Ice packs are more helpful for breastfeeding mothers than anyone would think. We know that ice packs are essential for relieving pain from breast engorgement or mastitis, but ice can also help in lactation suppression, or the drying up breast milk supply. Let’s find out how ice packs can help you get rid of excess milk and find out more tips on how to suppress lactation.
Ice and breastfeeding
Heat encourages milk flow, while ice packs can assist you in relieving pain when pumping up excess milk. Ice is a natural anaesthetic and can help reduce swelling, which relieves pain. You can place ice packs on your breasts and underarms for comfort and to reduce the swelling. Frozen packs of peas or corn also work well as they conform to the shape of your breast. Be sure to wrap ice packs or frozen veggies in a thin towel or other cloth to protect your skin.
So, how long should you use an ice pack when trying to slow down milk production? After pumping, use ice packs, gel packs or a package of frozen peas on each breast for 5–15 minutes at a time. You can also use ice packs after a shower. Wrap the ice packs in a cloth and do not apply them directly to the skin of your breasts. Apply for 10–15 minutes every hour, if necessary. The ice packs should help relieve any discomfort. You can continue doing this along with over-the-counter analgesics and while also wearing a firm bra.
Tips for lactation suppression
There are many reasons why a mother may want to quickly dry up her breast milk supply. One reason could be to wean the baby, or maybe the mother has had too much milk supply, which leads to breast engorgement. Women who have experienced the loss of a baby during or after pregnancy can still lactate and may want to suppress milk production.
1. For the first few days, you may be uncomfortable lying in bed because your breasts are so full. Try lying on your back or on one side with an extra pillow supporting your breasts. If you like to lie on your front, place a pillow under your hips and stomach to ease the pressure on your breasts. Place a soft towel or cloth nappy across your breasts to soak up any leaking milk.
2. Use a breast pump only when your breasts feel very full. Do not wait until your breasts are very hard.
3. Do not totally empty the breast. Whenever your breasts feel too full, express a little milk. Pump just enough milk at a time just to relieve the pressure. The little amount of milk left in the breast will allow the brain to signal the body to slow down and eventually stop milk production.
4. After pumping, use ice packs on each breast. Do not put the ice packs directly to the skin to avoid freeze burns. Instead, lay a thin towel over your breasts and lay the ice pack on the towel. The ice will help decrease milk production.
5. You may also use cabbage leaves if ice packs are unavailable. Cabbage leaves may suppress lactation when used for long periods of time. Many women who have used cabbage leaves claim the treatment brings relief from discomfort, although more studies are needed.
Put washed and dried, crisp, cold, green cabbage leaves on your engorged breasts. You can wear the leaves inside your bra or use them as compresses covered by a cool towel. You can cut holes in the leaves to keep your nipples dry.
Leave the cabbage leaves in place for about 20–30 minutes, or until they have wilted. You may need to apply leaves several times a day for several days while you are trying to dry up your milk.
6. Wear a sports bra to keep clothes from brushing against your nipple and stimulating it. Do not bind your breasts, as this will decrease circulation, increase pain and may cause your milk ducts to become plugged.
7. Take anti-inflammatory medication, like ibuprofen, to decrease pain and swelling during the first week. An antihistamine like Benadryl may also help decrease milk production. There are some prescribed drugs that have been used to suppress lactation. Talk over the pros and cons of using lactation suppression drugs with your doctor before making a decision about whether they are necessary in your case.
8. Hydrate regularly. Don’t forget to drink if you are thirsty during the stopping process. Cutting down fluids will not help reduce your milk supply.
9. Handle your breasts very gently as they can bruise easily. Do not squeeze the breast to see if there is milk present. You can stimulate more milk production if you do. Small amounts of milk may remain in the breast for up to one month.
10. Wear a firm bra both day and night to support your breasts and keep you comfortable.
11. Use breast pads to soak up any leaking milk. Change them as they become wet.
Things to watch for and what to do
At times, you may experience milk leaking from your breasts during the lactation suppression process. Here are some tips to help with leaking breasts:
- Use breast pads. Avoid any breast pads that hold moisture against the skin. Make sure your bra is roomy enough to hold whatever sort of pad you choose without putting pressure on your breasts. If you wear your bra to bed, take care that it doesn’t dig in when you are lying down as this may lead to blocked milk ducts.
- Stop the flow when necessary. If your milk starts to leak out strongly (i.e. your milk “lets down”) you can stop the overflow by pressing firmly on your nipple with your hand or forearm for several seconds.
Engorgement (painful, overfull breasts)
If your breasts become engorged and the ideas given above do not ease your discomfort, it may help to express all the milk in the breasts, just once, with an electric breast pump. This can relieve the pressure and, from then on, you may be able to prevent it building up to that point again.
Wear a firm bra and express only for comfort.
Blocked ducts and mastitis
When breasts are left very full, there is a risk that one or more of the ducts that carry milk to the nipple will become blocked. A lump forms and the breast begins to feel sore. Sometimes there is a red patch on the skin or the breast may feel hot. If the blockage remains, milk can be forced out of the duct and into the breast tissue, which becomes inflamed. You may get the shivers and aches and feel like you are getting the flu. This is called “mastitis”, and it can come on very quickly. See your doctor if you get the flu-like symptoms or if you cannot clear the blockage within a few days. If this happens, you will need to express more milk than usual to clear the blockage. If mastitis is not treated, a breast abscess may develop. Fortunately, these are now quite rare.
Got a question, or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!