How to Stop Breastfeeding

There are many reasons why a lactating mum may decide to stop breastfeeding her baby, such as returning to work or simply not being compatible with breastfeeding. Stopping breastfeeding can be an emotional moment for both baby and mum. It's normal to feel guilty or sad when you wean and actually a lot of mothers experience the same! Spend some extra time bonding with the baby to help both of you feel secure and loved. You'll finally get over this phase after learning how to stop breastfeeding.

When to Stop Breastfeeding

The recommendation from the World Health Organization is that babies are breastfed for six months exclusively. This means that the baby is not given solids or other supplementary formula feeds before six-month old. Thereafter at six months, you can start introducing the appropriate solid foods and continue to breastfeed for up to two years. However, this question is still best answered by you and it depends on when you are ready to face the weaning process.

Many babies start decreasing their breast milk feeds once they start eating solids. Eating solids at early stage helps babies with the act of chewing. But babies are only able to use the nutrition derived from solid food after nine months. Sometimes babies give you the cue that they are ready to stop. Their new behavior may include:

  • Feeding for shorter periods
  • Being playful and distracted when nursing
  • Not willing to sit still to feed

How to stop breastfeeding? You should know the situations in which you need to stop breastfeeding:

  1. The baby is able to drink fluids from a cup and gets most of his nutrition now from the solid food he eats. This will cause a natural reduction in the length of time he feeds and also the number of feeds he requires per day.
  2. The breastfeeding mum feels like it is time to stop. Breastfeeding should be an enjoyable feeling but if you’re beginning to feel resentful, then it can be time to stop.
  3. If you take medications or receive treatment that will interfere with breastfeeding, you need to stop breastfeeding. Certain medicines are passed into the breast milk and can affect the baby. Inform the doctor the fact that you're breastfeeding before he or she prescribes medicines. Also, taking the medicines soon after you breastfeed can minimize its effect on your baby.

How to Stop Breastfeeding

Once you have made the decision to stop breastfeeding, you should wean gradually to minimize the stress on yourself and the baby. Remember that you are a source of comfort and reassurance for your baby, so a gradual weaning process is important. Weaning abruptly will have painful effects on your body as well. You can follow the steps below:

1. Introduce Solid Food

Encourage a range of age-appropriate foods so the baby can explore different textures and flavors, for example, you can offer your baby pureed fruits, vegetable and meat from six months; and soft finger foods (small pieces of scramble egg, ripe banana and well-cooked potato) during 8 to 10 months. Breastfeed your baby first then offer him these solids to snack on and get used to.

2. Offer Solid Food Before Every Feed

Once the baby is accustomed to the new flavors of the solid food, offer the solid food before every feed. Solid food will also keep the baby fuller for a longer period. This will reduce the feeding time and the frequency of breastfeeding.

3. Encourage Your Baby to Drink from Cup

Introduce your baby to water from a soft-spouted cup. There are numerous brands available commercially.

If the baby is ready to wean, this process may only take a few weeks. Watch closely your child’s behavior to dictate your pace of weaning. If you notice that your child is resisting, be patient. Help him adjust by:

  • Using other ways to comfort him like cuddling and playing together.
  • Use distraction to postpone feeds. This will work better with an older child that can be reasoned with.
  • Ensure that the time period you choose to wean is when the child is happy, stable and feeling well. An unwell and stressed child will prefer to breastfeed than take other food or drink.

Watch the following video to learn more about how to wean:

How to Stop Breastfeeding Without Solid Food

When the baby is too young for solids and you have to make the transition to formula, it is best to drop one feed at a time, very gradually. This total weaning may take up to 3 weeks. Decrease a feed every 48 hours and your breasts will not engorge and become painful.

If, for some reason, you have to stop immediately with an established milk supply, follow these steps:

  1. Hand-express a little in each breast only to alleviate that full feeling. Do not over-express because it will stimulate more milk production.
  2. Cold compresses applied to the breasts will ease the pain and discomfort by decreasing the blood supply to the breasts. Many women have used cold cabbage leaves worn inside their bras quite successfully. Once they become warm, change them- almost every 2 hours.
  3. You can take mild analgesics for the pain like paracetamol.

At this time, there is no approved medicine to stop milk supply and prevent engorgement.

Self-Care After Stopping Breastfeeding

After learning how to stop breastfeeding, you may need to learn some tips to eliminate the discomfort brought by weaning.

  1. Massage your breasts gently to prevent milk ducts from becoming blocked. Warm showers can help while you massage your breasts.
  2. Check your breasts regularly for any sore, red lumps. This is a sign of a blocked milk duct. If the blockage is not resolved, it can develop into mastitis which requires medical attention and antibiotics.
  3. Tender breasts can be soothed by warm compresses. Some women prefer cold compresses. See what works for you.
  4. A supportive and well-fitted bra will support your sore breasts. Wear it even at night while sleeping.
  5. Use nursing pads if you’re leaking. This will keep your clothing dry. Change wet pads frequently to keep the nipples dry.
  6. Continue with the vitamins that were prescribed to help your body make this adjustment.
  7. Eat a healthy diet and keep your fluid intake adequate.
  8. Have enough rest to help the body heal.
  9. You may experience many different feelings during weaning as your hormones readjust. If feelings of depression persist, see your doctor.
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