What to Do When Your Breast Milk Arrives & You Will Not Be Breastfeeding

What to Do When Your Breast Milk Arrives & You Will Not Be Breastfeeding

Currently, it’s not a super common scenario in our culture as 8 out of 10 mothers choose to initiate breastfeeding after giving birth, though the majority of those mothers will quickly go on to use some amount of formula. Nonetheless, twenty-percent of women who give birth do not wish to ever latch a baby to their breast and often find themselves with little to no information on what to do when their breast milk inevitably arrives and they will not be breastfeeding.

Some are led to believe that if you never start nursing, your milk will never really arrive. However, for most of us that is false.

Some are led to believe that this initiation of plentiful milk secretion – an event called “Lactogenesis II” – must be gradually weaned off of. However, for most of us this is not the best approach.

It’s tough because, while most hospital postpartum units staff lactation consultants who are knowledgeable about this issue, if you’re not a breastfeeding mom they may not come to visit you – as they’re understandably busy with mothers in need of immediate breastfeeding support – or they may not want to assist because they do not agree with your decision to forego breastfeeding altogether. Unfortunately, I have seen both things happen.

So, what you need to know is that stopping Lactogenesis II is different than stopping an established supply that was built over several days or weeks.

Women who have an established supply and have been nursing for several weeks will require a gradual approach to stopping or they risk mastitis, plugged milk ducts and other issues. Simply put, they cannot stop cold turkey. However, women who are experiencing their initial arrival of milk can, in fact, do just that.

Not every topic I write about in this blog have I personally experienced. But this is something I have done four times over, in addition to assisting hundreds of women with it in consultations.

If you do not have any conditions that place you at risk for delayed Lactogenesis II or low milk supply, chances are good that you will be jolted by the arrival of a raging, full-letdown supply around 4 to 6 days after giving birth. The milk will come, my friend. There is no stopping it. But there is limiting it.

Some of the best tactics I know were taught to me by the lactation consultant who counseled with me after the birth of my firstborns (twins). She knew that I had no plans to breastfeed but came to my hospital room regardless, asking if I wanted help with limiting my soon-to-be-supply. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at the time, but she was lovely and explained.

  1. As soon as possible after you give birth, begin binding your breasts tightly. A sports bra two sizes too small can do the trick, but Ace bandage devices wrapped around and around will also work. Lock them up tight. Keep your breasts bound 24/7, even when you shower (have a dry sports bra or bandage waiting to quick change into).
  2. Avoid all heat and stimulation, including while in the shower. Do not touch your breasts, rub them or even let the wind blow towards them (joking, kind of). When you shower keep yourself bound up and make sure that the hot water only hits your back, not the front of your chest. It takes a little finagling but it’s possible.
  3. Despite these immediate efforts, the milk will still arrive. When it does, do not touch, do not squeeze, do not pump, and do not relieve your newfound supply. You will require some breast pads to catch the leaking (I even used folded up paper towels or toilet paper). This part is going to be uncomfortable, especially as you try to sleep at night.
  4. Use ice packs and Tylenol to ease the discomfort. You can take sanitary pads, wet them and pop them in Ziploc bags in the freezer for a couple hours. You can then use them to stuff in your bra to provide relief. Ice is the most incredible pain relief tool.
  5. Using any pseudoephedrine-based medicine (think Sudafed) can help dry up your supply faster. Ephedrine is high on the “no-no” list for nursing moms because it works to dry up liquid in the body (think runny nose and fluid in the ears from a cold), and it can dry up breast milk as well. One study found that pseudoephedrine was able to reduce lactation by 24% in the first 24 hours. When taken as directed (60 mg, four times per day), it can dry milk up an initial supply very quickly.

Cabbage leaves have long been rumored to help, though I nor many of the women I consult with have had much luck. If you do use them, it must be green cabbage, washed and chilled in the refrigerator first. Upon removing the chilled cabbage leaves, you must crack the stems and then place the leaves in your bra. They heat up quickly from your body’s heat and then begin to smell terrible. If they were highly effective, I would recommend just enduring the stink, but they’re simply not.

Herbs such as peppermint, spearmint and sage – which can be consumed in teas – have success with some women.

You will notice that your milk has arrived due to a very sudden engorgement of your breasts and the leaking of white milk (whereas colostrum is yellowish in color). Your chest may feel tight and your breasts tingly. They will hurt to touch.

This level of discomfort will persist for 2 to 3 days, getting better each day. Sleeping can be rough because anything other than being on your back will cause pillows and such to touch your breasts, causing pain.

If you do not stimulate and keep up the binding, about 3 to 4 days after your milk arrives it will quickly begin to reabsorb and go away. Your breasts will start to go back to their regular size and your discomfort will considerably subside. You will continue to leak droplets of milk – to the point that you will want to keep putting pads in your bra – for one to two weeks thereafter. You will not be in discomfort during this time. After that, you’re done.

The following is a general (not the “rule”) series of events:

Day 1: Nothing, no milk, bind

Day 2: Nothing, no milk, bind

Day 3: Nothing, no milk, bind

Day 4: Milk is likely to arrive suddenly, engorgement and discomfort, moderate leaking, bind

Day 5: Engorgement and discomfort, moderate leaking, bind

Day 6: Less engorgement, discomfort, moderate leaking, bind

Day 7: Considerably less engorgement, mild discomfort, lighter leaking

Day 8: Breasts are returning to normal size, mild discomfort, lighter leaking, bind

Days 9 – 14:  No real discomfort, light leaking (still need pads), stop binding

Day 14: It’s all over!

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