Weaning: The Physical Part for Mom

Weaning is best done as gradually as possible to prevent or at least lessen any physical discomforts you may experience. Sudden weaning can result in extreme discomfort, plugged ducts, mastitis, and even breast abscess. Hormone levels are also more likely to take a drastic plunge, causing mood swings, depression, etc., when weaning occurs too quickly.

Gradual Weaning

When taking a gradual approach to weaning, plan to drop one feeding about every 3-4 days to a week, depending upon how you feel physically. Wait to progress with this schedule if you are feeling overly full or uncomfortable. If your breasts feel reasonably comfortable, then proceed until you are no longer breastfeeding. There are several methods to deal with over fullness or engorgement that might occur during the weaning process:

  • Allow your baby to nurse, pump, or hand express just enough to relieve the pressure (not enough to completely soften). This will help keep you more comfortable and lessen the risk of breast infection. This will not be enough to cause milk production to continue as stimulation AND an *empty* breast are required for production to continue at a high level.

  • Wear a good supportive bra but do not bind your breasts. This is an outdated practice that may put you at greater risk for complications.

  • Apply chilled cabbage leaves to your breasts. These can be crushed with a rolling pin and chilled in your refrigerator or freezer and then placed inside your bra until they wilt. They should then be replaced.

  • You may want to apply ice packs in place of or along with the cabbage compresses. A bag of frozen peas often works well.

  • Advil or Motrin will help ease any pain and reduce any swelling.

  • Some mothers find that taking an antihistamine and/or drinking Sage Tea or using the herb, Peppermint, helps reduce milk supply.

  • Be aware of any signs or symptoms of breast infection as you will be at greater risk of it during the weaning process. If you should notice any signs, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Sudden Weaning

As stated before sudden weaning is not recommended, but should it be necessary, all of the above management suggestions would still apply. Most always, sudden weaning is not necessary. Some women are told to suddenly wean due to needing to take a certain medication, be hospitalized, have surgery, etc. Most medications are compatible with breastfeeding or an alternative medication can be found that is. And many women can also work around hospitalization or surgery and still continue to breastfeed.

Continued Milk Production After Weaning

It is normal for a lot of women to continue to produce *small* amounts of milk weeks, months, and even years after weaning. ANY stimulation to the breast; ie. "checking" to see if milk can still be expressed, stimulation during sexual intercourse, etc. can cause production to continue. Absorbent breast pads or perhaps the Blis System should make this temporary leaking more manageable. If milk is still present, especially if it is in large amounts, 6 months after weaning, it's a good idea to have an evaluation by a physician, because although this is a normal condition for most women, continued production can also be a symptom of something else, too.

Written by Becky Flora, IBCLC, November 27, 1999

Last Revision: February 3, 2000

Additional sources:

"The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning" by Kathleen Huggins and Linda Ziedrich

"How Weaning Happens" by Diane Bengson

2010 Breastfeeding Essentials