We receive many questions about medication to stop breastfeeding, so we thought we dive deep into the topic and give you more information. Here, our experts answer the most frequently asked questions related to taking tablets to cut off your milk supply.
How can I make my breast milk dry up?
The first thing you need to know is that breastmilk does not just dry up. Your production may decrease, but it takes years for breastmilk to completely disappear. When stopping breastfeeding, you have to make sure that breastmilk doesn’t accumulate in your breasts, as this creates pain or might lead to mastitis.
When you are ready to stop breastfeeding, the best way is to do so by reducing the amount of milk you produce gradually; there is no other magical shortcut; no matter how old your baby is, you have to take it step by step.
How can I make breast milk go away?
Breastfeeding works through supply and demand. The more milk you take out of your breasts, the more milk you make. If there is milk left inside the breast, our body regulates itself thanks to a protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL), which is in charge of managing the production. The more of this hormone comes out with the milk when the baby feeds or when you pump, the more milk is produced. And on the other hand, the more FIL remains inside, the less milk the mammary gland will produce.
So the best way is to remove gradually less and less milk from your breasts. If one of your breasts (or both) bothers you, express a little milk just to get comfortable, but always leave some milk inside. You have to remove the minimum amount that will help you not to feel pain but that, at the same time, allows the gland to understand that it must reduce production. It is a fairly intuitive process, and each mother will find out for herself how much milk she needs to express to feel comfortable while continuing to decrease production. There will be a time when you will know that your breasts no longer need this continuous emptying, and so it will be time to stop. Usually, this takes a few days, and then it is likely that your breasts will no longer feel uncomfortable, and you will no longer need to express milk.
Any other option or “technique” to reduce or eliminate breast milk will not be effective and can even be dangerous or traumatic. Only in certain cases can cabergoline* tablets be somewhat effective.
In which cases is medication to stop breastmilk production effective?
Cabergoline only seems to have some effect if the mother takes it immediately after giving birth. In that case, it prevents the increase of prolactin in the mother’s blood, which may result in less or not-so-obvious milk let-down (mature milk coming in).
Despite having taken the medication, it is very common that, once at home, you experience breastmilk coming in a lot, anyway. In fact, the effect of having your baby close to you, touching and smelling your baby, can activate the production of prolactin and oxytocin again.
After the mother has already had mature breastmilk coming in, this medication has no effect anymore. For this reason, it should not be recommended for a mother who has already started breastfeeding. In this case, to stop breastfeeding, the only way to go is to remove a little breastmilk each time when it feels necessary and gradually a little less quantity every time.
How is cabergoline taken?
The dose of cabergoline must be prescribed by an obstetrician/gynecologist after childbirth to avoid the onset of milk production. It is usually taken in a dose of 1 mg (2 tablets of 0.5 mg) and administered as a single dose.
Are there other natural remedies to stop milk production?
Many mothers do not want to resort to medication when they want to stop breastfeeding and opt for other, more natural remedies. Although there is no evidence available on the effectiveness of these methods, many mothers use them. There are a variety of natural remedies used around the world, of which we would like to highlight the following:
- Sage (herbal tea or essential oil): it is recommended to drink 1 cup of sage herbal tea three times a day. You can achieve the same effect as herbal tea if you take 2 whole droppers of sage essential oil (some might be more concentrated; check on the product). The decrease in milk production is said to be noticeable within 24 to 48 hours after having the tea or tincture/essential oil.
- Vitamin B6: High doses of vitamin B-6 supplements have been reported to reduce breast milk production. IBCLC Anne Smith suggests taking 200 mg of vitamin B-6 a day for five days.
- Jasmine Oil: Topical jasmine oil application is believed to be effective in reducing milk production and likewise, many mothers wear a jasmine flower necklace around their neck to reduce milk production.
And a long list of other natural remedies, where we just point out that there is no evidence that they successfully reduce milk production.
I have taken the medication, but my milk supply has increased; what should I do?
This is a very common situation, and, as mentioned before, milk production is not so simple to eliminate. And even though you have taken cabergoline tablets, your milk can still come in days after leaving the hospital.
If your breasts feel engorged, hard, hot, and uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to express milk because engorgement in itself is one way to reduce milk production, but it is so traumatic and painful that no mother should ever have to go through it.
It is much better to express and remove milk as needed, in small amounts, to decrease your milk production.
If you have taken the tablets to dry up your milk supply, but now you have changed your mind and want to resume breastfeeding (relactation), you should know that you can do so. Although these tablets have an effect in decreasing milk production, the stimulation of your baby breastfeeding and/or pumping will allow you to fully recover your breastmilk supply.
In some countries, mothers have been offered another medication, bromocriptine, which has many dangerous side effects, and therefore its use to suppress lactation is strongly discouraged. See Bernard (2015), Severe adverse effects of bromocriptine in lactation inhibition: a pharmacovigilance survey, BJOG and the position of the European Medicines Agency.
*Dostinex ® (Pfizer)