It is very natural for women’s bodies to make milk for their newborn babies. Milk production begins shortly after conception. As soon as your baby is born and the placenta sheds, your body starts to produce milk to feed the baby.

Your body releases a hormone known as, prolactin. The more you nurse the more prolactin is release to make more milk. If you are not breastfeeding or pumping your milk, another hormone will be released known as, prolactin inhibiting factor or PIF. This will tell your body you won’t be needing breast milk and it will eventually “dry up.”

How Long Does It Take For Breast Milk To Dry Up?

If you refrain from nursing your baby or pumping your milk, your body will take 7 to 10 days after your baby is born to balance the hormones to a pre-pregnancy state, however, it could take a couple of weeks for it all to be gone. This first week to week and a half may be uncomfortable. Your breasts will feel very full and heavy. This may be painful and you may feel the need to express milk. It is important to do this very carefully so you don’t stimulate more milk production.

Some people may offer advice that is not healthy such as binding the breasts. This is unsafe and can lead to breast ducts becoming plugged and infection. This is known as mastitis and make you feel even worse. You can try to wear a bra that gives extra support during this time as long as it is not too tight.

How to Dry Up Breast Milk Safely

1. Wean Gradually

Only replace 1 to 2 feedings daily until there are no more breast feedings. This way, your body can gradually stop making breast milk. Sudden stopping of breast feeds can cause engorgement and pain. Here is a schedule for weaning from feedings or pumping:

  • First Day. Pump breasts 5 minutes every four to five hours.
  • Second Day. Pump breasts 5 minutes every two to three hours.
  • Third Day to Seventh Day. Only pump to relieve pain and engorgement. Less than 5 minutes if possible.

2. Drink Sage Tea

There is a natural form of estrogen in sage that may help your milk dry up. Try using sage in one of these two types:

  • Sage Tea. Look for sage tea at natural and health food stores. Brew it according to directions and add some honey and milk for flavor.
  • Sage Tincture. You can also find sage tincture at natural and health food markets. Find the kind that is sage oil mixed in a base of alcohol. It is said that sage tincture is more effective for breast milk drying than sage tea.

3. Apply Cabbage Leaves to Relieve the Pain 

Cabbages leaves may contain chemicals that can help relieve the inflammation and swelling of engorgement, according to researchers. This home remedy has been used for quite a few years for the relief of engorged breasts. You can tear up refrigerated cabbage leaves and place them inside of your bra until they become softened. Make sure when tearing them that you remove the veins in the leaves that may rub against your tender skin. Use caution if you have a sulfa or cabbage allergy.

4. Apply Cold Compresses

Frozen vegetables make great cold compresses! You can also use the soft gel ice packs. Place cold compresses on your breast area for up to 20 minutes periodically throughout the day. Make sure you wrap the ice packs in a cloth or towel. Direct application can cause ice burns on the skin. Contrary to some popular advice, heat or warm packs are not advisable to relieve discomfort. Heat can cause milk to let down and spray from the nipples, further increasing your milk supply.

5. Seek Medical Help

You may be able to ask your doctor for an estrogen injection. Recently, they are not being used as much. Estrogen injections can suppress the estrogen in the body, but they have been found to possibly cause cancer.

There is another medication called, Parlodel or bromocriptine. This drug is also not readily used due to side-effects such as; heart attack stroke and increased blood pressure.

6. More Tips

  • Expressing a small amount of milk to relieve discomfort is fine. You need to understand the more you express the more milk your body will produce and this will just postpone milk from drying up. Use caution in the hot shower as the heat can make your milk “let down” and increase milk production.
  • Make sure you take in plenty of fluids. Dehydration may increase milk production in some cases and this can make you feel worse.
  • With your doctor’s okay, use an over-the-counter pain reliever that contains acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These medications can help relieve swelling and pain.
  • Try not to stimulate nipple areas. Your body may mistake any type of touch for your baby’s feeding and may trigger your hormones to keep producing milk.

Here is some helpful advice from an experienced mom to answer how long does it take for breast milk to dry up and what to do to speed up the process:

“For me, it took about a month for breast milk to completely dry up. If you decide not to breastfeed or stop breastfeeding, it is important not to go “cold turkey,” this can make you run the risk of getting mastitis and can be very painful. A better way is to reduce feedings by one every couple of days until your breasts dry up. If you don’t breastfeed, you can pump your milk only when you’re feeling very uncomfortable. Just don’t completely empty the breasts. Pumping or feeding too much can make your body step up milk production. After the very last feeding or pumping session, you may still notice some milk in your breasts for weeks to months. Once you feel comfortable, stop feeding or pumping completely and milk production will stop. Your breasts will continue to store milk for some time and this will dry up eventually. I noticed my baby refusing breast milk at around 6 months of age and transitioned him to bottle feeding. I would feed him all of his feedings out of bottles and pumped when I felt uncomfortable. This helped relieve the pressure and I didn’t have to worry about my breasts being sore. My baby was very satisfied with formula and some of my milk that I pumped until my breast milk was gone.”