Whether or not you plan to breastfeed, your body begins to prepare milk during the second trimester of your pregnancy. The delivery of the placenta then triggers the onset of milk production. Though women are biologically programmed to make milk for their newborn, deciding to breastfeed is a highly personal choice. So, what happens to your milk if you don’t breastfeed? Here’s what you need to know!

When does milk production decrease?

Whether you follow the formula or breast path, your breasts will naturally be fuller and heavier once your little one arrives. If you don’t express the milk by pumping or nursing, your body will begin to recognise that the milk is not needed, which will cause production to decrease and eventually stop. For most women, it takes between seven to ten days for your body to get the message. However, this process can sometimes take longer depending on the amount of milk production and whether complications arise.

Will my breasts hurt?

During this time, your breasts will likely be engorged with milk, which may cause some discomfort. A supportive bra and cold compresses can help to alleviate some of the soreness. It’s important to avoid binding or bandaging your breasts during this period, as this can worsen your discomfort and cause further complications, such as mastitis or clogged ducts.

You can also choose to express a small amount of milk to ease the engorgement and relieve some of the pain. However, keep in mind that expressing regularly signals your body to produce more milk, which can delay how long it takes for milk production to stop.

Will my breasts leak if I don’t express?

It’s not uncommon to experience leakage during the first week or two after delivery. Wearing breast pads will help to soak up any unexpected leaks. During this time, you may also want to avoid taking hot showers or applying warm compresses to your breasts, as this can stimulate milk production and prolong the time it takes for your body to catch on.

Where does the milk go?

If your breasts are not stimulated to express the milk, the resulting breast engorgement sends a signal to your body to decrease and eventually cease production. The remaining milk is safely reabsorbed by the body. This process isn’t always simple, as some women experience pain, infection or other complications.

If you decide not to nurse, or would like to wean, consult your doctor about the best and safest way to do this. If you experience severe discomfort associated with breast engorgement, your specialist can suggest some remedies or prescribe you a safe pain-reliever to ease your symptoms.