Breast-feeding is an incredible experience for mother, child and family, but at some point, it must come to an end. What is the best way to do that?
Hi everybody, I’m Joubin Gabbay, a board-certified plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills. I specialize in breast surgery, and have helped countless moms with difficulties associated with breast-feeding. I’d like to share some sound advice to help moms who are planning on completing their incredible journey through the world of breast-feeding.
As with every part of pregnancy, raising your baby and breast-feeding, the process of finishing breast-feeding can be totally different from person to person. That said, I can share a ton of advice to make the process as smooth as possible.
In every case where the mom has decided that it is time to stop breast-feeding, it’s important to pay close attention to the emotional changes that go with it. Remember…this is something that a mom has put a huge effort into and has a huge emotional component to it. Also, there are major hormone changes that can make your feelings that much stronger. It is important to anticipate this, and incredibly helpful to have a good support system to get you through the process.
One of the most important questions to ask when thinking about how to stop breast-feeding is: how quickly do you need to do it? For most moms, it is something that can happen with a certain amount of planning and advanced notice. In some cases, however, breast-feeding needs to stop over a period of days or a couple of weeks and may require a different approach.
When you can take your time to wean off breast-feeding, the process can be a beautiful experience for mom, baby and family. The main issues to think about are both reducing milk supply and minimizing / comforting breast fullness / engorgement / backup. As you go through it, remember this as one of the guiding principles: the less milk you pull, the less milk you make!
- Feed for fewer minutes and less often: Cut the feeding time by about three minutes per session and stretch out the time between sessions by 30-60 minutes or more approximately every week. This is an easier approach when pumping, and with older children who are not solely dependent on breast milk.
- Alternatively, drop one feeding session approximately every week. This feeding session may be replaced with a bottle or a child’s cup (with straw) with formula, or food, cow’s milk, etc. if they are older and on the advice of your pediatrician. Often the mid-day feeds are the first to drop, as there can be more attachment to the morning or night feeds.
- Herbal supplements can help slow down milk production. These include sage and peppermint teas (among others) that are specially made and can be found in many health food stores.
- Believe it or not, using a cabbage cream, or even wrapping your breasts with cabbage leaves can help reduce milk production!
- Wear a slightly more snug bra
- Try occasional icing of your breasts to reduce milk supply and calm breast fullness
- Motrin or Tylenol can be used to help with soreness and inflammation
- Massage your breasts and armpits with oil in a warm shower if you have painful fullness, engorgement or lumps.
There are some cases where moms are pushed to stop breast-feeding rapidly (sometimes as quickly as one or two weeks). This may be because of infection, chronically blocked milk supply, or any number of reasons. In these cases, the goal is to stop the milk supply as quickly as possible and to try to control the symptoms of milk backup and breast pain that may result. It is important to seek the advice of a medical professional when rapidly stopping breast feeding.
- Rapid drop in feeding time and increased gap between feeds: Cut the feeding time by approximately two minutes, then five minutes and then ten minutes every 2-3 days. Stretch out feedings by at least a few hours every few days.
- Hold back on drinking lots of water – it will cut down your milk production
- Ice the breasts every two hours (both to reduce milk production and to provide comfort). It is important to be careful not to have direct contact of ice with the skin for a long time to prevent frostbite (seriously!!!).
- Use herbal teas including peppermint and sage, among others, to reduce milk supply.
- Wrap your breasts with cold cabbage leaves (I know it sounds crazy, but it seems to work well!)
- Reduce your daily calorie intake by 250 to (eventually) 400 calories
- Reduce your intake of oats and grains – complex carbohydrates that can increase milk production.
- Discuss with your physician the option of starting a full-strength birth control pill (you should not give any breast milk to the baby when you are on full strength birth control)
- In truly emergent situations, your physician can prescribe certain drugs (bromocriptine, cabergoline, etc.) to more rapidly stop milk production.
- The most uncomfortable breast fullness and milk backup usually last for the first 48 hours
- Wear a very snug bra (it may also help reduce milk supply)
- Breast massage by an experienced massage therapist may help reduce inflammation and breast fullness / engorgement
- Wrapping the breasts may help reduce fullness (be careful not to wrap too tightly!). Understand that there MAY be an increased risk of clogged ducts, so be attentive!!!
- Use anti-inflammatories like Motrin / Advil and Tylenol as needed, and occasionally narcotic pain medications under the supervision of a physician.
Breast-feeding can be an amazing experience for mom, baby and family. When it is time to stop, the experience can be done in a thoughtful and positive way. I hope the ideas above will help. It goes without saying, you should discuss any questions you have about the process with your lactation consultant, physician or other medical professional. Best of luck!