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Breastfeeding your baby can be a wonderful chapter in your motherhood, but you may be asking yourself, how do I stop? Or, when is the best time to stop? Every mother and child has different needs, so what works for one mom may not work for another.
Whether you need to stop nursing quickly or you have the time to stop breastfeeding gradually, we have tips for you. Remember, this transition looks different for everyone, so do what is best for you and your baby. You don’t need to compare yourself to other moms out there who are also doing their best.
There is no “right time” to stop breastfeeding. Though, ideally, you’ll start the process when both baby and mother are ready, sometimes that is not always possible. The official recommendation is to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months.
Unless you have a medical condition or another circumstance that causes you to stop breastfeeding quickly, you get to make the call for yourself and your baby.
It is generally recommended to gradually wean over time to help reduce the risks of engorgement, clogged ducts, or an infection like mastitis. That being said, there are many reasons a woman may need to stop breastfeeding quickly.
She may have an illness, begin taking medication that is not safe for breastfeeding, or it is the best decision for her mental health.
If you need to wean—stop breastfeeding— quickly, follow these tips to help you reduce your discomfort and risk for infection. If you notice a red wedge shape pattern on your breast, a painful or burning sensation in the breast, you feel ill, and you have a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, call your doctor right away. You may have mastitis, which is an infection in the breast tissue. Your doctor will likely call you in for an antibiotic.
When you decide to wean, make sure you are prepared. If your baby is under a year, you will need to make sure they have formula or expressed breastmilk.
You will also need to purchase bottles. Making sure you are prepared before weaning can help the process be less stressful for both you and your baby.
Having support from your partner, family, or friends can also be helpful. Babies can smell their mom’s breastmilk, so if the mother tries to feed them a bottle, they may refuse it. Letting a loved one take over feedings may help your baby transition to the bottle easier.
Depending on when you wean, your breast may begin to feel engorged and sore. Engorgement occurs when your breasts are uncomfortable and overfilled with milk.
Cold cabbage leaves on the breasts may also help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with engorgement. No cabbage? Try a good old ice pack to help reduce any discomfort stop the production of milk.
If you are painfully engorged, you can express milk, but only enough to help ease your discomfort. Hand expressing may be your best option, so you do not overexpress milk.
Your breasts make milk based on supply and demand due to feedback inhibitor of lactation (FIL). The fuller the breast is, the less the FIL will activate to make more milk. The more milk you express, the more the FIL will start to make more milk.
An easy way to express milk is in a warm shower. The warm water helps to release the milk. After a few minutes, you can gently hand express the milk.
If you do not have time for a shower, you can also use a warm washcloth to help release the milk before you express. If you aren’t able to express with your hand—it can be difficult—you can use your pump. Just make sure to only pump enough to reduce your discomfort, and then stop.
While you are weaning, your breasts can feel full and heavy. Wearing a supportive bra can help give your breast some additional support. Keep in mind, supportive is not the same thing as tight. A tight bra can cause clogged milk ducts, which can lead to infection.
Some herbs are effective at reducing the amount of breast milk and may help your milk dry up faster. Sage, peppermint, and parsley are all herbs that can assist you as you are weaning.
You can make yourself a cup of warm peppermint tea, add parsley to your next smoothie, sage is often found in holiday meals, but you can add it to a pasta dish to boost its flavor.
Weaning your baby can be an emotional time, especially if your reason for doing so is out of your control. Be patient with yourself. Set aside time for you to process your emotions.
Meditation is a great way to help increase emotional regulation. Whatever your reason to stop breastfeeding is, trust in yourself that it may be the best decision for you and your baby.
If the time has come for you and your baby to begin weaning, and you can do it gradually, there are a few different ways to get started.
When you stop breastfeeding slowly, your breasts have a chance to slowly make shifts in milk production. The FIL will learn to make less and less milk as your baby drinks less. This can help to eliminate some of the risks for engorgement, clogged ducts, or mastitis. A gradual stop in breastfeeding can also be less of an emotional toll on you and your baby.
If your baby is under a year old, make sure they are still getting the recommended amount of milk during the day. You may need to supplement with formula or expressed breast milk. By six months, they are also able to eat some solid food, as well.
One way to gradually stop breastfeeding is by making the feedings shorter. If your little one usually nurses for 10 minutes on each breast, lower it to eight minutes. This will help your breasts to learn to make less milk between each feeding.
By slowly reducing the duration of each feeding, your baby will likely not notice the change, and go on their merry way, when the feeding is finished. You can choose to reduce the feeding times for all nursing sessions or start with one and work your way to the others.
Another way to stop breastfeeding gradually is to cut down one feeding at a time. In this technique, start with the least favorite feeding—or the one the baby really doesn’t seem interested in. Maybe it is the mid-morning breastfeeding that your baby would rather just play through. Skip that feeding for a few days.
Once you feel you are both ready to drop another feeding, pick the next least favorite, and drop it. You should allow a few days in between dropping each feeding. Over time, you will stop breastfeeding altogether.
Another way to stop breastfeeding is by leaving it up to the baby—called baby-led weaning. This way allows the baby to initiate when they are ready to reduce feedings or stop breastfeeding altogether. When this type of weaning is used alone, usually nursing stops between two and four years old.
Babies will gradually stop certain feedings. They will slowly be able to sleep through the night, for example, eliminating those nightly feedings. If you normally nurse five times a day, they may cut it down to four for a while, then to three. If you decide to take this approach, it is not common for an older baby to nurse around the clock.
Usually, toddlers older than 18 months nurse one to three times a day. This may increase if they are not feeling well.
There are a few things that impact how long it may take your breast to stop producing milk. Your babies age and how much milk your body naturally makes are the two biggest factors. The more you make, the longer it may take to stop producing.
Some women may need only a few days to stop producing milk. For others, it may take a few weeks. Remember, be patient with yourself through this change. You may also feel the letdown sensation, or even leaking, for a few months after you finish nursing. You may want to use nursing pads in your bra in case you have an accidental leak.
If you are getting up multiple times a night to nurse, and your baby is over four months old, you may be able to wean those nighttime feedings. Gradual weaning is still recommended, even at night.
You can use both techniques to make the feedings shorter over time and cut down on one feeding over time.
As you reduce your feedings altogether, you may need to ask your partner to comfort your baby if they wake up during that normal feeding time. Your baby will likely smell you and expect to be nursed, which can upset them more if they are not given the breast.
Over time, your baby will get used to not eating through the night. Increasing the amount of milk—solid food, if they are older—can help lessen the need for nighttime feedings.
Breastfeeding may be a valid form of contraception if the mother’s menstruation period has not returned, the baby is exclusively breastfed, and younger than six months. If all three of these stipulations are true, you may not be able to become pregnant.
If any of them are not true, then you may be able to become pregnant—especially if your period has returned. Plenty of women also nurse throughout their pregnancy though.
If you become pregnant while nursing, some babies will wean themselves because pregnancy hormones can change the taste of your milk. If you are concerned about nursing while you are pregnant, speak to your doctor or midwife. They may be able to answer any specific questions you have.
Knowing when to stop breastfeeding is a very personal decision. You know what is best for both you and your baby. While gradually weaning can be easier for you and your baby, sometimes that is not a valid option. In the end, choose what is right for you and your baby, and make sure to get the help you need during this change.
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