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How to Avoid Mastitis and Engorgement While Drying Up Your Milk Supply

If your nursing or breastfeeding journey is ending, it’s important to know how to safely dry up your milk supply to help avoid mastitis or engorgement. These tips can help.

Two words. Engorgement and mastitis. These two reasons alone are why it’s best to know how to stop making milk when you are finished with your breastfeeding journey.

For many reasons (both physically and mentally), weaning your baby slowly is beneficial, but we understand this always isn’t an option. Regardless, you can’t stop nursing and/or pumping abruptly and assume your milk will magically disappear.

You need to slowly lower your milk supply to stop making milk over time safely. For example, if you have a healthy milk supply on one day and don’t express milk the next, the door is wide open for infection.

Of course, no one wants an infection at any time. But an infection while caring for a baby? No, thank you.

Failing to take the gradual approach to suppress milk production can lead to engorgement. Engorgement can lead to clogged ducts which can then turn into mastitis. No fun.

The term engorgement describes breasts that are painfully overfull of milk. Like water balloons filled to maximum capacity, your breasts become super hard, feeling tight and ready to burst. Not to mention extremely painful.

Know the signs of mastitis

If you are on your weaning journey from milk production, take a few minutes to learn the warning signs of mastitis below.

  • Fever of 101 or higher
  • Flu-like symptoms (aching, illness, and chills)
  • Hard lumps in the breast
  • Breast(s) are warm/hot to touch
  • Wedge-shaped area of the breast
  • Sweating

Read next: Know the Warning Signs of Mastitis and When to Call Your Doctor

How long it takes to stop making milk

Slow and steady wins the race. Drying up your milk can take anywhere from a few days to weeks. In most cases, the time it takes for your milk to go away depends on how long you’ve been making milk.

In short, the longer you produce milk, the longer it will take to go away.

Three tips for safely drying up your milk supply

1. Decrease the duration and frequency

Over the course of a few weeks, decrease the duration and frequency of pumping and/or nursing sessions. Over time, you can drop sessions altogether as you gradually space them out throughout the day.

2. Avoid stimulation

Try your best to avoid all nipple stimulation (like hand-expressing nipples to see if you’re still making milk) to help communicate to your body that no more milk is needed.

3. Turn down the heat when showering

Believe it or not, hot showers can elicit the milk ejection reflex (otherwise known as a “letdown”), which is the last thing you want when trying to dry up your supply.

Read next: Tips on How to Stop Lactation Naturally

When breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned

Of course, every single parent who reaches out to a lactation consultant is probably planning to breastfeed.

You’ve read all the best books. Nursing bras are stocked. The latest and greatest breast pump has been selected.

Lanolin cream is packed for the hospital, and your bag includes breast pads, breast shields, nipple shields, and twenty other nursing-related things. You even have a game plan for right after delivery for the best possible start for breastfeeding.

For weeks leading up to the big arrival, that little voice has been on a continuous loop saying: “SKIN TO SKIN IMMEDIATELY AFTER BIRTH!”

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It goes without saying if “planned” breastfeeding doesn’t work out, it can throw you for a loop.

Why do some people stop breastfeeding?

Therapist and Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional Megan MacCutcheon, works with moms experiencing mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy and following childbirth.

Megan shares many reasons why moms decide to stop breastfeeding:

  • Mom is frustrated and exhausted
  • Baby has a milk protein allergy
  • Mom is going back to a job that doesn’t support a pumping schedule
  • Mom isn’t making very much milk

Megan tells her patients, “Maybe you’ve tried it, and it’s not for you. And that’s okay. Whatever the reason behind the decision to stop breastfeeding, it can bring up a lot of emotions.”

Of course, there are many other reasons (also known as contraindications) why people stop breastfeeding (some not by choice), including:

  • Inability to make enough milk
  • Medical issues
  • Insufficient glandular tissue (hypoplastic breasts)
  • Previous breast surgery

The mental health component of stopping breastfeeding voluntarily

Megan continues: “The most important thing is to recognize that these feelings—even ones that seem entirely conflicting—are normal.

First, allow yourself to notice the emotions you are experiencing. Acknowledge rather than suppress or avoid them. Next, accept your decision to stop, recognizing it’s your own choice (if it is, of course).”

Megan recommends paying attention to your thoughts regarding this decision and working on owning your choice from a place of empowerment rather than guilt or shame. “What you tell yourself about your decision is what matters most.”

Repeat this phrase: “‘I’m stopping breastfeeding because it’s what’s right for me now.” When you can own your decision and gain control over your inner critic, blocking the extra judgment becomes a little easier.”

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