Babies can be breastfed from birth up to two years and beyond. But there are many personal reasons why parents might choose to stop breastfeeding at any stage.
A Guide on How to Stop Breastfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding are widely known and The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years of age or older. But in the US, 60% of moms don’t breastfeed for as long as they initially intended to.
Whether you're stopping breastfeeding because your baby is old enough to wean onto solids, or for any other reason, deciding to stop can be emotional. So, we've gathered some tips and information to support you, however you choose to feed your little one.
Read on to learn why some parents choose to stop breastfeeding, and for some top tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.
When to stop breastfeeding
How long you breastfeed your baby is entirely up to you. It’s a very personal choice that can be influenced by several factors.
Some parents find the weaning process very emotional, no matter what stage they're at. Talking things through with others or writing your feelings down can help, and it can be reassuring the know that weaning is the start of an exciting new stage in your little one's development.
Common reasons to stop breastfeeding
Breastfeeding parents choose to stop for several reasons. For example, they may be:
- Having difficulty breastfeeding. Their baby may be struggling to feed efficiently and not gaining weight, or they might be experiencing sore nipples or struggling with their milk supply.
- Returning to work. Even though this doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding, you may wish to switch to combination feeding your baby.
- Taking medication that affects breastfeeding.
- Pregnant again and finding breastfeeding challenging.
- Just feeling like it's the right time for them and their baby. Some children just decide to stop breastfeeding on their own between nine to 12 months.
The bottom line is it's up to you how long you choose to continue to breastfeed.
Top tips to stop breastfeeding safely
When the time comes for you to wean your baby off breastfeeding, there's no right or wrong way to do so. However, lots of parents find that stopping breastfeeding happens gradually as their little one grows and begins to eat solid or pureed foods.
- Replacing feeds: Stopping gradually by replacing some feeds with expressed breast milk or formula in a bottle can prevent painful problems like overfull or engorged breasts and mastitis. It also gives both you and your baby time to adjust emotionally and physically.
- Going to natural term: Some parents choose to breastfeed to 'natural term' and let their little one choose when to stop. This usually happens gradually over a period of months. By following a never offer, never refuse approach, you'll notice your little one's feeding sessions become shorter and more infrequent, and then eventually stop altogether.
It's important to note that guidelines state that milk feeds shouldn’t completely stop once they're eating solids.
If you and your baby have decided it's time to wean and your little one is younger than 12 months old:
- Give them expressed breast milk or infant formula in place of direct breastfeeds.
If you and your baby have decided it's time to wean and your little one is 12 months or older:
- Give them plain whole cow’s milk or an unsweetened plant-based beverage in place of direct breastfeeds.
From the age of six months, little ones can drink sips of water alongside their meals.
Natasha says that "with [her] second child, [she] solely breastfed for about six months and then started to try and give her formula after that, which she refused. Ending breastfeeding with her was really hard – [she] had to wait until she was about a year for her to take on formula milk".
And Gianni told us that weaning her daughter "from breastfeeding was actually pretty hard. [She] cut down daytime feeds, but [her little girl] just would not let go of her night feeds for about two months. [She] had to take a step back and let [her baby] take the lead. Once she was ready, she took to drinking from a cup very easily".
Further help to stop breastfeeding
If you're looking for support to continue your breastfeeding journey, you can reach out to a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding support group and other parents for help and advice, and if you're experiencing problems when trying to stop breastfeeding, you can seek advice from your health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist.
How to stop breastfeeding at night
In the first few months, a baby needs to feed every few hours, but this will gradually reduce as they get older.
When you decide to start weaning your little one off their nighttime breastfeeds, it's best to do so gradually. Making sure baby is getting plenty to eat throughout the day, keeping their feeds at night short and sweet, and dream feeding can help.
If your little one still wants to feed during the night for comfort, but you'd like to move away from directly breastfeeding, you could try using a bottle to give them expressed breast milk or formula.
When to stop breastfeeding at night
Some babies find breastfeeding at night comforting and according to La Leche League, most evidence suggests that night-weaning is best left until after baby is around 18 months – and it may be easier to cut down on feeds at this age.
However there's no fixed timeline, and as your baby reaches the right age and weight (around 12 to 13 pounds and between four to six months) for night weaning, you can decide what works best for you and your baby in terms of night feeds.
How to stop milk production if you’re not breastfeeding
Generally, the longer you've breastfed, the longer it will take for your breast milk supply to dry up. If you don’t pump or breastfeed, your body should stop producing milk gradually over time, but it won’t happen straight away.
You may decide to wait and let your breast milk supply dry up naturally. Alternatively, you may consider certain medications that can speed up the process. Parents who experience the loss of a baby often want to stop producing milk as soon as possible.
Birth control medication and decongestants can sometimes help speed up the process of drying up your breast milk supply, but every situation is unique, so you should discuss the process and your options with a lactation counselor or your health care provider.
These additional tips can also help stop breast milk production:
- Avoid eating lactogenic foods. These include grains like oats, cornmeal, barley like porridge or other oat-based cereals, nuts, and seeds including sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and almonds, and some fruits and vegetables including mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, lettuce, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and cherries.
- Avoid hot showers and warm compresses. Warm water can trigger breast milk production.
- Avoid breast and nipple stimulation.
- Decrease breastfeeds and pumping sessions.
Some people experience discomfort and fluctuating emotions during the weaning process. These tips can help provide relief:
- Wear a well-fitting bra
- Take over-the-counter painkillers with advice from a pharmacist
- Use a cold compress to ease pain and reduce swelling
- Wear breast pads to absorb any unexpected leaks
- Prioritize rest and nutrition to regulate your hormones
- Talk to friends or a breastfeeding support group
Stop breastfeeding FAQs
How long does it take to stop breastfeeding?
The process of drying up your breast milk can take time – ranging from weeks to months – and the journey is different for everyone.
It's good to note that stopping breastfeeding doesn't have to be permanent, but that starting again can take time and does depend on how well-established your milk supply is. Not everyone will be able to go back to producing enough breast milk to meet their baby's needs.
How can I stop breastfeeding quickly?
It’s best to not stop breastfeeding abruptly. If you stop breastfeeding too quickly, you may encounter side effects like clogged milk ducts, engorgement, and an infection called mastitis. To avoid these uncomfortable conditions, it's best to wean your baby off breastfeeding gradually and seek medical advice to help you choose the best way for you.
However, if you do need to stop breastfeeding suddenly, expressing your breast milk by hand or using a breast pump can help avoid any issues.
Can I restart breastfeeding after I’ve stopped?
Yes, you can. Stopping breastfeeding doesn’t have to be permanent. These tips can help you restart breast milk production:
- Expressing breast milk by hand or using a pump and offering your breast to your baby can encourage your body to start making breast milk again.
- Practicing skin-to-skin contact with your baby can trigger re-lactation.
You should reach out to your family doctor or a breastfeeding specialist for help if you'd like to start breastfeeding your baby again.