Ideally, breastfed children should be weaned gradually to prevent medical or emotional problems for the child or mother. Gentle weaning enables the child to become independent from the breast without the physical or emotional shock of a very sudden change in lifestyle. Additionally, the process of abrupt weaning often causes breastfeeding mothers significant pain from engorgement, which can also lead to mastitis, clogged ducts, or other medical complications.
However, because medical complications and emergencies occasionally require women to wean their children abruptly, some breastfeeding women experience severe engorgement within a few days, or even hours, of weaning their child from the breast. While this can be an uncomfortable time, some herbs and home remedies can provide relief from the pain of engorgement, and can help to prevent further complications.
Dried sage is the herb most often recommended to relieve oversupply and engorgement during weaning. Sage contains volatile organic oils including thujone, cineole, and borneol, all of which are known to decrease breastmilk supply by acting directly on hormone receptors. While the culinary use of sage is unlikely to cause decreased breastmilk supply, it can help to relieve engorgement and oversupply if used in medicinal quantities.
Peppermint contains some similar organic oils, and has been reported to cause decrease breastmilk supply and engorgement in some women who are weaning. Peppermint’s active oils are very weak compared to many other medicinal herbs, but peppermint essential oil, taken directly, can be effective as an anti-engorgement treatment. Tea and candies made from peppermint will have little to no effect on breastmilk supply.
Another herbal solution for breast engorgement is jasmine, a sweet-smelling flower with powerful organic oils that help to decrease milk production, thereby relieving engorgement. At least one documented study, as well as much anecdotal evidence, supports the use of jasmine for this purpose. Jasmine flowers, tea, and externally applied oil all appear to be effective treatments for engorgement.
All of these herbs can be used either internally or externally, with the guidance of an educated herbalist or lactation consultant. Use extreme caution when treating engorgement or oversupply if you do not intend to wean; overuse of these herbs can and will cause an abrupt decrease in milk supply. As always, talk to your doctor and your child’s pediatrician before making any abrupt change in your breastfeeding habits.
How Do I Wean my Baby? La Leche League International. Accessed 23 Dec 08; Suppression of puerperal lactation using jasmine flowers (Jasminum sambac). Aust J Obstet Gynaecol. 1988 Feb;28(1):68-71. Applied Health: Sage. OBeWise Nutriceutica. Accessed 23 Dec 08.