Breastfeeding is truly a journey.
Most beginners don’t realized how many ups and downs there can be along the way. From overcoming painful nipples from a poor latch, to getting in the groove, and finally the sadness that comes when you know it’s time to quit.
Today I want to focus on an area of breastfeeding that doesn’t get a lot of tractions: how to relieve engorged breasts when weaning your baby.
No one wants to deal with engorged breasts during weaning. Not you. Not your baby. Not your breasts.
It just makes an already emotional process more difficult!
In this post we will explore the natural options available to dry up breast milk so you don’t have to deal with the pain of engorgement and can transition away from breastfeeding smoothly.
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How to relieve engorged breasts when weaning
1. Let your baby lead the weaning process
As a caveat to this topic, I want to stress that there is no reason to put pressure on yourself or your baby to stop breastfeeding due to cultural norms.
Yes, there will be some people giving you dirty looks if you are breastfeeding your 3-year-old. You know what I say to those people…
Bye Felicia 👋🏽 👋🏽
Breastfeeding is a personal relationship between two people and I am pretty sure none of them include your aunt Sally or college roommate Jenna. Every person you meet will have an opinion. Don’t waste your time trying to please them because you Just. Plain. Can’t please everyone!
The only two people you should worry about pleasing in this situation is yourself and your baby.
However, you may very well feel ready to be done breastfeeding but your baby is not. The decision is ultimately yours yet it’s good to keep in mind that your child will naturally become less interested as she grows. This allows your supply to slowly down-regulate over time instead of quitting cold turkey.
2. Wean slowly
You might have a specific date in mind to wean from breastfeeding. Maybe when your baby turns 1 year old you thought about quitting so you can switch over to the cute bras again!
It helps to cut out one nursing session at a time and then allow a few weeks to go by for your baby to get used to it. Then drop another one.
Most children will self-wean on their own and daily breastfeeding sessions will become less frequent over a period of months.
You can encourage weaning by offering plenty of fluids from a sippy cup. Also, keep the nutritious foods coming throughout the day so they stay full. They need less of mama’s milk and more of mama’s cookin’!
3. Shorten nursing session times
If you have a boob-obsessed baby who is constantly pulling at your shirt and your heartstrings, it may be better to simply allow your baby to nurse, but limit the session to a certain number of minutes.
As long as your breasts are not being fully emptied you will still be working toward decreasing your supply. Make sure to supplement the shorter nursing time with more cuddles, kisses, and books.
It’s so important to keep that closeness even as you are weaning from breastfeeding, which may be the reason it is hard for your little one to let go of it in the first place.
4. Drink herbal teas
Certain herbs do a miraculous job at drying up breastmilk production. Some of these herbs include sage, peppermint, spearmint, oregano, stinging nettles, and parsley.
I found this out the hard way when I decided to enjoy drinking peppermint tea and then lost my milk supply quickly. My body was very sensitive to it and it took me many weeks of extra pumping to get it back.
Earth Mama makes a lovely combination tea to help dry up milk supply called No More Milk Tea.
5. Use a cold compress to reduce swelling
Engorgement can be worse in the morning, due to the increased production of milk while you sleep. Use a cold compress for 15 minutes on and 15 off to reduce swelling and decrease blood flow to the area.
I suggest using a bag of frozen peas or corn because it will mold well to fit your body. Make sure to wrap the bag of veggies in a washcloth as putting a frozen object directly on your skin can cause further irritation.
6. Hand express milk to relieve overwhelming fullness
If your breasts are really hard and uncomfortable, get in a warm shower, massage any hard lumps, and then hand express the milk. This will help relieve the pressure but not increase your milk supply.
Static milk that isn’t reabsorbed by the body puts you at risk for mastitis.
If you notice the hard lumps are not going away, you may have a clogged duct. Keep an eye on your temperature. If you spike a fever, your breasts have red streaks, and have severe pain, you may be developing mastitis.
7. Use natural medicine to relieve hard lumps and pain
I have seen many suggestions to use Sudafed to dry up your milk. Sudafed does dry up all your mucous membranes and bodily fluids, but it also comes with a bunch of other undesirable side effects such as headaches, nervousness, irritability, sleep loss, and tremors.
Use these remedies as directed on the bottle and stop using them once the symptoms are relieved.
8. Use the old cabbage leaf trick
How in the world cabbage leaves are able to relieve the pain from engorgement is not completely understood, yet many women report that their application reduces pain. (source)
Place cabbage in the fridge well before use so they will couple as a cold compress, which will also help soothe hot swollen breasts.
Make sure to bend and roll the leaves in between your fingers to release the enzymes before you apply them. Use a few leaves at a time to fully cover your girls and leave them in place for 15-20 minutes. Discard the leaves or compost them when you are done.
9. Stay well hydrated while weaning
Your blood carries every nutrient you need to all parts of your body so you can live a productive life. This includes lactating breasts. Drinking water is a key component to keeping the blood pumped up and flowing smoothly through your body so it can effectively reabsorb the milk.
Dehydration can actually put you at risk for getting clogged milk ducts. Since we are constantly losing water through urine, breastmilk, breathing, and sweat, make sure to drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day.
Emotions behind weaning
I truly feel this post wouldn’t be complete without saying a little something about the emotions that come along with the process of weaning your baby from breastfeeding.
If you made it through any length of time breastfeeding you know it comes with so many ups and downs. From the painful first few weeks when neither of you have a clue how to work together, to going back to work, milk supply struggles, and now you have finally reached the day you have been looking forward to…weaning and quitting.
Except now you feel like you are losing something you didn’t know meant so much to you.
The closeness you share with your baby through breastfeeding is truly something to be mourned over and it is completely ok to cry your eyes out. I am going through this process right now so I can totally relate.
You will continue to cultivate a close relationship in other ways which will provide depth and meaning to your life despite the loss in the relationship of breastfeeding.
Now that my little man is two he is so snuggly. I love cuddling him while we read books and watch movies together.