How to stop breastfeeding

how to stop breastfeeding

by Catriona Watson |

We believe mums should always do whatever works for them as there is no right or wrong way to feed your child. There are many reasons why you may decide to stop breastfeeding, whether it is in the first few days as a new mum or further down the line.

It helps to consider why you want to stop breastfeeding as there may be alternative options to allow you to continue or adapt the feeding. Once you do decide to stop breastfeeding, there are particular methods to help ease the transition and recommendations from health organisations to guide you. The most important thing is that both mother and baby are healthy and happy.

Common reasons for stopping breastfeeding:

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1) Pain (sore, cracked nipples, thrush or mastitis)

Breastfeeding is nearly always going to be accompanied by pain as you get used to the new sensations. Most women suffer from sore or cracked nipples at some point and even mastitis, where the breast tissue becomes inflamed.

Pain during feeding can be overcome by trying different positions, feeding techniques, creams and pads designed to soothe sore nipples as well as staying hydrated. Your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding counsellor can advise you, but for some women, the pain is severe and they may have no choice but to stop feeding.

When should I stop breastfeeding?

The truth is, breastfeeding does not work for everyone. For some mums, they may decide they do not want to try breastfeeding at all or they try but decide to stop early on. If you decide breastfeeding isn't for you, you can, of course, opt for formula feeding. If you attempt to breastfeed but suffer from complications or pain, always speak to your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding counsellor, as they can advise you.

There are guidelines and recommendations which may help you make your decision. If you do decide to breastfeed and manage it successfully, it is recommended that you give your child exclusively breast milk until they are six months old. At six months, you can begin to introduce solid food alongside breast milk, as breast milk has been found to help aid the digestion of food. The World Health Organisation also recommends that all babies are breastfed for up to two years or longer. However, the best way to judge whether to stop breastfeeding or not is by looking at whether both you and your child are happy.

How can I stop breastfeeding?

When you decide to stop breastfeeding, it is important that you do this gradually. Some women do stop instantly but this is usually during the early days or for medical reasons which cannot be helped. Immediate stopping can cause engorgement, where your breasts are full and painful which may also lead to mastitis. Mastitis causes redness, swelling, lumps, discomfort and a feeling of heat in the breasts.

If you stop breastfeeding quickly, you can express milk by hand to prevent engorgement or apply a cold compress to the breasts to reduce the blood supply and ease discomfort. Always remember to stay hydrated as reducing your water intake will not reduce your milk supply.

Stopping gradually gives your body more time to adjust to the change. Breastfeeding is not simply feeding your child, it is also comforting for them. Phasing breastfeeding out slowly gives both you and your baby time to get used to the change with less of a dramatic impact.

The best way to phase out breastfeeding is by dropping one feed at a time. You can drop any feed, night or day, depending on what suits you. Some women may stop offering breast milk but continue to provide it when their child specifically requests it (this is sometimes called child-led weaning).

If your baby is younger than a year old when you decide to stop breastfeeding, you'll still need to replace the dropped feed with formula even when they are eating solid food. NHS guidelines explain that "your baby will still need to have breast milk or formula as their main drink up to at least their first birthday." Combining formula with breastmilk is a good way to ease the transition.

Once you have dropped a feed and your baby has become used to this change (probably around a week), you can drop another feed. You can continue this process until your child is no longer breastfeeding or your child stops asking for the breast.

How long does it take to stop breastfeeding?

If you are gradually phasing out breastfeeding, a steady pace is best. However, the process depends on how well your child responds to the changes. The time it takes to stop can vary greatly - stopping breastfeeding entirely can take anything from weeks to months.

What do I do if my child does not want to stop breastfeeding?

If you find your child struggles with the change, try distracting them with a toy, game or activity. Breastfeeding is comforting to your child, so try and comfort them in other ways - try cuddling or get your partner to soothe them as they know that they cannot get milk from them. If your child requests the breast, try postponing the feed by saying you'll do it later. This might distract them and can help you drop feeds or increase the time between them.

If your child is ill or unhappy, they may be more likely to want to breastfeed. Breastfeeding can be a great support and comfort to them in times of need, so pay attention to this and pick your moments. It may set your weaning back slightly, but it is a gradual process and it is more important that your child feels happy.

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