Oversupply tends to be less of an issue for women who are exclusively pumping than it is for mothers that are nursing, because the two major problems that nursing women have from oversupply – forceful let-down and foremilk/hindmilk imbalance – are generally mitigated by the use of the pump and bottle. For example, forceful let-down, where your milk comes down so quickly your baby can’t handle it, is not an issue for your breast pump (which obviously can handle the milk at a fast rate) or for your baby, who will drink it at a slower pace from a bottle. Additionally, you are less likely to have problems with foremilk/hindmilk imbalance when exclusively pumping – since the milk is all mixed together in the bottle – versus a nursing baby, who will fill up on foremilk first.
However, some women have issues with clogged ducts and mastitis when they have oversupply. If you’d like to decrease your supply because of this, or because you have no more room in your freezer or it’s time to wean, here are several things that you can do to reduce your milk supply.
Try Cabbage Leaves
Who doesn’t want to have a salad in their bra? There hasn’t been a lot of research done to show why this works, but it is often recommended by lactation consultants and doctors to provide relief from engorgement and reduce milk supply. One theory is that the amnio acids in the cabbage help to decrease tissue congestion by opening capillaries and improving the blood flow in and out of the engorged breast, relieving inflammation and allowing the milk to flow freely.
To use a cabbage leaf, wash it and slice off the tops of the vein with a knife. Then put it in your bra. You’ll want to leave it in there until it wilts – about 20-30 minutes – and repeat often. Women who have engorgement are instructed to do this three to four times in a 24 hour period to reduce engorgement without losing milk supply; since you are trying to decrease your milk supply, you may want to do it more than that. Just be careful not to overdo it if you’re not weaning; once you start to see results I would pull back a bit and reevaluate.
If you have cracked or bleeding nipples, hold off on using cabbage until that has healed, or, if possible, you can just place the cabbage on areas that are unaffected.
You can chill the cabbage leaves in the refrigerator if that’s more comfortable for you, but they don’t need to be chilled to work.
For some women, taking pseudoephedrine (the active ingredient in Sudafed) will reduce milk supply – a small study of lactating women showed that one dose of Sudafed reduced milk supply over the next 24 hours by 24%.
Unless you are weaning or have significant negative effects from oversupply, use caution with reducing supply with Sudafed, as the effect will vary from woman to woman, and you don’t know how it will affect you until you try it.
In the United States, Sudafed is sold in most pharmacies behind the pharmacy counter, but you don’t need a prescription.
Eat or Drink Sage
Sage is one of a few herbs that can decrease milk supply. There are a few different ways that you can consume it; you can use dried sage from your spice rack to make tea or ingest directly, or you can take capsules.
To make sage tea, put one teaspoon of dried sage in one cup boiling water and steep for 15 minutes. You can also eat it directly by mixing it in with other foods, or, if you don’t like the taste, putting about 1/4 tsp of it on something sticky (like honey on a very small piece of bread) and try to swallow it like a pill. Both of these options sound totally disgusting to me, so I would probably just go with the capsules. Remember that like Sudafed, sage can be very effective in quickly decreasing milk supply, so again, I would stop and reevaluate once you start to see results, unless you’re weaning.
(Gradually) Pump Less Milk
Finally, the most important thing that you can do to pump less milk is … pump less milk. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand process, so the more milk that you remove from your breasts via the pump, the more milk your body thinks it needs to make. The trick is to pump less milk gradually, so that you don’t run into the problems of clogged ducts or mastitis that were mentioned above as you’re in the process of reducing your milk supply.
There are a few different ways that you can approach this, and I’ve covered them in more detail in a post on dropping pumping sessions. For example, you can pump for less time in each pumping session, you can slowly reduce the volume that you pump in a given pumping session, or you can completely drop a pumping session.
If you have had a clogged duct or mastitis before, I would definitely recommend focusing on reducing volume. With this method, you pick one pumping session and slowly reduce the amount that you pump during that session.
For example, let’s say that at your 3pm pumping session you normally get 8oz, and you’re trying to reduce your supply. On the first day, you’ll pump 7oz and then stop, no matter how much time it’s been. The next day (or you can wait a couple of days to allow more time for your body to adjust, if you’d like), you can take it down to 6oz, and so on, until you’re pumping the amount you want in that session. Then, once your body has adjusted, you can repeat the process with other pumping sessions until your supply is where you’d like it to be.
You can also try pumping for less time. One approach is to completely drop a pumping session without adding the time of the dropped pump back into your remaining pumping session. Or, you could reduce the length of each of your pumping sessions by a few minutes, though this approach may take a few weeks to work.