I breastfed each of my boys for a long time (several years a pop!) and so it didn’t surprise me that when my youngest finally weaned, I could still express a little milk by hand. I mean, my boobs had been milk factories forever, and I didn’t expect the whole operation to shut down overnight.
But what totally surprised me (even though I’d heard of it happening to other women) was that I could still express a drop or two over a year after he weaned.
Every few weeks, I’ll be washing up in the shower, and just for the heck of it, I’ll try to express a little. There it will be: a fat yellow drop of milk out of my right boob. Kind of like the colostrum I could express at the end of each of my pregnancies.
As a former La Leche League leader and lactation consultant, I’d heard all kinds of stories of moms having breastmilk months or years after weaning. But it was the kind of thing you don’t think could happen until it happened to you.
I’d also heard of women having “silent letdowns” after weaning. They’d hold a newborn or hear a baby cry in the next room and their breasts would get that full, tingly feeling reminiscent of when their milk used to let down.
Poring through my trusty old lactation books, it’s hard to find much info about this phenomenon. But in the 2004 edition of Breastfeeding And Human Lactation, author and lactation consultant Jan Riordan does make mention of the whole thing.
“Small amounts of milk or serous fluid are commonly expressed for weeks, months, or years from women who have previously been pregnant or lactating,” Riordan writes.
Lactation consultant Anne Smith says the milk moms usually express after weaning does tend to look like colostrum, the yellowish “liquid gold” your body makes during late pregnancy and during the first few days after birth.
Smith has an interesting theory about why some moms continue to be able to express breastmilk, even years after they are done nursing.
“Since it took your breasts nine months of pregnancy to go through the physical changes that prepared them to make breast milk, it’s not surprising that they don’t go back to their pre-pregnancy state immediately after your baby weans,” Smith says.
That makes total sense, doesn’t it? And I have noticed, too, that the longer women tend to breastfeed, the longer it seems to take their boob factories to go completely out of business.
For example, my friend who breastfed a set of twins, a singleton, and then another set of twins for a total of four years can still express a pretty substantial amount of milk eight months after weaning.
My other friend, who breastfed two kids into toddlerhood, actually ended up getting what felt like a clogged duct six months after weaning. She was able to express quite a bit of milk out of that boob. Thankfully, it wasn’t a clog or any other health concern — just a small build-up of post-weaning milk.
But that begs the question: When could this “having milk after weaning” thing actually be a problem, and a reason to visit the doctor?
First, as Anne Smith points out, it’s totally normal to spontaneously leak milk in the initial weeks after weaning. It helps to wean your baby or toddler gradually whenever possible, but even if you do that, leaking happens just happens for a while and is common.
Wear loose fitting clothing to avoid clogged ducts and try not to express unless you are uncomfortable (the more you express, the more milk you will continue making, which is the opposite of your goal here).
Again, it’s also normal if months or years after weaning you can express a little milk by hand. However, if you spontaneously start leaking at any point after the first month or so after weaning, or if your breasts feel hard, very full, or tender, you may want to consult your doctor, especially if the milk is plentiful. And of course, any kind of unusual lump in your breast should always be evaluated by a medical professional.
Excessive milk after weaning (or at any time other than breastfeeding) may indicate that you have a condition called galactorrhea and it’s worth getting it checked out. In very rare cases, galactorrhea can be an indication of an underlying medical condition like a thyroid tumor or hyperthyroidism.
You know your body and if anything feels “off,” always go to your doctor for an evaluation, because it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
For most of us, though, having a little breastmilk in our boobs after weaning is just a way of life. My friend weaned her youngest a decade ago and can still express a little, no joke.
Personally, once I learned that it was totally normal and nothing to worry about, I’ve kind of grown to love it. Those drops of milk are little reminders of that sweet time in my life when my kids were little, cuddly, and connected to me by the miracle of life.
Now excuse me while I go look at their baby pictures and cry my eyes out.