Stopping your breast milk supply once it’s been established can be an uncomfortable process. Your breasts will still become engorged as production tapers off, requiring you to express milk to reduce your risk of developing mastitis. Taking a vitamin B-6 supplement, also known as pyridoxine, may help relieve engorgement, but studies on whether vitamin B-6 actually reduces milk production haven’t yielded consistent results.
Women suppress lactation for various reasons, including infant loss or the desire to formula feed. Many nursing mothers wean older babies over a period of time, which allows milk production to taper off slowly. When weaning isn’t involved, you must express your milk with a breast pump or by hand to avoid health complications. If breast milk doesn’t flow, it becomes thicker and can clog the ducts, which sets the stage for mastitis, or breast inflammation. Mastitis can lead to infection, which sometimes requires surgical draining. If your milk supply is low, you might not experience engorgement. Fuller supplies, however, can require milk expression for two to three weeks before production tapers off.
Vitamin B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin essential for body function and health. It’s necessary for nervous system and immune system function, digestion, neurotransmitter production and the synthesis of hormones and red blood cells. Food sources of vitamin B-6 include fortified cereal, potatoes, bananas, garbanzo beans and chicken. The recommended daily allowance, or RDA, of vitamin B-6 for women aged 19 to 50 is 1.3 milligrams.
High doses of vitamin B-6 supplements have been reported to reduce breast milk production, according to “The Nursing Mother’s Companion.” In an article on the website Pregnancy.org, international board certified lactation consultant Anne Smith suggests several courses of action to relieve engorgement, including taking 200 milligrams of vitamin B-6 a day for five days. According to Smith, reducing sodium intake can also help, because excess sodium promotes fluid retention. Taking warm showers, wearing a supportive bra, using cabbage leaf compresses and drinking sage tea, which contains production-reducing estrogen, can also help.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine set the upper tolerable intake level, or UL, of vitamin B-6 supplements for all adults, including pregnant and lactating women, at 100 milligrams, and the UL for pregnant or lactating females under the age of 19 at 80 milligrams. Long-term intake of vitamin B-6 supplements above the maximum dosing recommendation increases the risk of adverse effects, including nerve damage and loss of sensation in the feet and hands. Consult your health care provider and pharmacist before taking more than the maximum recommended dose of vitamin B-6, even if only intended for a short time, as the recommended vitamin B-6 intake needed to suppress lactation far exceeds the safe upper limit.
- The Nursing Mother’s Companion; Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S.
- Pregnancy.org: Lactation Suppression
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B6
- BreastfeedingBasics.com: Lactation Suppression
- AskDrSears.com: Mastitis