up your milk supply because of any of the reasons mentioned in this article, these thoughts should not be crossing your mind whatsoever.
Can I Take Something For The Pain?
If you’re planning on taking medication to help ease the pain and swelling that comes with an engorged breast, such as medication that contains ibuprofen or acetaminophen, it’s best that you talk to your doctor about it first and have them advise you on whether that would be a good idea or not.
What may be okay for you to take may be detrimental to someone else with different circumstances.
For all you know, your doctor may determine that you have a rare case which requires something extreme like estrogen injections, but you’ll never know this unless you get a professional medical opinion on the issue.