Breast Changes during Weaning

Kathleen Tackett's picture

QUESTION

Dear Lactation Consultant,
I was just searching the net to see what answer I could find to a question I have. I have a four-month-old baby I have been breastfeeding and now trying to wean. About a month ago, I noticed my right breast produces much less and the milk on the breastpad appears yellow. Any ideas?

Thank you.
Melissa

ANSWER

Hi Melissa,
Weaning is a process, not an event. Unless you decide to wean "cold turkey" and abruptly stop nursing your baby (this is never recommended, as it is stressful for both you and your baby), weaning occurs gradually over a period of time as you taper off on feedings and your breasts start to produce less and less milk.Just as it takes months for your breast tissue to develop during pregnancy in preparation for producing milk, it takes time for your breasts to return to their pre-pregnant state during the weaning process.

It's normal for one breast to be larger than the other, and for one to produce more as well. The two breasts are independent, and aren't like mirror images of each other. That's why most moms who double pump will get different amounts from each breast, and also why so many babies develop a preference for one side over another. In some women, it's a subtle difference, in others it can be dramatic -- five or six ounces from one breast and one from the other. Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause the development and increase in size of milk producing tissue, and it is not unusual for the milk producing tissue to develop more in one breast than the other. This may or may not cause a noticeable discrepancy in breast size or milk production while you are lactating.

During the weaning process, some mothers will notice a difference in production as one breast goes through the process of returning to its pre-pregnant state at a different rate from the other. During the weaning process, the actual composition of the milk changes.

  • Levels of certain antibodies are higher (this provides the baby with protection against infection at a time when he is gradually losing the benefits of the many immune factors in human milk).
  • The color and consistency of the milk changes as well. It begins to look more like colostrum than regular milk. It becomes more yellow, then turns into a clear fluid that is thick and sticky.

Many mothers are surprised to find that they still have a milky discharge from their nipples for months or even years after they stop nursing. Usually this discharge will be clear and sticky like colostrum, and most of the time, it doesn't leak out spontaneously, but if the mother squeezes her breast, a few drops of fluid will appear. Sometimes, especially in the early weeks after weaning, milk will leak out while the mother is showering, or during lovemaking when the hormone oxytocin is released.

If you develop swollen breasts, tenderness, or lots of leaking after weaning, then you probably need to have it checked out by your doctor. Occasional leaking of a few drops, or being able to express some milk out in the shower is one thing, but lots of leaking and soreness is something else and in some cases may indicate a medical problem.

-- Anne, IBCLC