For a variety of reasons, new moms can be faced with the need to stop lactation. It may sound easy, but shutting down the shop is quite the opposite.
As someone who has been there, I found the hardest part was choosing which method to use. One doctor told me to bandage my breasts as tightly as possible, while an Internet search revealed a variety of wacky methods (why yes, I did cover my boobs in cabbage leaves).
What works—and what doesn’t?
Some women swear by the simple act of quitting nursing or pumping cold turkey. That can be painful because you’re still producing milk and not relieving the pressure. It could lead to clogged ducts, which is what I experienced when I took the advice of a pediatric specialist and put on the tightest sports bra I had. Within hours, I had multiple clogged ducts and was popping ibuprofen.
Then, of course, after a failed attempt, I reached out to my lactation consultant, Laura Sarantinoudis-Jones. She’s always got the best advice and this was no exception. While it took a few weeks to stop lactating completely, I am happy to report that I did so relatively painlessly. (The emotional pain may be another story for some of you, because it is for many of us.)
What did my boob guru have to say to all of you?
Dry ‘Em Up
“If moms have to wean for any reason, I would definitely recommend doing it gradually,” she said.
If the baby is still interested in your breast, you should still offer it but you can cut down by dropping one feeding at a time or cutting down the length of a session.
“Slowly is better whether it come to pumping or feeding directly at the breast,” she said.
Be prepared for plugged ducts, the possibility of mastitis and general discomfort if you choose to stop abruptly.
“Some babies will self-wean when they are ready, and others need a little help. You want it to be a smooth, comfortable process for both the mom and baby,” she said.
“If weaning is gradual, which is ideal then your supply will gradually decrease, and you shouldn’t have much discomfort,” Lorick said. “However, if you find yourself in a situation where you must abruptly stop nursing, it is still best not to abruptly stop breast stimulation. Stopping abruptly can cause your breasts to become very full and can be painful. You can actually end up with mastitis, a very painful breast infection with systemic symptoms.”
Of course, some of this advice applies to wanting to stop breastfeeding. In other cases like mine, you may not be able to give your child breastmilk for health reasons, so there is more of an impetus to stop lactating quickly. Whatever boat you’re in, talk to your doctor about the method that’s right for you.
(And yes, I do think cabbage leaves helped.)