Say it with us: Your breastfeeding journey is unique to you and your baby.
Now, if you’re ready to move on from nursing, you’ve come to the right place.
Whether you want to stop quickly or you’re gradually weaning as your little one turns into your big kid, here’s our guide on how to stop breastfeeding.
When to stop breastfeeding
A lot of people have strong opinions on when women should stop nursing their babies, so let’s just look at the official advice from the WHO.
Right now, they suggest exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life and then continuing nursing alongside solid food until they’re two.
But nursing is tough and it’s a full-time job. There are lots of reasons why you might want to stop breastfeeding your baby before their second birthday, and the right time is whenever it makes sense for you and your little one.
Whatever you choose, fed is best, and your baby will be just fine.
How to stop breastfeeding
The number one tip for how to stop nursing is to do it gradually. If you let your baby take the lead, you’ll find that it’s naturally a slow process.
They’ll drop feeds as they replace breastmilk with solid food, or drop their naps, or learn to like cow’s milk (after they turn one).
But if you’re ending breastfeeding on your own schedule, here are some ways to manage the change:
If your baby is younger than six months
- Replace one feed at a time with a bottle of formula.
- Offer the formula when they’re starting to feel hungry, but they’re still calm.
- Cuddle them close and sing a familiar song while you give them their bottle.
- Give your breasts about a week to adjust to missing a feed, then drop another nursing session when you’re ready.
If your baby is older
- Replace the nursing sessions with something else which gives them a sense of closeness, especially if you’re dropping a feed at a time when they’d normally be about to go to sleep.
- Distract them so that they don’t notice the missing feed (even if that means a walk and a nap in their stroller).
- Have someone else put them down to sleep because breastfed babies associate their mama’s smell very strongly with milk.
Remember that babies under one should still get most of their daily calories from milk.
If your goal is to stop breastfeeding completely, you’ll have to offer your 6-12-month-old formula a few times a day, even if they’re also drinking water.
A note on stopping breastfeeding quickly
Life happens, and gradually stopping breastfeeding isn’t always possible.
You might have to travel without your baby. You might get sick and need medication that would pass into your milk.
Sometimes it just isn’t working (which is never your fault or your baby’s).
If you have to stop nursing suddenly, the transition can be tougher.
Your baby’s digestive system can take a few days to adjust to formula, and you’ll have to look after yourself as much as you can to reduce your risk of mastitis (more on that below).
The important thing to remember is it will be fine.
How do you stop breastfeeding without getting mastitis?
Mastitis is an infection in your breast tissue that usually happens when bacteria find their way to a buildup of milk or a blocked duct.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee that you won’t get mastitis when you stop breastfeeding (just like there’s no sure way to prevent it when you first start).
But there are things you can do to reduce the risk:
- Stop your breasts from becoming too full by expressing a little bit of milk when they become uncomfortable.
- Wear a bra that’s supportive but doesn’t dig in.
- Look after yourself, eat healthily, and take time to rest if you need to.
- See a doctor quickly if your breast feels hot or hard in one place, or if you get a fever. Mastitis is no fun, but it’s very treatable with antibiotics.
How do you dry up your breastmilk?
No excess milk = no discomfort and (hopefully) no mastitis. So what can you do to dry up your breastmilk quickly?
If you leave your breasts to it, they’ll soon get the message that the milk isn’t being used and they don’t need to make any more.
Most women find that their milk is mostly gone within 10-14 days of stopping nursing.
If you’d like to speed up the process, you also have some options.
- Certain medications like birth control pills and decongestants can help, although you should talk to your doctor before you try taking them as a lactation suppressor.
- Certain herbal teas can also reduce milk production. Look out for peppermint, sage, lemon balm, and jasmine.
How to stop breastfeeding at night
Even if you’re not ready to stop breastfeeding completely, lots of parents find that dropping night feeds helps their baby to sleep through (and what parent ever said no to more sleep?).
When your baby is less than four months old, they need to feed at night to get enough calories for all the growing they have to do.
But as they get towards six months, you might suspect that they just need a cuddle and some comfort.
There are two options for stopping night feeding:
- Gradually shorten the amount of time they’re on your breast.
- Gradually lengthen the amount of time between their night feeds (so, they have to wait until midnight for their first night feed, and then until 1 AM, and so on).
Some parents find that it makes it easier to drop night feeds if their baby has an extra feed in the afternoon (although some babies won’t take a feed if they’re not hungry).
Again, it can also help to have someone other than mama settle them back to sleep at night.
How do I get my two-year-old to stop breastfeeding?
If you’ve been breastfeeding until your child is two, congratulations, mama. That’s a big achievement. But as kids get older, they get more opinionated, and stopping nursing after an extended breastfeeding journey comes with its own challenges.
Here’s how to make the transition easier for everyone.
- Wait until no other major changes are going on in your little one’s life.
- Use a don’t offer, don’t refuse policy at first, where you don’t remind them that they’d usually have a feed, but don’t turn them down either.
- Use a postponement strategy, where you tell them that there’s no milk now, but they can have some at bedtime.
- Swap nursing for something else cuddly, like a story in a comfy corner.
- Talk to them gently but consistently and tell them no.
- Call in reinforcements to help distract your child or even put them to bed for you.
And one last thing…
Stopping breastfeeding can be an emotional time.
You’ve put a lot of time and energy into breastfeeding and a lot of emotional energy into the decision to stop.
So trust that you’re doing the best thing for you and your baby, and know that you’re not alone.
You’ll always be able to find other mamas in the Peanut community who will give you a virtual hand-hold and celebrate your breastfeeding journey.
You’re doing an amazing job.
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