When to Stop Breastfeeding?
Many breastfeeding parents wonder when to stop breastfeeding their baby. While there is no one answer that will apply to every situation, there are a few things you can keep in mind when it comes time to finish your breastfeeding journey.
Most importantly, the below points are simple things you can think about when making your decision. While information about what is common can help you understand why others might make the choice to stop, knowing when to stop breastfeeding is something only you can discover for yourself and your baby.
Are there medical recommendations for when to stop breastfeeding?
Organizations such as the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics do make standard best practice recommendations about breastfeeding and how long an optimal breastfeeding relationship should last.
From the WHO website:
“WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.
Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night. No bottles, teats or pacifiers should be used.
From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and encourages breastfeeding along with solid foods for at least one year, with benefits noted for up to two years.
What are some common reasons to stop breastfeeding?
Just because there are standard recommendations does not mean that those recommendations will always be the best choice, or even possible, for every breastfeeding parent and baby.
Some parents may never begin to breastfeed in the first place due to a number of factors. Other moms start out breastfeeding but choose to stop before the recommended times, or even before they themselves wished to stop breastfeeding originally.
No one should be judged for their choice to breastfeed or formula-feed their baby for any length of time. It is important to remember that you are the only one who has access to all the facts about your own situation and should make your choice based on what is best for you and your family.
Some common reasons that a parent may choose to stop breastfeeding are:
1. Physical disabilities or need for medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding.
2. The mental health of the breastfeeding parent.
3. Inability to produce enough breast milk.
4. Premature infants or the birth of multiples such as twins or triplets.
5. Inadequate support to continue pumping after returning to work.
6. The desire of the breastfeeding parent is to be done.
7. Baby refusing the breast or prefers a bottle and/or solid foods.
8. Lack of emotional or physical support needed to reach the breastfeeding goals of the parent.
How will you know when to stop breastfeeding at night?
Knowing when to stop breastfeeding at night can be another complicated decision for parents! Sometimes, a baby will be night-weaned long before they stop breastfeeding during daytime hours, while other babies will continue to wake to feed at night long after they have cut down their daytime feeds.
Once again, this is a decision in which you will have to take your family’s unique situation into account. Some moms who work long hours during the day enjoy the chance to reconnect with their baby during the night through breastfeeding. Others might be desperate to get some uninterrupted hours of sleep and look to encourage nighttime weaning sooner, while still cherishing the time spent nursing in the morning or at bedtime.
If everyone is getting adequate sleep and happy to continue the nighttime breastfeeding arrangement, there is no particular reason that night weaning should be pushed prior to daytime weaning.
What kinds of body changes can you expect when you stop breastfeeding?
Most women will experience some kind of body changes after stopping breastfeeding, although the extent of the changes will depend on a number of factors.
A longer, more gradual weaning process will often result in a smoother transition for the mother in terms of body changes. If you wean suddenly, particularly within the first six months, there can be a greater hormonal shift, as well as the potential for clogged ducts or mastitis.
Either way, you can expect a bit of an adjustment physically as well as emotionally at the end of your breastfeeding journey. Breast changes, hormonal shifts, and feelings of sadness are some of the most common changes experienced.
Is it okay to just keep going?
If you had planned to stop breastfeeding at a certain point, but have found that you and your child are both still enjoying your breastfeeding relationship, then there really is no reason that you should feel the need to stop!
Sometimes, breastfeeding mothers who practice child-led weaning (or waiting until the child stops asking to nurse on their own) can receive unpleasant and unwanted comments about their extended breastfeeding. Remember, if you and your child are happy and healthy, no one else really gets a say in whether or not you should continue to breastfeed!
Around the world, the average age of weaning can vary from a few months to around four years. However long you choose to breastfeed your child for, make sure that you are choosing it for yourself because it works for you and your family, not because you feel pressure from outside sources or opinions. After all, it’s your body and your baby!