If you're thinking about weaning from breastfeeding, you may be wondering how long it will take your milk supply to dry up once you cut back on nursing or stop completely. The short answer is that the timeline is different for each person, and a variety of factors come into play.
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For some help with this topic, here's more about breastmilk supply, weaning and decreasing your milk production.
It typically takes between four and 14 days for your milk supply to dry up after weaning, but the exact time can vary based on factors like your baby's age and how often you were nursing or expressing.
What Is Weaning, Exactly?
Weaning is when you stop producing milk because you stop breastfeeding or pumping and transition your child from breastmilk to table foods and other liquids.
This milestone may occur at the six-month mark when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the introduction of solid foods, at 1 year of age when more table foods are on the menu and cow's milk (or another type of milk) is allowed, or any time after that, when both parent and child are ready.
Because of the many benefits of breastfeeding, the AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then continued nursing, along with solid foods, until age 1. But the organization recently updated its breastfeeding guidelines for the first time in a decade to support nursing for two years or longer, if both the parent and child enjoy it. This new advice is now aligned with that of similar groups, including the World Health Organization.
But keep in mind the above ages are a general guideline and that weaning can occur at any point, depending on your own personal needs related to a return to work, the care of other children or simply a desire to stop nursing or serving bottles of pumped milk. You can always ask your baby's pediatrician for assistance and advice, too, based on your family's individual needs.
Factors That Affect the Quality and Quantity of Breastmilk
It may be comforting to learn that the quality of your breastmilk is always good, says Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC, an international board-certified lactation consultant.
"In fact, breastmilk changes to meet the unique needs of the baby, depending on your infant's age, and it's even more concentrated in nutrients when babies are born prematurely," she adds.
If diabetes is a factor for you, know that most medications, like metformin and insulin, are fine to take when nursing, per the American Diabetes Association. But your blood sugar may be harder to track while breastfeeding, so it's a wise idea to watch it closely.
Quantity: Demand and Supply
The amount of milk you produce is directly related to the time you spend nursing or pumping, according to KidsHealth. The more you breastfeed or use a pump to express milk, the more milk your breasts will make.
Waiting to feed or pump won't actually fill your breasts more — in fact, the opposite is true. Any delay in the regular feeding schedule you've set up will signal to your body that you don't need the milk you already have and then prompt it to create less.
The following factors may also affect your supply, O'Connor says:
- Stress or illness: Outside stressors or sickness can temporarily derail your supply.
- Formula supplementation: Combination feeding is perfectly fine, but unnecessary supplementing without adequate pumping can reduce your breastmilk.
- Medications: Certain drugs may also affect a person's milk supply.
- Weak suckle or tongue tie: Both of these contribute to a weak latch and make breastfeeding a challenge. Without good suckling and subsequent drainage of the breasts by your infant, your supply may be affected for the worse.
- Past surgery or breast defects: Whether there's been an augmentation or reduction, breast surgery may result in a less-than-adequate milk supply. And hypoplasia of the breasts, which is also called IGT (insufficient glandular tissue) means the breasts don't contain enough mammary tissue to support successful breastfeeding.
If you have questions about your milk supply, you can always speak with your child's pediatrician or get help from a certified lactation consultant.
Signs Your Breastmilk Supply Is Low
Worried about your breastmilk supply? Many new parents have this concern, although it's often unwarranted. You can tell you have enough by checking the contents and number of diapers your baby produces.
After the first several days of life, your infant should have six or more wet diapers and four or more yellowish poops a day. A well-fed infant will also nurse or take pumped breastmilk eight to 12 times a day, seem satisfied after each feeding and steadily gain weight.
O'Connor notes that signs of a low milk supply may be noticed in your baby's behavior, though there might also be physical issues at play as well. Here's what to look for:
- Poor weight gain: Not adding weight or progressing at the expected rate
- Frustration at the breast: Excessive crying while nursing or rooting around
- Constant feeding: Long sessions at the breast or bottle that don't satisfy your baby
If you're concerned about your supply, schedule a visit with a lactation consultant.
How Do You Know When It's Time to Start Weaning Your Baby Off Breastmilk?
When to wean your baby is a personal decision that will differ for every breastfeeding parent. Heading back to work, caring for other children in the house or a preference to stop nursing are all valid reasons.
As you weigh this moment, you might also note whether your baby or toddler is giving you signs they're ready to give up the breast or bottle. These might include less interest in nursing (stopping, looking around), greater interest in table foods, less desire to sit still to breastfeed (running is more fun!) or simply a gradual decrease in the number of breastfeeding sessions or the length of time spent at the breast or bottle during each feeding.
You might also find that your willingness to continue breastfeeding has ended and it's time to stop.
Remember, weaning doesn't need to be (and shouldn't be) abrupt or sudden, nor must it be an all-or-nothing proposition, per La Leche League. You might find that weaning just the daytime nursing sessions is best for you but still continue to breastfeed at night, for example.
The bottom line: Unless you need to wean suddenly for a medical reason, there's no correct time or hard-and-fast method for doing it — as long as the process is gradual.
How Long Does It Take Breast Milk to Dry Up?
The length of time it takes for milk to dry up depends on your baby's age as well as how long and how often you've been nursing.
In general, though: "The timing can vary from four to 14 days, on average," says O'Connor.
For example, if you're breastfeeding a six-month-old eight to 12 times a day, drying up your milk will take far longer than it will if you've been nursing a 2-year-old who suckles just a couple of times a day for a minute or two at a time.
But weaning is often a process, and it can also take several weeks or even months to completely stop nursing, especially if one last feeding is kept on for a while.
Tips for Weaning and Decreasing Milk Supply
Generally, you'll continue producing milk as long as milk is being removed from your breasts, per the Cleveland Clinic. So whether you breastfeed or use a breast pump (or use a combination of the two), the key is to gradually decrease how much milk you're removing each day.
Try these smart tips for weaning and drying up your breast milk naturally:
- Go slowly: Spread out the weaning process over several weeks, if possible, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weaning slowly will help your milk diminish gradually and ease any pain from engorgement (overly full, tender breasts).
- Drop just one feeding at a time: If you're nursing, "start off by dropping one feeding every few days," suggests O'Connor. You might nix the least desired one (mid-afternoon, perhaps), suggests the Mayo Clinic.
- Reduce pumping time: For exclusive-pumpers, "you can either reduce the pumping time or the frequency — or both," O'Connor says.
- Try some tea: Want to speed up the process? O'Connor says to drink some strong peppermint tea, which may help decrease your supply.
- Use ice: Cold compresses, ice packs or even cold cabbage leaves wrapped around your breasts can ease the discomfort that may accompany weaning, per the Mayo Clinic.
- Wear a supportive bra: The same idea holds here — a good bra can support achy breasts during weaning.
- Ask about OTC meds: Most over-the-counter pain relievers are usually fine to take when breastfeeding, but ask your doctor before taking them to be sure.
Weaning FAQs and Other Considerations
As for other considerations as you approach the weaning phase, here's what to keep in mind:
What to Avoid
As mentioned, weaning slowly is the best way to ease away from the breast or bottle so both your child and your body can adjust at a reasonable pace, without pain or surprise.
Along with a supportive bra, wear loose-fitting clothing, says O'Connor. "Fast weaning and tight clothing can lead to mastitis, an inflammation of the breast tissue."
What to Expect in Terms of Discomfort
You may feel some breast discomfort, along the lines of a dull ache, as you wean, but this can be alleviated with a small amount of hand expressing or pumping, notes O'Connor.
But don't do a full pumping session, as this tells your body to produce more milk — the opposite of what you're trying to achieve. Pump or express just enough to feel some relief.
How to Know When Milk Has Dried Up
After a few weeks of weaning, you can check your breasts by squeezing the nipple a little bit to see if there's any milk left.
Once you're down to one feeding a day, the amount you have should be rather small.
How Long Does Engorgement Last When Weaning?
If you follow a gradual weaning schedule (dropping one feeding every few days), you should be able to avoid engorgement altogether.
But in general, engorgement should improve in a day or so and can be treated with ice to reduce swelling and gentle massage as you nurse or express milk using a breast or hand pump, according to La Leche League.
Weaning and Postpartum Depression
"The process of making milk involves hormones, and if the weaning is too swift it can impact a person's mood and mental health," O'Connor says.
Going too fast with weaning may even drop the breastfeeding parent into postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, she adds.
If your weaning process is causing excessive crying, sadness, appetite loss, a change in your sleep pattern, irritability, feelings of hopelessness or shame, seek help right away from your ob-gyn or primary care doctor, per the Mayo Clinic.
Can You Produce Milk After Drying Up?
Yes, it's possible for some people to re-lactate, although it's not typically an easy process. If you're interested in re-starting your milk supply after weaning, it's best to work with a lactation consultant.
- Nemours KidsHealth: "Weaning Your Child"
- American Academy of Pediatrics: "Updated AAP guidance recommends longer breastfeeding due to benefits"
- American Diabetes Association: "Breastfeeding and Diabetes"
- Nemours KidsHealth: "Breastfeeding FAQs: Supply and Demand"
- La Leche League International: "Weaning - How to"
- Mayo Clinic: "Can medication help suppress lactation after childbirth?"
- World Health Organization: "Breastfeeding"
- Mayo Clinic: "Postpartum Depression"
- La Leche League: "Engorged Breasts – Avoiding and Treating"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Weaning"
- Mayo Clinic: "Weaning: Tips for breast-feeding mothers"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Lactation"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.