How to Stop Breastfeeding?
After deciding when to stop breastfeeding your baby, the first thought that usually comes to mind is, “But...HOW?” Even seasoned breastfeeding moms might have worries about cranky babies, how to stop leaking breasts, or whether or not the timing is right.
No matter where you are in your breastfeeding journey, here are some tips that will help you decide how to stop breastfeeding!
1. Follow Your Baby’s Lead (If You Can)
If you are able to follow your baby’s lead when it comes to weaning, you might find that the process is a much smoother one for you and your child. Some babies will lose interest in breastfeeding on their own as they begin to explore all the wonderful foods and experiences available to them! Others, however, may desire the comfort of the breast for much longer.
If your life situation allows for it, letting your baby lead can provide a gentle, gradual transition. However, there are a number of reasons why you may need or want to wean before your baby has lost interest, and that’s okay too!
2. Consider Your Breastfeeding Goals
Making the decision to stop breastfeeding is a personal one, with many factors involved. Before you decide to commit to weaning, take a moment to consider what your original breastfeeding goals were. Sometimes moms can feel pressured to stop earlier than they want to by well-meaning family and friends who might just not understand your desire to breastfeed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life, and supports breastfeeding after solid foods are introduced, up to two years and beyond. If you and your baby are happy with the arrangement, that’s really all that matter!
3. Try to Decrease Gradually
You have considered your goals and lifestyle and decided to wean your baby...and now you have to figure out how to stop breastfeeding! If at all possible, decreasing your nursing sessions gradually is recommended. This will provide your body enough time to adjust to the decrease in demand and lessen your chance of engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis.
For some moms, this means a strict schedule of removing one feeding at a time, and for others it means offering solid foods or drinks in cups before offering the breast. Either way, the goal is a gradual decrease in the amount of milk being removed from the breast over time.
4. Remember that Supply Meets Demand
In cases of engorgement or breast discomfort when weaning, it is best to hand express or pump only enough to relieve the pressure, and not empty the breasts between feedings. Because breastmilk production happens on a supply and demand basis, emptying the breasts fully between feeds will signal your body to keep producing milk. This will make weaning a much slower process and lead to more instances of engorgement or clogged ducts.
5. Make Sure Your Baby is Eating Well
If you have decided to stop breastfeeding, make sure that your baby is able to eat a variety of foods to replace the calories and nutrients they were receiving from your breastmilk. If you are weaning before your baby is one year old, you will need to replace your breastfeeding sessions with a bottle of expressed milk or formula to ensure nutritional needs are being met. If they are over one year old, you can offer regular dairy or milk alternatives along with their meals and snacks.
6. Distract, Distract, Distract
If your baby or toddler is used to being fed on demand, one of the most effective tactics to delay the time between feedings is to attempt to distract them when they ask for the breast. If they are truly hungry, they will continue to ask for it! If they are able to be distracted by playing, changing your scenery, or having a snack or drink, that should be considered first.
7. Provide Comfort and Closeness
Breastfeeding provides much more than nutrition for your child. It has been a source of comfort, closeness, and calm since the first latch. In order to lessen the emotional impact of this transition for your child, make sure to offer lots of opportunities for connection. Snuggling, rocking, playing, reading books, and singing songs together can all help fill in the gaps for your baby as you move through this change.
8. Recruit Some Support
Weaning your baby can be an exhausting task! If you have a partner or family member that can help distract, comfort, or feed your baby sometimes so that you can get a break, ask them for help! With younger babies, you can ask someone else to take over a feeding or two with a bottle. Older babies and toddlers can benefit from being comforted or distracted by other important people in their lives, while giving you a much-needed break from the hard work of weaning.
9. Safely Decrease Your Supply
Sometimes, you are not able to quit breastfeeding as gradually or gently as you wish. If you find yourself needing to decrease your supply quickly for any reason, make sure to talk to your care provider. There are some medications and herbal remedies that can help you safely dry up your milk supply quickly. It is important to make that plan with your care provider in order to reduce your chances of unpleasant side effect or clogged ducts and mastitis.
10. Plan to Stay Flexible
When it comes to deciding how to stop breastfeeding, staying flexible is important! You may mark a date on your calendar to start the process, only to have a sick baby that needs that extra milk and snuggles to recover. Growth spurts, sleep regressions, teething, and illnesses can all potentially impact your weaning plan. Try to remember that weaning is rarely a linear process, and you might have some ups and downs along the way!
Weaning is a personal and often emotional choice for mothers and babies. Make sure it’s a choice you are making for yourself, and one you feel good about. Then make a plan, stay flexible, and make sure you have all the support you can for the process. You’ve got this!