Stopping breastfeeding is entirely your choice and you shouldn't feel pressured to carry on longer that you feel you want to or vice versa.
At a glance
- Reasons for stopping breastfeeding
- Overcoming some common issues with breastfeeding
- Stopping breastfeeding prematurely or naturally
There can be many reasons for stopping breastfeeding and you should consider your reasons before deciding to stop for sure. Some of the problems or issues you encounter when breastfeeding may be overcome without finishing up with breastfeeding completely.
Why do you want to stop breastfeeding?
Do you want to stop breastfeeding because of any of the reasons below?
- Pain during feeding and/or sore/cracked nipples
- Feeds are taking too long
- You’re worried about your baby not getting enough milk or losing too much weight
- You're going back to work
- Your partner or someone else in your family is wanting you to stop
- You need to take medicine which would make your breast milk unsafe for baby
- You are otherwise ill or need to have a medical procedure
Obviously, some of these reasons just can’t be avoided, medication or illness for example. But there are some reasons and issues that can be resolved without the need to stop breastfeeding.
Overcoming some common breastfeeding issues
Pain and discomfort
Pain during feeding is usually down to incorrect positioning and attachment. Often, just a small adjustment to how you hold and attach your baby can really improve any discomfort. You should speak to your health professional or your local breastfeeding support centre and get help if you feel that your discomfort is down to poor latch or positioning.
If you do still have some discomfort especially with sore or cracked nipples, there are also some breastfeeding products which can help.
Baby not getting enough milk or is losing weight
If you are worried about your baby not getting enough milk or they are losing weight you should seek guidance from your health professional or your local breastfeeding support centre. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action and of will of course help to put your mind at ease.
Time pressures or returning to work
Babies often like to breastfeed for comfort, this is great for bonding but not so great when you want to get other things done! Try to comfort your baby in other ways, gradually replacing extended sessions of breastfeeding with other activities like reading, singing or any other kind of baby playtime which your baby enjoys.
If you're heading back to work, it’s now the time to get expressing (if you haven’t already). A good breast pump is worth its weight in gold and will enable you to become far more independent. If you need any help and guidance around expressing milk you should speak to your health professional or your local breastfeeding support centre. You can also find help on the NHS website.
Being pressured to stop breastfeeding
As we touched on before, many mums may be under pressure to stop breastfeeding. Perhaps your mum is making you worry about baby’s weight or your partner wants to get in on the feeding action. Don’t ever feel pressured to stop breastfeeding before you or your baby is ready.
Everyone has an opinion but as baby’s mum, yours is the opinion that matters the most. Be strong and remember that any final decisions around how to feed your baby is ultimately your choice.
Ways to stop breastfeeding
If you have made up your mind and you do want to stop breastfeeding, there a number of ways in which you can do it, gradually, quickly or naturally over time.
Stopping breastfeeding prematurely
Slowly does it…
If you exclusively breastfeed and are looking to make the switch to formula then it’s best to drop one breastfeed at a time. Cut back on one feed and then wait until your breasts are no longer uncomfortably full before cutting out another feed at a different time of day. Try to ensure that the remaining breastfeeds are spaced out across the day. When you are down to two breastfeeds a day you are good to stop completely.
Following the gradual method above will result in breastfeeding stopping entirely over a 2 - 3 week period.
Slowly weaning your baby off of the breast is recommended as it will reduce the chances of engorgement which can lead to other problems such as blocked milk ducts, infection or mastitis.
Going cold turkey…
If you need to stop breastfeeding quickly you need to follow a couple of steps…
Aim to express (by hand) enough milk from the breasts as necessary to stop pain and engorgement. Be gentle when you do this as it can be easy to actually stimulate more milk production.
You can apply cold compresses such as flannels to the breasts to reduce blood supply and ease discomfort. Also, it sounds crazy, but cold green cabbage leaves can be placed inside your bra to help reduce the milk supply and swelling (trust us – it works!). Change the leaves once they are warm.
If you are still experiencing discomfort, you can also take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Also remember to take on plenty of fluids still; reducing your fluid intake will not reduce the milk supply.
When you stop breastfeeding suddenly like this you should also check your breasts regularly for signs of mastitis. Redness, swelling and heat in one area of the breast, lumps or severe discomfort are best treated with some gentle hand expression to relieve engorgement.
Stopping breastfeeding naturally
Stopping when baby begins to wean
When your baby begins to wean, this will naturally reduce the production of breast milk and you may feel this is the right time to stop. As breastfeeding slows down to just one or two feeds a day, you should be able to stop completely.
Your little one may well stop looking for the breast once they are getting all their nourishment and comfort from elsewhere. This will generally be between the ages of 2 and 4.
What you need to know about contraception and breastfeeding
Many breastfeeding mums experience lactation amenorrhea, which means they have little or no periods while breastfeeding. This is not to say that you are not ovulating, research suggests that getting pregnant while breastfeeding can and does happen. So it's important to look into your contraception options as soon as possible.
Once you stop breastfeeding, many women's periods tend to return to a more normal cycle around a month later. Unless you are planning on conceiving again, and if you haven't already, you should look to get back on some form of contraception. The combined contraceptive pill can help to reduce your milk supply. Speak to your GP or your nearest family planning association centre about the contraception options available to you.