Weaning begins when solid foods or liquids other than breast milk are introduced into your baby’s diet, and continues until breast milk has been completely replaced by other foods. Some children start foods or purees at about 6 months old, and add liquids other than breast milk around 1 year of age when they are able to drink from a cup. Others wean from the breast during the toddler years, as increased physical activity curtails their desire to sit still long enough to breastfeed. The most important thing you can do to minimize your risk for pain is to wean slowly. As you move forward with weaning, replace one daily breastfeeding at a time with solids or liquids, depending on your baby’s age and ability. Choose the feedings in which your baby is the least interested and times when your baby is most easily distracted from the breast.
Even with gradual weaning, your breasts may continue to make some milk for weeks or months. As a result, you may have some fullness and mild discomfort. It will gradually resolve, but in the meantime, there are steps you can take that will help relieve the fullness and ease the discomfort:
- Consider drinking sage tea. Scientific data supporting the use of herbal teas are limited, however, anecdotal reports claim that drinking 2-6 cups of sage tea each day can reduce milk production. Sage is known to reduce sweating in cases of excessive sweating, so it’s easy to see why it might have a similar effect on the milk-producing cells. The nasal decongestant, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), may also reduce milk supply, however the data are limited. One study of eight mothers reported a 25 percent reduction in milk supply with a single does of pseudoephedrine.
- Consider using cabbage leaves. As crazy as it may sound, cabbage can help. But don’t eat it—wear it! Place fresh, clean, refrigerated cabbage leaves on your breasts (nipples uncovered), inside your bra. Change them when they wilt, and repeat until your breasts feel soft. Avoid red cabbage leaves that are more apt to stain your clothing. Whether it’s the cool temperature of the cabbage leaves or something in the leaves themselves that reduces swelling is unclear.
- Consider taking pain medication. Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can ease discomfort by reducing inflammation and relieving pain.
- Wear a supportive bra. A supportive bra can help reduce discomfort by providing firm support during weaning.
- Hand express or pump (but not too much). If your breasts are painfully full, you might want to hand express or pump, removing just enough milk to relieve the fullness and reduce the pain. This approach may lengthen the period of weaning, but it will also prevent engorgement and reduce the risk of a breast infection (mastitis).
- Check for other causes of pain. Sometimes a plugged duct or breast infection (mastitis) can be the cause of the pain. Make sure to check your breasts for lumps and tender, reddened areas. Watch out for other signs of mastitis, too, such as fever and flu-like symptoms. If these develop, call your health care provider right away.