How Long Do Your Breasts Hurt If You Don't Breastfeed?

by April Sanders

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is best for your baby, but it's not a viable option for everyone. Many mothers can't breastfeed or choose not to for personal reasons. Unfortunately, there's no switch you can throw to stop your breasts from producing milk after you've had a baby. In fact, it may take up to a week for your breasts to receive the message.

    There may not be a switch to turn off milk production, but there is a trigger that turns it on. The process of labor activates a hormone called "prolactin." This hormone tells your breasts to start producing milk. But your body pays attention to whether or not your breasts actually get used. If you don't pump or nurse, your body releases something to counter the prolactin called the "prolactin inhibiting factor." This shuts down milk production, but it happens gradually. On average, it takes between seven and 10 days for your breasts to stop producing milk, according to Diane Spatz, nurse clinician and researcher with BabyCenter.com.

    Full milk production doesn't usually kick in until between three and five days after the birth, at which time your breasts become swollen with milk and other fluids, including blood and lymph fluid. The breasts become very large and tender -- so much so that your bras may no longer fit comfortably -- and you may even leak milk for a few days.

    Some women suffer from engorged breasts, which is when they become so full of fluids that they become hard, throbbing and painful. Women who have engorged breasts may also experience swelling of the armpit and a low fever, according to BabyCenter.com. The pressure is relieved by nursing, but expressing milk is not recommended for women who are not planning to breastfeed, unless there is risk of an infection developing, in which case your doctor may recommend pumping.

    Fortunately, you don't have to grin and bear it while you wait for the prolactin inhibiting factor to do its work. Ease the pain by taking ibuprofen and by applying cool compresses -- such as ice packs, frozen vegetables or even cabbage leaves -- to your breasts. A soft but supportive bra with no underwire may also help ease the pain.

    About the Author

    April Sanders has been a professional writer since 1998. She has worked as an educator abroad and in the United States, and now writes academic research content, curriculum and assessment materials for several major educational publishers, including EBSCOhost, Compass Publishing, WestEd, Young Minds Inspired, SmarterBalanced and others. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Psychology from the University of Washington, a master's degree in information sciences and educational technology from Mansfield University, and is certified to teach in Oregon and Washington.

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