People who do not breastfeed and those who breastfeed less may want to dry up their breast milk.
Lactation in a person who does not breastfeed or pump can cause pain, engorgement, leaking breasts, and sometimes an infection called mastitis.
Some people may only want to decrease the supply because of engorgement, whereas others may hope to eliminate their supply as quickly as possible.
This article will look at some home remedies and medications that may help reduce breast milk, as well as some safety considerations and risks.
Breast milk will eventually dry up on its own if the person stops nursing. However, the length of time this takes can vary from person to person, and people may experience painful engorgement in the meantime.
The following techniques are popular for drying up breast milk, though research into their benefits has yielded mixed results.
Avoid nursing or pumping
One of the main things a person can do to dry up breast milk is avoid nursing or pumping. The supply of breast milk increases with demand.
Avoiding nursing or pumping, even if a person feels uncomfortable, tells the body to produce less milk.
People who feel that they must express milk should express a small amount and avoid doing anything that stimulates the nipples or breasts.
Try cabbage leaves
Several studies have investigated cabbage leaves as a remedy for engorgement.
Although some guides recommend using the leaves to reduce supply, one 2012 study found that the leaves increased breastfeeding duration. This was not because cabbage increased supply, but because it reduced the pain of nursing.
So although cabbage may help with engorgement pain, it may not dry up breast milk supply.
Consume herbs and teas
Some herbal teas have the potential to dry up breast milk. However, the extent to which they work depends on whether or not they contain the right herbs to dry up breast milk.
A person can try specific herbs in teas, incorporate herbal supplements into their diet, or eat edible herbs.
Some herbs that may help include:
- Sage: Many anecdotal sources recommend using sage teas to reduce or eliminate breast milk supply. However, no research has yet assessed its effect on a nursing infant. Additionally, high doses can lower blood sugar and cause nausea or dizziness, so a person should follow the package instructions and stop using it if any symptoms appear.
- Jasmine: Jasmine may lower levels of prolactin, a hormone that helps produce breast milk. However, researchers have not yet identified safe levels for this herb. So, it may be safer to use it only as an ingredient in a preprepared tea containing other herbs, such as sage.
- Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil may reduce milk supply when a person applies it directly to the breasts. The tingling it causes may also ease the pain of engorgement. However, the oil is toxic at moderately high doses, so people should never use it if they are still nursing or putting an infant on the chest for skin-to-skin contact.
- Parsley: Like Jasmine, parsley may lower prolactin levels. Try using parsley as a seasoning or eating it as part of a salad.
Try breast binding
Though people have practiced breast binding to reduce milk supply for centuries, there is little evidence to suggest that it works.
In fact, one 2012 analysis of existing research found that this method increased pain rather than reducing weaning-related discomfort.
Gently massaging the breasts (not the nipples) may help ease the pain of engorgement. However, too much breast stimulation can increase milk supply. Therefore, massage only as much as is necessary to ease the pain.
Some medications can also dry up breast milk, but a person should talk to a doctor before using them. The sections below list some potential options.
Drugs such as cabergoline and bromocriptine reduce prolactin levels, helping dry up breast milk supply.
These drugs work well at lowering milk supply shortly after delivery, but research has not yet assessed how well these drugs work later in lactation, such as when weaning a toddler.
Only a doctor can prescribe these medications.
Estrogen and birth control pills
Estrogen can help reduce breast milk supply. If someone is not trying to get pregnant, they can take estrogen in a combined hormonal birth control pill.
A 2014 paper emphasizes that milk supply should dry up within 5–7 days, making birth control a viable short-term strategy even for those who hope to get pregnant soon.
Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine may eliminate breast milk supply.
One 2003 analysis found that the effect was most pronounced in people in the late stages of breastfeeding, around 60–80 weeks after delivery.
Decongestants do get into breast milk, so people trying this option should stop nursing and not use this method to merely reduce supply.
The time it takes to dry up milk supply varies from person to person. For example, someone with an established milk supply may need more time, while people lactating only a few drops may require only a few days.
Nursing or pumping will cause the body to produce more milk. Therefore, a person who nurses, even sporadically, may need to allow more time for the milk to dry up.
The main risk of drying up breast milk is engorgement. Engorgement is very painful and may cause a type of breast inflammation called mastitis. Although mastitis can sometimes clear up on its own, it can also cause a serious infection.
All medications, even over-the-counter supplements, present some risks. A person who is still nursing, even just occasionally, should talk to a doctor or lactation counselor about the risks associated with using various remedies to reduce or eliminate supply.
It is also important for people to discuss their medical history with a doctor. Certain drugs may interact with medications to reduce breast milk supply. Some medical conditions may increase the risk associated with various remedies.
A person should call a doctor if:
- their breast milk supply has not declined within 2 weeks
- they develop symptoms of mastitis, such as a fever, a hard lump in the breast, or painful breasts
- they have symptoms of a reaction to treatments that reduce milk supply, such as a rash, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting
- they experience intense depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm following delivery or weaning
Drying up breast milk takes time. The home remedies that work for one person might not work for another.
A doctor or lactation counselor can also make evidence-based recommendations for reducing pain and eliminating milk supply.