MS, RDN, CDN
Allison is a registered dietitian who holds a Master’s in Nutrition and Physical Fitness. She also loves helping families get creative with their wellness choices.
Our body naturally starts producing milk once our baby is born, whether we intend to breastfeed or not. In fact, colostrum – the first milk your body produces – begins to develop during pregnancy. Some women experience leaking of this yellowish milk prenatally, typically after week 16.
Once your baby is delivered, changes in hormones cause the
body to produce milk. This usually results in engorgement, including tissue
swelling when your breasts overfill with milk. At this time your breasts may
feel firm, warm, heavy, and generally uncomfortable. The onset of engorgement
may occur anywhere between 2 and 5 days after birth and the symptoms may last
anywhere between 2 and 3 days, longer if not breastfeeding.
There are no approved drugs on the market to speed up the
process of drying up your milk. Some moms report that herbs such
as sage and peppermint help to reduce milk production; talk to your doctor
before taking any supplements.
There are many reasons why someone would want or need to
suddenly dry up their milk supply. This process is especially difficult after
infant loss or stillbirth.
Many moms find that donating the breast milk they have and/or will be pumping
can help. Visit http://www.hmbana.org
for more information. Milk banks typically waive minimum donation requirements
for bereaved mothers.
Here are some tips that may help alleviate some discomfort
and assist in preventing the body from continuing to produce milk:
Some women feel the let-down sensation weeks after their
milk has dried up. This is a normal response; know that it will pass
Other potential, though uncommon, side effects
Occasionally engorgement may
lead to a clogged duct or mastitis. A clogged duct is when milk flow becomes
obstructed. You may notice a hard lump
or small area of engorgement in one breast. That area may feel tender, hot, and
may look red. To help unplug the duct,
use heat such as a hot shower, hot wet pads, or a small hot water bottle to
help loosen the plug. Gently massaging the area when the breast is warm a few
times per day may also help. Wear a looser fitting bra to help prevent clogged
If the clog does not resolve, it may be necessary to express
a bit of milk to help break up the plug and move it out of the breast.
Mastitis is when bacteria begin to grow and
cause an infection in breastmilk when the breast is not drained appropriately.
This typically feels like you have aches and fever associate with the flu,
along with burning, redness, or pain in the entire breast. If you feel any of
these symptoms, call your doctor immediately as antibiotics may be necessary.
Please see the What To Do section for more information on
mastitis and clogged ducts.
Stay the course
Even if it is rather uncomfortable now, know that your
symptoms will begin to improve in a few days and will not last much longer
If you experience symptoms that you are unsure about, reach
out to your health care provider for more information and guidance.
Getting through the discomfort
While our bodies are biologically set to produce milk, you can try
some of these tips to help reduce the
discomfort associated with engorgement.
When milk doesn’t move through the
breast well, a clogged duct or nipple pore may develop.
Mastitis is a bacterial infection
in the breast brought on by the introduction of bacteria from baby’s mouth
through the nipple pores. Because of
this, mastitis is a bit less common in women who are not breastfeeding, though
not unheard of.
“Management of Other Conditions After Breastfeeding Difficulties.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, date accessed July 28, 2018.
Berens, Pamela., Brodribb, Wendy. “ABM Clinical Protocol #20: Engorgement, Revised 2016.” Breastfeed Medicine. 11.4 (2016): 159-163.
Swift, K., Janke, J. “Breast Binding…Is it All That It’s Wrapped Up To Be?” J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 32.3 (2003): 332-339. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12774875>