Babies 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.
Perhaps they’re struggling with milk supply, experiencing discomfort when feeding, or getting ready to head back to work.
The process of drying up your breast milk can take time – ranging from weeks to months – and the journey is different for everyone.
Can I restart breastfeeding after I’ve stopped? We know that for some parents, choosing to end their breastfeeding journey isn’t easy and can be very emotional. So, we’ve gathered some tips and information to support you, however you choose to feed your little one.
When to stop breastfeeding
Even though the benefits of breastfeeding are widely known and the World Health Organization recommends that you only give your baby breast milk for the first six months, you can choose to stop breastfeeding at any time. It’s a very personal decision, and no two parent’s experiences are the same. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others, and instead do what’s best for you and your baby.
Breastfeeding parents choose to stop for a number of 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 experiencing pain when feeding or struggling with their milk supply.
- 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 for.
What’s the best age to stop breastfeeding?
Although the WHO recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for six months, and that after this they can be breastfed along with solid foods up to two years or more, it’s entirely up to you when you choose to stop breastfeeding your baby.
It’s a very personal choice and there’s no rule book and no perfect age.
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 to stop breastfeeding
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.
It’s important to note that guidelines state that breastfeeding shouldn’t completely stop once they’re eating solids. Your baby should still be mainly drinking breast milk or formula over other drinks until they’re a year old.
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.
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. You’ll notice your little one’s feeding sessions become shorter and more infrequent, and eventually stop all together.
If you’re experiencing problems when trying to stop breastfeeding, you can seek advice from your health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist.
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 medication 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 don’t use warm compresses because 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.
Stopping breastfeeding: FAQ’s
What are the side effects of stopping breastfeeding too fast?
If you stop breastfeeding too quickly, you may encounter side effects like clogged milk ducts, engorgement and an infection called mastitis. To avoid these uncomfortable conditions, it’s best to wean your baby off breastfeeding gradually and seek medical advice to help you choose the best way for you.
How long should it take to stop breastfeeding?
Yes, you can.
Stopping breastfeeding doesn’t have to be permanent. But starting again can take time and does depend on how well-established your milk supply. Not everyone will be able to go back to producing enough breast milk to meet their baby’s needs.
These tips can help you restart breast milk production…
- Expressing breast milk by hand or using a pump and offering your breast to your baby can encourage your body to start making breast milk again.
- Practicing skin-to-skin contact with your baby can trigger re-lactation.
You should reach out to your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist for help if you’d like to start breastfeeding your baby again.
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 step in while you’re weaning.