How to stop breastfeeding
If you’ve made the decision to stop breastfeeding, you might be wondering what the best approach is.
Don’t be tempted to go cold turkey and stop breastfeeding suddenly as this will be uncomfortable and distressing for both you and your baby. Reducing how much you feed slowly and gradually will help your little one get used to the transition but it will also be gentler on your body too.
If you stop breastfeeding too quickly, your breasts can become engorged as they will be full of milk which suddenly has nowhere to go. Engorged breasts feel hard and tight and it can be very uncomfortable. There is also a risk that you might develop mastitis – a painful infection, which causes your breasts to become hot and swollen and can lead to flu-like symptoms.
Gradually stopping breastfeeding is also better from an emotional point of view. Even if you are completely happy with your decision to move on to another form of feeding, it is normal to feel a little sad to be closing the chapter on this part of your parenting journey. Reducing the frequency of breastfeeds before stopping allows you to get used to the idea so you can come to terms with it before the final feed.
When should I stop breastfeeding?
Deciding when to stop breastfeeding is a personal choice. You can continue feeding your child for as long as you wish so don’t feel under any pressure to stop at a certain time if you don’t feel ready.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and NHS both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is possible. But this doesn’t mean you can’t continue breastfeeding past six months alongside giving solid food. In fact, the WHO recommends continuing until the age of two and says the longer you breastfeed your child, the greater the health benefits are.
If you are planning to stop because you are finding it difficult, it is a good idea to seek support from your midwife, health visitor, breastfeeding support worker or a lactation consultant first. They may be able to help you continue feeding until you are ready to stop by choice.
Different ways to stop breastfeeding
A common approach to stopping breastfeeding is to drop a feed at a time and replace it with an alternative milk. If your baby is less than 12 months old, this will be a formula milk but if they are older than one, you might decide to replace breast milk with either formula or whole cow’s milk.
If your baby is still very young, you are likely to want to swap breast for a bottle but for older babies and toddlers, you can switch straight to offering their alternative milk in a cup.
Most parents find it easier to start by dropping the breastfeeds in the middle of the day. Your baby will be easier to distract as there is more going on and once you start weaning them onto solid food, you may find they naturally drop some of their daytime feeds anyway.
Drop one feed every three to five days. This will give your milk supply time to adjust to the reduced demand and it will help your baby get used to the transition too.
Mums will often find the hardest breastfeeds to give up are ones at the very start and end of the day. If you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding because you are returning to work, you may find that you can continue with just one or two feeds a day for as long as it suits you.
Some parents will choose to let their child decide when to stop breastfeeding. Children will not continue breastfeeding forever and will gradually start to wean themselves off the breast. Mums usually find that children start feeding less often and coming off the breast quicker until they eventually stop completely.
How to make stopping breastfeeding easier
As your breasts adjust to feeding less often, they may feel more tender than usual. It’s really important to wear a supportive and well-fitting bra, which doesn’t dig into or irritate your breasts.
If you have an older baby or toddler who is used to helping themselves to breastfeeds, you may find it helpful to wear a sports bra which is harder for them to access as well as high-necked tops during the times of the day you no longer want to feed.
If there are certain points of day or activities which your little one associates with breastfeeding, it can help to get your partner or a trusted family member to take over feeds at those times. Mums often find their babies take a bottle much more easily from their partners as they can’t smell their breastmilk.
Don’t expect anything to happen overnight and be kind to both yourself and your child as it can be an emotional time for both of you.