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November 24, 2020
By Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC
The end of your breastfeeding experience can come about in a variety of ways. Some mothers plan to breastfeed for a designated time. Other women decide they will let their child self-wean. There are also women who stop breastfeeding before they planned. When and how rapidly a woman weans from breastfeeding will affect how she experiences weaning. No matter how you wean, you may have some questions about what happens to your breasts afterwards, which we’ll cover here.
The decision to wean according to your timetable or your baby’s is a personal choice. Weaning usually happens gradually when a child self-weans. However, sometimes a child will self-wean abruptly. If this happens, a woman could do some pumping to allow her body to slowly decrease milk production and minimize discomfort.
For the mother who is choosing when to stop breastfeeding, she can choose to do it slowly over time or wean cold turkey.
In terms of your comfort, it is best to wean gradually. Most mothers find that they adjust most easily by dropping one feeding or pumping and then waiting several days for their body to adjust. They continue to drop a feeding every few days until they are no longer breastfeeding or pumping.
Some women may have to wean quickly. In a situation where rapid weaning is necessary, a woman may try drinking peppermint tea or sage. The use of peppermint and sage has not been scientifically studied, but women have anecdotally reported it reduces milk supply.
Related: A step-by-step guide to weaning
The amount of engorgement a mother experiences during weaning will depend on how quickly it happens. Cold turkey weaning will involve a few days of engorgement. Women who follow a more gradual approach may notice some fullness, but it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.
Related: How to deal with breast engorgement
If a mother breastfeeds for a few months or less, she will probably stop leaking shortly after she stops breastfeeding. Women who nurse for many months may continue to leak breast milk or be able to express drops of milk for months or even years after they stop breastfeeding.
Many of the treatment options for clogged ducts are still relevant after you’re done breastfeeding. Apply warm compresses and massage the area. Although it may prolong the weaning process, it is advised to pump if the clog persists to decrease mastitis risk.
Related: How to get rid of plugged milk ducts and prevent them from happening
The emotional response to weaning is another thing that can vary widely from woman to woman. Some women express feeling happy to have their body back. However, it is not unusual for a mother to have some feelings of depression or anxiety when she stops breastfeeding. Hormones may play a part in these emotions.
Related: Depression and sadness when you wean before you planned
If you have not already resumed menstrual cycles, you should expect your period to return within about four to six weeks once you stop breastfeeding.
Related: What’s the deal with postpartum periods?
Your breasts will be smaller when they are no longer filling up with milk. Breasts may look smaller than before pregnancy. It is unknown if this is true or if women just get used to the increased size of their breasts. While some attribute sagging breasts to breastfeeding, it is actually the changes that occur during pregnancy that are responsible for sagging.
Johnson, H. M., Eglash, A., Mitchell, K. B., Leeper, K., Smillie, C. M., Moore-Ostby, L., ... & Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. (2020). ABM Clinical Protocol# 32: Management of Hyperlactation. Breastfeeding Medicine, 15(3), 129-134.
Pisacane, A., & P Continisio, on behalf of the Italian Work Group on Breastfeeding. (2004). Breastfeeding and perceived changes in the appearance of the breasts: a retrospective study. Acta Paediatrica, 93(10), 1346-1348.
Rinker, B., Veneracion, M., & Walsh, C. P. (2008). The effect of breastfeeding on breast aesthetics. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 28(5), 534-537.
Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC is a freelance writer who has been helping moms and babies breastfeed for over twenty-five years. She is married and the mother of three adult children.
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