How to stop making milk

How do I dry up?

When milk is no longer regularly or effectively removed from the breasts by breastfeeding or expressing, it remains in the milk sacs, where it is made. The increased amount of milk in the sacs signals the cells lining the sacs to stop making milk. This process is called drying up. It is best if the breasts dry up gradually. It can be painful if mothers suddenly stop breastfeeding or expressing or it can cause breast infections. The length of time it takes to dry up varies from one to two weeks. The larger the milk supply, the longer it takes.

A) How breasts stop making milk

A mother stops making milk (dries up) once she has weaned her baby and is no longer expressing. When breast milk is not removed from the breast by breastfeeding or expressing, it remains in the milk sacs (alveoli), where it is made. The increased amount of milk in the sacs signals the cells lining the sacs to stop makinmilk (Peaker 1996). This process is called drying up.

B) The process of drying up

It is best to dry-up gradually and use occasional breastfeeding or expression of small amounts of milk to avoid painful problems. Suddenly stopping breastfeeding or expressing causes inflammation in the breast and might have negative long-term effects (Basree 2019). Mothers can also use supportive measures like cold compresses and gentle breast massage. 

If you suddenly stop breastfeeding or expressing, your breasts may fill uncomfortably with milk within hours. Without proper treatment, this filling can last one to three days.

Medication to stop the production of milk can be effective but has risks and is rarely needed. Mothers may use herbs or decongestants to reduce milk production but there is little evidence supporting this.  

Mothers who are actively drying-up generally will have minimal milk production within one or two weeks. The larger the milk supply, the longer it takes to dry up.

If mothers are allowing babies to self-wean, milk production will continue until the baby stops breastfeeding.

C) Tools that are no longer recommended

1) Limiting fluid

Some mothers are advised to limit the amount of liquids they drink or to take pills to make them pee more (diuretics). Neither of these approaches is recommended as a way to stop milk production (Grueger 2013). 

2) Breast binding 

Breast binding is no longer used. 

3) Medication 

The medication bromocriptine is known as the “dry-up pill”. It was to stop the production of milk and is not recommended as it has been reported to have dangerous side-effects (heart attack, seizures, stroke, death).

In the past, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and estrogens were used to stop milk production. There is very little research supporting these (McGuire 2018). Vitamin B6 is unlikely to have any side-effects but estrogen may increase the risk of blood clots developing.

D) Making milk after weaning

Mothers may still be able to express drops of milk months after weaning.

Leaking is considered abnormal if it continues for six months after weaning or if it resumes after having stopped months previously. This can be caused by abnormal functioning of the thyroid or pituitary gland or other parts of the brain. Some medications can also have this effect. Please see your health-care provider if this develops.

References

Basree MM, Shinde N, Koivisto C, et al. Abrupt involution induces inflammation, estrogenic signaling, and hyperplasia linking lack of breastfeeding with increased risk of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2019 Jul 17;21(1):80
 
Grueger B; Canadian Paediatric Society, Community Paediatrics Committee. Weaning from the breast. Paediatr Child Health 2013;18(4):210
 
McGuire TM. Drugs affecting milk supply during lactation. Aust Prescr. 2018 Feb;41(1):7-9
 
Peaker M, Wilde CJ. Feedback control of milk secretion from milk. Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 1996 Jul;1(3):307-15.