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Q&A: How do I stop my breasts from producing milk?

Q: I’m not breastfeeding anymore. Do I need medicine to stop the milk production?

A: Prolactin, the “milk let-down” hormone, is secreted by your pituitary gland and is stimulated by a reflex when the nipples and breasts are stimulated, as in breastfeeding. Once breastfeeding stops, the stimulation decrease should reduce the prolactin; no medicine is needed. We used to use the medicine Parlodel, which directly lowers prolactin, but there were some reported complications. Now we only use it if the benefit outweighs the risk.

Here are some tricks to help stop the flow:

  • Bind the breasts with either a tight bra, an ace bandage, or both. The pendulous nature of the breasts tend to make them fill, which stimulates them, and the production of prolactin.
  • Consult your hospital’s lactation specialist. Usually each Labor and Delivery department has such a nurse, specially trained and credentialed to help with problems of lactation.
  • Avoid other stimulation of the breasts (yes, I mean as in sexual stimulation). Don’t worry, it’s just for the short term!
  • If the breasts become engorged, there’s a chance that they may get infected, so it’s very important to bind them. Do not use a pump to drain them, because you’ll just speed up the vicious cycle. Any redness or unusual pain, fever, or abscesses should be reported to your doctor.
  • The return to normal menstruation is also a reflexic condition that coincides with decreasing prolactin. But you should report any milk leakage beyond six months to your doctor.
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