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When Do Women Stop Lactating After Giving Birth?

Pregnancy and delivery are milestones in your life that will cause significant physical changes in your body. It’s easy to forget that things won’t simply go back to normal when your baby is born. 

Milk production, which will naturally begin after birth, can be miraculous and overwhelming at once. But how long does it last? 

The answer, it turns out, is different for everyone.

How Breastfeeding Affects Your Milk Supply

When it comes to milk production, your body operates on a supply-and-demand basis. 

Regardless of whether you plan to breastfeed, your body will begin to produce milk at increasing volumes within hours of delivery. However, producing milk at the same rate depends on whether or not you start breastfeeding. 

Moms who choose to breastfeed should begin feedings within the first hour of their infant’s life, and continue offering feedings every few hours. The continued stimulation of the breast will result in increased milk production. 

Conversely, without breastfeeding, the milk supply will eventually dry up on its own.

How Long Will It Take My Milk Supply To Dry Up if I Don’t Breastfeed?

If you have given birth and are not breastfeeding, your breasts will still produce milk during the first few days postpartum. This milk will build up and create pressure in your breasts with nowhere to go. 

This is called engorgement and can be very uncomfortable. 

However, it is important not to pump or otherwise release milk. Though this will lead to temporary relief from pressure, it will lengthen the period of time required for your body to stop producing milk.

The only way to stop your milk production is to signal to your body that you are not planning to breastfeed. Unfortunately, this communication happens by way of the uncomfortable feeling of engorgement.

Usually, the worst symptoms of engorgement will lessen within a few days, and your milk production should abate completely within two to three weeks. Make sure to communicate with your doctor throughout this process.

Relieving the Symptoms of Engorgement

Engorgement can be a very challenging hurdle in the process of decreasing your milk supply. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to make your journey easier. 

Talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter pain medication, such as a safe dose of an NSAID or Ibuprofen, to lessen any soreness. You may also choose to use a cold compress on your breasts or take a cool shower or bath. 

Consult your doctor if your severe symptoms do not improve within several days.

For Women Who Plan To Breastfeed

Whether you breastfeed for your baby’s first week or first several years of life, nursing your child provides them with a wealth of health, immune, and emotional benefits. 

The World Health Organization, the United States CDC, and pediatricians worldwide recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months of life. During this period, your child’s digestive system is still developing, and breast milk is the safest and the most nutritious food for them to consume.

However, you are under no obligation to breastfeed for that entire period. Likewise, you are free to choose to breastfeed for a longer period. 

In many cultures, children are not regularly weaned until between the ages of two and seven years old. Deciding how long to breastfeed is a very personal one. You will find that however you choose to proceed, your body can adapt to your decision. 

Weaning Early

Breastfeeding for the first six months postpartum or even longer is not possible for many women, whether due to work obligations, stress, or medical concerns. 

However, the longer you can continue nursing your child, the better; the first milk you produce after delivery is extremely rich in antibodies and nutrients, making it an excellent way to give your baby a healthy head-start in the world. 

Transitioning away from breastfeeding during the first six months can be done by gradually introducing formula into your little one’s diet. 

As they slowly begin consuming a greater portion of formula than breast milk, your body will sense the decrease in milk demand and lessen your supply. If you take things slowly, your milk will dry up as your little one makes the transition to formula, a good situation for everyone!

Weaning Naturally

Many moms who breastfeed their child up to the six-month mark, when most pediatricians recommend introducing solid foods for the first time, notice that their infant may naturally begin to wean themselves off of breast milk. 

Of course, breastfeeding and solid foods are not mutually exclusive. 

The World Health Organization recommends continuing to feed your child both breastmilk and solid foods up until at least one year of age and possibly beyond. However, supplementing your child’s nutrition with baby foods will likely cause them to consume less milk, ultimately reducing your milk supply over time.

If I Breastfeed, Will My Milk Supply Dry Up Naturally?

The ability to produce breast milk is one of the female body’s many superpowers, and one of the most incredible facts about this process is that it is nearly limitless! 

Once your body has begun producing milk, it can continue to do so indefinitely, provided that demand continues (meaning that you have a baby to feed or pump your breast milk). It is common for children to be breastfed for several years before weaning in many countries. 

When deciding to wean your child, make whatever choice feels right for both of you, and have confidence in your own decision. When the time is right, the decrease in demand from your child will slowly cause a reduction in your milk supply.

The Best Ways To Maintain a Healthy Milk Supply

As a nursing mom, one of your main concerns is likely keeping up a healthy milk supply with which to nourish your little one. Luckily, you can put a few techniques into practice to support healthy lactation. 

Feed Often

Emptying your breasts every few hours–even in the middle of the night!--is the best way to sustain a healthy milk supply. Babies are often hungry, and learning your infant’s hunger cues can be an intuitive way to continue frequent feedings and ensure that your little one is nourished. If you are apart from your infant (say, at work or traveling), you can keep this cycle going by pumping your breast milk every few hours.

Lean on Your Support System

Interestingly, stress is one of the major causes of low milk production in women. Having a young child is certainly stressful, but finding ways to de-stress is essential to maximize both of your well-being! Leaning on your support system and finding time for rest and self-care will help you produce more milk and feel better in general.

Stay Hydrated, and Nourish Yourself

If your own body’s needs are not met, how can you meet your child’s needs? Staying hydrated is absolutely essential when breastfeeding. 

Drink plenty of water, and continue adding an all-natural hydration drink specifically designed for nursing moms to your daily routine. In addition, make sure you are consuming extra calories to support lactation!

Make the Decisions That Are Right for You and Your Baby

Breastfeeding is a rewarding and healthy way to nourish your child. How long you continue to produce milk is really within your control. Speak with a doctor and make the decisions that feel right for you and your little one–and don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way!

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Sources:

Postpartum Breast Care When You Don't Plan to Breastfeed: Care Instructions | Alberta MyHealth

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) | Breastfeeding | CDC

Breastfeeding beyond infancy: What you need to know | Mayo Clinic

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