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Breast Care If You Choose Not to Breast-Feed

Breast-feeding is a natural and convenient way to feed your newborn baby, but it may not be an option for all women. If you decide not to breast-feed, there are several things that you can do to be more comfortable.

How do the breasts change during and after pregnancy?

During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces many hormones to help prepare to deliver a baby. A hormone called prolactin helps the breasts to produce milk.

Within several days after your baby is born, your breasts will stop producing milk. However, you may have other symptoms, such as:

  • You may notice that your breasts have become firm and tender. This is a normal process called breast engorgement. It usually goes away in a couple of days.
  • Your breasts may leak drops of milk for several weeks after you give birth.
  • You may have some cramps or vaginal bleeding as the hormones in your body change.

How can I take care of myself?

Here are some suggestions that may help relieve your discomfort while your breasts stop making milk:

  • Wear a well-fitting supportive bra.
  • Put ice packs or a package of frozen vegetables on your breasts for 15 to 20 minutes every one to two hours while you are awake.
  • Sleep in a closely fitting bra.
  • Use a towel or stretch bandage as a binding for your breasts. To get the best results from binding, learn from someone who has experience with breast-binding techniques.
  • Try to avoid any breast stimulation, especially around the nipples. Do not try to pump your breast milk. If your breasts are stimulated or emptied, they will keep making milk and your discomfort will not go away.

Some women find that nonprescription pain medicine gives relief from the discomfort. It is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about the use of any medicine to be sure that the medicine is OK for you to use.

Some breast-feeding experts recommend using cool cabbage leaves to treat painful breast engorgement. Many women who have tried cabbage leaves claim the treatment brings relief from discomfort and improves milk flow. Whether improvement results from the cool wraps or from a specific property in cabbage is not known. Here is how you can use cabbage leaves for engorgement:

  • Put thoroughly washed and dried, crisp, cold, green cabbage leaves over 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, if necessary, to allow the nipples to stay dry.
  • Leave the cabbage leaves in place for about 20 to 30 minutes or until they have wilted. Usually only one or two applications of the leaves are needed to soften the breasts and establish good milk flow. Women who are trying to dry up their milk use the leaves for a longer time.

In the past, certain medicines were used to stop milk production. "Dry-up" medicines are no longer given to women who choose to not to breast-feed.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-01-06
Last reviewed: 2011-11-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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