Both the World Health Organisation and UNICEF encourage breastfeeding on demand for the first six months of a baby’s life, and little ones can be breastfed from birth up to two years and beyond. But, there are many personal reasons why parents might choose to stop breastfeeding at any stage.
The truth is, breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing, and there are many options available for parents when it comes to breastfeeding. From expressing breast milk and combining with bottle feeding, to gradually ending breastfeeding when your little one’s able to drink water and eat solids – it’s all about finding out what works best for you and your baby.
Whether you’re stopping breastfeeding because your baby is old enough to wean onto solids, or for any other reason, deciding to stop can be emotional. So, we’ve gathered some tips and information to support you, however you choose to feed your little one.
Read on to learn why some parents choose to stop breastfeeding, and for some top tips to make the transition as smooth as possible when you decide that the time is right for you and your baby.
Common reasons to stop breastfeeding.
Even though the benefits of breastfeeding are widely known, you can choose to stop breastfeeding at any time. It’s a very personal decision, and no two experiences are the same so, you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. Instead, do what’s best for you and your baby.
Breastfeeding parents choose to stop for several reasons. For example, they may be:
- Having difficulty breastfeeding. Their baby may be struggling to feed efficiently and not gaining weight, or they might be struggling with their milk supply. Some parents experience sore nipples which can hinder their breastfeeding experience, but these can often be treated and don’t mean that you need to stop breastfeeding altogether.
- Returning to work. Even though this doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding, you may wish to switch to combination feeding your baby.
- Taking medication that affects breastfeeding.
- Pregnant again and finding breastfeeding challenging.
- Just feeling like it’s the right time. The bottom line is it’s up to you how long you choose to continue to breastfeed.
When to stop breastfeeding
The WHO recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for six months and that after this they can be breastfed alongside eating solid foods for up to two years or more, but it’s entirely up to you when you choose to stop breastfeeding your baby. It’s a very personal choice that can be influenced by several factors.
If you’re looking for support to continue your breastfeeding journey, you can reach out to a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding support group and other parents for help and advice.
How long does it take to stop breastfeeding?
It’s good to note that stopping breastfeeding doesn’t have to be permanent, but starting again can take time and does depend on how well-established your milk supply is. Not everyone is able to go back to producing enough breast milk to meet their baby’s needs.
Natasha says that “with [her] second child, [she] solely breastfed for about six months and then started to try and give her formula after that, which she refused. Ending breastfeeding with her was really hard – [she] had to wait until she was about a year for her to take on formula milk”.
And Gianni told us that weaning her daughter”from breastfeeding was actually pretty hard. [She] cut down daytime feeds, but [her little girl] just would not let go of her night feeds for about two months. [She] had to take a step back and let [her baby] take the lead. Once she was ready, she took to drinking from a cup very easily”.
When to stop breastfeeding at night
Some babies find breastfeeding at night comforting and according to La Leche League, most evidence suggests that night-weaning is best left until after baby is around 18 months – and it may be easier to cut down on feeds at this age.
However, there’s no fixed timeline, and as your baby reaches the right age and weight (around 5-6 kg and between four to six months) for night weaning, you can decide what works best for you and your baby in terms of night feeds.
You can always bottle feed at night if you want to stop breastfeeding earlier than this.
Tips to stop breastfeeding safely
When the time comes for you to wean your baby off breastfeeding, there’s no right or wrong way to do so. However, lots of parents find that stopping breastfeeding happens gradually as their little one grows and begins to eat solid or pureed foods.
- Replacing feeds: Stopping gradually by replacing some feeds with expressed breast milk or formula in a bottle can prevent painful problems like overfull or engorged breasts and mastitis. It also gives both you and your baby time to adjust emotionally and physically.
- Going to natural term: Some parents choose to breastfeed to ‘natural term’ and let their little one choose when to stop. This usually happens gradually over a period of months. By following a never offer, never refuse approach, you’ll notice your little one’s feeding sessions become shorter and more infrequent, and then eventually stop altogether.
It’s important to note that guidelines state that milk feeds shouldn’t completely stop once they’re eating solids.
If you and your baby have decided it’s time to wean and your little one is younger than 12 months old:
- Give them expressed breast milk or infant formula in place of direct breastfeeds.
If you and your baby have decided it’s time to wean and your little one is 12 months or older:
- Give them plain whole cow’s milk or an unsweetened plant-based beverage in place of direct breastfeeds.
From the age of six months, little ones can drink sips of water alongside their meals.
How to stop breastfeeding quickly
Reducing breastfeeds and weaning off breastfeeding too quickly can lead to issues like breast engorgement and potentially mastitis, and a gradual approach to stopping breastfeeding is often the most comfortable and makes the adjustment easier for baby to get used to.
However, if you do want or need to stop breastfeeding suddenly for whatever reason, pumping or hand-expressing breast milk can slow your milk production and avoid potential issues of engorgement, blocked milk ducts, and mastitis, as well as making the hormonal changes more gradual.
Further help to stop breastfeeding.
If you’re experiencing problems when trying to stop breastfeeding, you can seek advice from your health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist, and if you’re not sure whether to continue with breastfeeding.
How to stop milk production if you’re not breastfeeding.
As a general rule, the longer you’ve breastfed, the longer it will take for your breast milk supply to dry up. If you don’t pump or breastfeed, your body should stop producing milk gradually over time, but it won’t happen straight away.
You may decide to wait and let your breast milk supply dry up naturally. Alternatively, you may consider certain medications that can speed up the process. Parents who experience the loss of a baby often want to stop producing milk as soon as possible.
Birth control medication and decongestants can sometimes help speed up the process of drying up your breast milk supply, but every situation is unique. You should discuss the process and your options with a lactation counsellor or your health care provider.
These additional tips can also help stop breast milk production:
- Avoid eating lactogenic foods. These include grains like oats, cornmeal, barley like porridge or other oat-based cereals, nuts and seeds including sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and almonds, and some fruits and vegetables including mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, lettuce, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and cherries.
- Avoid hot showers and warm compresses. Warm water can trigger breast milk production.
- Avoid breast and nipple stimulation.
- Decrease breastfeeds and pumping sessions.
Some people experience discomfort and fluctuating emotions during the weaning process. These tips can help provide relief:
- Wear a well-fitting bra
- Take over-the-counter painkillers with advice from a pharmacist
- Use a cold compress to ease pain and reduce swelling.
- Wear breast pads to absorb any unexpected leaks.
- Prioritise rest and nutrition to regulate your hormones.
- Talk to friends or a breastfeeding support group.
Stop breastfeeding FAQs
CAN I RESTART BREASTFEEDING AFTER I’VE STOPPED?
Yes, you can. Stopping breastfeeding doesn’t have to be permanent. These tips can help you restart breast milk production:
- Expressing breast milk by hand or using a breast pump and offering your breast to your baby can encourage your body to start making breast milk again.
- Practising skin-to-skin contact with your baby can trigger re-lactation.
You should reach out to your midwife, doctor or a lactation consultant for help if you’d like to start breastfeeding your baby again.
HOW CAN I STOP BREASTFEEDING WHILE PREGNANT?
There’s no need to stop breastfeeding if you become pregnant again if you continue to eat well and get plenty of rest. If you want to breastfeed more than one child, for example, a newborn and a toddler, your milk supply will adjust to feed more than one baby.
However, if you’re expecting multiples or are at risk of early delivery/miscarriage, you may be advised to stop breastfeeding. And some parents choose to stop breastfeeding while pregnant because of the additional challenges that come with pregnancy. If you do choose to stop breastfeeding, it’s best to do so gradually.
HOW CAN I HELP MY BABY THROUGH THE BREASTFEEDING WEANING PROCESS?
Weaning off breastfeeding is emotional for everyone involved. Here are some tips to help your mini-me cope with the transition:
- Offer them a soother to suck on instead of your nipple.
- Give them plenty of liquids and solid foods (if age appropriate) and check in with your doctor to make sure that they’re getting all the nutrition they need.
- Spend lots of time cuddling and bonding with them in different ways other than breastfeeding.
If your little one associates certain times of day – like bedtime – with breastfeeding, ask your partner or a family member to take over bottle feeds while you’re weaning.