Your breast milk supply relies on a system of supply and demand. Breast milk production begins during pregnancy and picks up once your baby is born. Gradually, as your baby eats more solid food and less milk, your supply will dwindle.
Your breast milk supply does not simply go away, though. It takes a long period before your breast is completely drained of breast milk.
But what if you don’t want the supply to run out right away? How long can you go without giving your baby milk? And what can you do if you want to restart breastfeeding again after a long gap?
How Long Can You Go Without Breastfeeding?
Stopping your milk supply is not as quick as flicking a switch. Some mothers take only days to stop producing breast milk, while others need months of no breastfeeding to see any reduction. If you have just delivered a baby but do not wish to breastfeed or pump, you can expect to see your breast go back to pre-pregnancy size within seven to ten days.
Breast milk production needs stimulation, either from your baby or a pump. This sends signals to your brain to make more milk. Prolactin, a hormone responsible for milk creation, will gradually reduce.
During your first few weeks with your baby, it is crucial to regularly breastfeed your baby since your body has yet to establish the amount of milk to produce. Your body should be able to find the ample amount in around six to 12 weeks.
Past 12 weeks, your baby will sleep longer and may not need more breast milk. This should not impact your milk supply.
What Will Happen if I Delay Breastfeeding?
Waiting to nurse will not help increase your supply. Engorged breasts send signals to the brain to stop producing more breast milk.
If you choose to breastfeed or pump, delaying emptying your breasts can cause painful engorgement. Painful engorgement can make working difficult. There is also the increased risk of a lower milk supply.
Engorged breasts are also at risk of developing mastitis, a bacterial infection. Other risks mothers need to watch out for are plugged ducts and abscesses, which can lead to a trip to the emergency room.
Whether you want to gradually stop breastfeeding or have an untimely gap, having engorged breasts is something you do not want to experience.
How Do I Relactate After Taking a Break?
There might come a time when you need to put a pause on breastfeeding. Maybe your work is demanding for you to get back to your office. Or there is an urgent matter, and you must leave your baby behind. Either way, many mothers might find their supply dry, and many may want to relactate for their babies again.
Fortunately, it is not the end of the world for those who paused breastfeeding! What you need to do is stimulate prolactin again in your body. You can do this by making your baby latch onto your breast. Do this for at least 2 to 3 hours.
Skin-to-skin contact also helps promote the hormones in your body, even if no breast milk is coming out. Keep your baby close to you while doing something else, like bottle feeding.
I Want to Gradually Dry Up My Milk Supply. How Do I Start?
While some moms might want to continue breastfeeding (especially after a long gap), others might want to stop nursing altogether. Weaning can take around two to three weeks, but this number can vary depending on the mother. You will know your supply has gone down once you notice your breast becoming softer.
You can help yourself during the process to feel more comfortable and to lessen the risks of infections. Here are some tips on how you can dry up your supply smoothly:
- Avoid hot showers or baths since they can stimulate the breasts. Instead, use a cold compress on your breast to provide cooling comfort. For some moms, chilled cabbage leaves can also work. (It might not be effective for everyone, but there is no harm in trying!)
- Wear comfortable clothing. Tight clothes and bras can clog those milk ducts and lead to mastitis.
- Self-medicate through pain-relieving pills and massages. Some moms can try Gua-Sha therapy, an ancient Chinese practice to help relieve engorged breasts. (But make sure to contact your health provider if it is safe. You should also only approach licensed Chinese medicine practitioners.)
You can expect a bit of discomfort while your supply dries up. But if you experience pain, swelling, fever, and/or a lump in your breasts, then it is best to visit your GP and discuss things with them.
Can I go for 8 hours without breastfeeding?
There should be no problem going beyond 8 hours without breastfeeding. Granted, your baby should not be a newborn since they will require round-the-clock feeding.
How can I avoid plugged ducts, mastitis, or abscesses while drying my milk supply?
Releasing a few drops of breast milk should keep your breast from being engorged (while also not stimulating production.) Keep your breasts comfortable by wearing loose-fitted outfits and a supportive bra.
Breastfeeding is all about providing essential nutrients to your baby. Once your baby is weaned off breast milk, your supply will gradually decrease. However, some mothers have unexpected pauses in their life, and they need to put breastfeeding to a halt.
You can go for days, weeks, or even months without breastfeeding. That all depends on how your body functions. But in general, once you stop breastfeeding, your supply will decrease. Many moms can successfully relactate and bring their milk supply back up. Meanwhile, other moms take this as a time to wean their babies off breast milk.
Moms who choose to wean their babies off breast milk should be careful of infections and plugged ducts. Fortunately, you can avoid this through home remedies, such as wearing loose clothing and using ice packs.
Breast milk does not evaporate out of thin air because you stopped breastfeeding. If you skipped a few hours, don’t panic! It will take a longer time for prolactin to get the message and stop producing more milk.