As wonderful and special breastfeeding is between you and your child, it will eventually have to come to an end — we all did stop nursing at some point, after all. And similar to how you began nursing your child, ending it is also a natural part of life. However, as normal as it is, learning how to stop breastfeeding may not come to you naturally.
Fret not! In this article, we will discuss some of the most common questions about weaning.
In this article:
- What is weaning?
- Why should I stop breastfeeding?
- What are misconceptions about weaning?
- When should I wean my child?
- How is breast milk produced?
- How should weaning vary from child to child?
- How should I use the help available around me?
- How do I stop breastfeeding naturally?
- How do I stop breastfeeding cold turkey?
- What are the home remedies I can do to help me?
- How do I make sure that my baby is okay?
- Are there available drugs that suppress lactation?
- How long will it take to stop breastfeeding?
What is weaning?
Weaning is the process of ending breastfeeding a child. This also means beginning to replace breastmilk with other solid foods.
There are two types of stopping breastfeeding: mother-led and baby-led. In mother-led weaning, the mother initiates the process of weaning the child. On the other hand, baby-led weaning is more natural and reduces the risks involved with weaning. Baby-led weaning is allowing your child to breastfeed until he or she gradually reduces interest in nursing.
Why should I stop breastfeeding?
Mothers have various reasons for stopping breastfeeding. The following are the most common motives around weaning children:
- Going back to work – Most mothers wean their children when it is time for them to go back to their regular jobs.
- Medical reasons – Perhaps you will have to undergo a medical procedure or take medications that you think might affect breastfeeding.
- Traveling – If you are traveling with your child, it may be inconvenient to breastfeed. On the other hand, if you are traveling without your child, it may be impossible to breastfeed him or her.
- Sore breasts – Some mothers consider weaning their child when experiencing pain during breastfeeding.
- Not making enough milk – A mother might consider switching to formula when they think they cannot provide their babies enough nutrition.
- Another baby is on the way – If a mother becomes pregnant while she is still breastfeeding an older child, she might consider weaning.
What are misconceptions about weaning?
If your reason/s for weaning your child is any of the reasons mentioned above, chances are, you would not have to stop breastfeeding at all. Do talk to a physician or lactation consultant before weaning your child.
* Being away from your child or traveling with your child
Many mothers returning to work or traveling without their babies have found ways to still feed their babies by expressing milk, storing them properly, and having a caretaker feed their babies. On the other hand, breastfeeding might just be most convenient if you are traveling with your little one. By breastfeeding, you would not have to worry about boiling water or making sure your feeding paraphernalia are sterile.
* Breastfeeding discomforts or not making enough milk
Moreover, sore nipples might be remedied by adjusting the baby’s latch. In addition, mothers are often wrong when they worry about not producing enough milk for a baby, even if another baby is on the way. In fact, a mother’s body naturally adjusts to the demand for breastmilk. If indeed there is a milk production problem, it is best to first seek a lactation consultant to help you.
* Medical procedures and medications
Lastly, if you are worried about affecting your baby if you have to undergo a medical procedure and take medications, seek the advice of your doctor first. You can also find a list of medications and their possible effects on your breast milk or your child here.
When should I wean my child?
If you are already decided about weaning your child, do not feel bad about it. It does not make you any less of a mother than you would be if you had stuck with breastfeeding.
There is no right or wrong answer as to when you should wean your child. If you are being pressured by family members and other people around you about stopping breastfeeding, do not let their opinions affect your decision. Ultimately, this is something you decide. You know your baby best, and you alone will know if your baby is adjusting well about weaning.
How is breast milk produced?
Learning how to stop breastfeeding is basically reversing the process of making breast milk. It can be helpful then if you have an idea about how milk is produced.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association says that a mother normally begins producing milk around halfway into pregnancy, and makes the colostrum at the third trimester. The mature milk is then made 30-40 minutes after the placenta is removed from the mother.
Prolactin is the main hormone responsible for milk production, while oxytocin works on the release of the milk from the ducts, to the glands, and to the nipples. A mother’s body also naturally reacts to the demand for breast milk.
Mothers of newborns usually have a small milk supply since their babies do not need much milk yet. Following this thought, they supply for milk increases as the demand for it increases. Therefore, stopping breastfeeding is the reverse of this process.
How should weaning vary from child to child?
It is highly recommended to stop breastfeeding gradually as to reduce the risks involved with it. There are general actions that are taken when weaning children, but you must also consider the age of your child.
* For babies less than 6 months of age
The World Health Organization reports that exclusive breastfeeding is best for babies until six months. If your child has to be weaned earlier than that, breastmilk must be replaced with formula milk. Consult your pediatrician about formula milk options.
* For babies more than 6 months of age
Majority of the baby’s nutrition is still taken from the mother’s milk at this point. Take note that solid food is just complementary to the milk that the baby intakes, and should not completely replace it. You may introduce solid foods to your little one, but formula milk should still be his or her main source of nutrition.
* For babies more than 1 year of age
At this point, your child may take cow’s milk instead of formula milk. If you are still breastfeeding at this point, note that around half of your child’s calories is still taken from your milk. Gradually introduce solid foods to your little one. Eventually, it will replace breastfeeding sessions.
* For toddlers
Your child should now be getting nutrition from different kinds of foods. Explain to your child that at some point, he or she will stop feeding from you. This will take patience and a lot of reasoning, but be firm. Replace feeding time with other activities so as distract him or her, and to help stop associating feeding with nursing.
How should I use the help available around me?
Nursing and raising your child, while rewarding, is not a burden you have to bear on your shoulders alone. Enlist the help of your partner or other trusted adults in this process.
* Take a break
Weaning your child is a natural process but it can also prove to be challenging. There may be times that you will feel frustrated, or even lose patience with your little one. Alone times and doing other activities may help you relax and recharge your batteries.
* It may be best not to be in the same room as your child
Your baby has an incredible ability to sense when you are around, and he or she may reject alternatives to breastfeeding if he or she knows you are nearby. At the same time, your child may reject feeding from a bottle from you, so ask another adult to do it.
* Consider night weaning
Night weaning means not breastfeeding your child during the night. Ask the help of your father or another adult to feed your child in the middle of the night. This will also help you get the rest that you need.
How do I stop breastfeeding naturally?
Slowly does it. Gradual weaning is best for both you and your child, as this is more natural and reduces possible complications. The following are general practices for weaning your child:
- Drop one feeding at a time – Depending on the age of your child, replace a nursing session with a bottle or sippy cup. Choose the session that your baby is least keen on or the one that he or she dislikes. Usually, these are the mid-morning or mid-afternoon sessions. Drop a feeding session every five to seven days until your child has completely weaned.
- Reduce the time allotted for each breastfeeding session – Another practice is slowly reducing the time you allow your child to breastfeed. For example, if you breastfeed for 10 minutes per session, you may deduct a minute or two and see if your child does not take notice. Eventually, there will be more gap between each feeding session.
- The first and the last feeding of the day will be the last to be dropped – Usually, the first and the last feeding of the day are the baby’s favorites. It helps them relax and fall asleep easily, and it helps them get the nutrition they did not have during the night.
- Reduce frequency of pumping sessions – The same principle with breastfeeding applies to pumping sessions. Expressing milk stimulates milk production, so gradually drop one session at a time.
- Introduce complementary foods – Again, depending on your child’s age, you may start introducing other solid foods. Choose healthy foods that are rich in iron, zinc, and vitamins B and D as these are the nutrients that your breast milk does not have much of.
- Make more time bonding with your child – For your baby, breastfeeding is not just a time for getting full, but it is also his or her primary source of comfort. A lot of the bond between mother and child is also formed when breastfeeding. Be present to reassure your baby that you are always there for them by being intentional about cuddle and snuggle times.
How do I stop breastfeeding cold turkey?
Stopping breastfeeding quickly should always be your last option, as it increases discomfort and complications for both you and your baby, which will be discussed in the next section of this article. Even so, if you have to immediately stop breastfeeding, it still would not happen overnight. The following are some things you can do to help you in this challenging process:
- Plan at least two days of rest – Expect your breasts to hurt if you have to stop breastfeeding abruptly. They will be extra sensitive and even a little movement may hurt them.
- Express only to relieve discomfort – Your breasts will feel full and engorged once you go cold turkey. Do not completely express all the milk out of your breasts, as it will only send signals to your body to produce more milk. Only express enough milk to relieve discomfort.
- Reduce movement against your nipple – Friction or cloth rubbing against your nipples may stimulate the release or let-down of your breast milk.
- Do not share a bed with your child – Your child will also be undergoing adjustments at this point. It may be that he or she will want to suckle in the middle of the night.
- Do not reduce fluid intake – Reducing your fluid intake does not directly decrease your milk production. Drink when you feel thirst; it is important to keep a healthy lifestyle.
- Always seek advice – Before going cold turkey, always seek advice from your lactation consultant and from your child’s pediatrician. This will be a difficult process and you need all the help you can get for you to succeed.
What are the home remedies I can do to help me?
The following are what you should watch out for when you wean your child, especially when you stop breastfeeding abruptly. However, these physical and psychological changes are not exclusively felt by mothers who wean abruptly.
Leaking or a let-down of milk may happen even when you just think about your baby or hear their cry. It may be embarrassing for some mothers to have milk leak through their tops, so consider purchasing nursing pads to absorb leakage.
* Engorged breasts
Your breasts may feel overfull, tender, swollen, hard, and painful once you start weaning your child. Here are some things you can do to give you a more comfortable weaning experience:
- Use cold packs or cold cabbage leaves – Place them inside your bra to ease discomfort, around 15 minutes every hour, for as long as you feel the need to. Replace the cabbage leaf once wilted.
- Express just enough milk – Do not completely express all the milk from your breasts as this will give your body signals to produce more. Express just enough for comfort.
- Wear a supportive bra – Not too tight, not too loose. Some mothers find that wearing a sports bra can be helpful.
- Take pain relievers – Ibuprofen or Paracetamol will help you feel less pain.
A blocked milk duct may lead to mastitis, which is the inflammation of a breast tissue. Some symptoms are lumps, sore breast, and redness in a specific spot of the breast. If left unattended, this may lead to abscesses. Be sure to seek a physician’s help once you experience flu-like symptoms. The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends the following practices should you experience Mastitis:
- Express milk every few hours – If the symptoms are persistent even after expressing every few hours, try completely expressing the milk out of your breasts. You can always try weaning again at another time.
- Apply cold packs in between expressions – For comfort
- Massage your breasts in a warm shower – You may also soak your breasts in big bowls of warm water.
- Massage your breast – Do it gently but firmly.
Again, consult your doctor once you feel feverish in order to avoid further complications.
* Depression or grief
In the weaning process, your prolactin and oxytocin levels drop, and a drastic hormonal change takes place in your body. You may be deeply saddened, feeling like you are losing a special connection with your child. You may also feel guilty during this process. These are normal, and you may experience this for several days. Your hormones may take months to return to its pre-pregnancy state.
* Weight gain
Breastfeeding helps burn calories, so expect to gain weight once you stop breastfeeding. This does not mean you should abruptly change your diet, however. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and slowly changing your diet may help you in this transition. You may also increase your activity if you want to maintain your diet.
* Heavy periods
Prolactin and oxytocin naturally inhibit ovum production. Since your uterus has been enlarged, more of its lining will be shed during your period, hence a heavier flow.
To an extent, prolactin and oxytocin act as natural contraceptives, especially for mothers who exclusively breastfeed. You may want to consider various birth control methods once you start weaning your child.
How do I make sure that my baby is okay?
You are not the only one who will be having a big adjustment once you stop breastfeeding. This will also be a challenging period for your child, as breastfeeding is a huge source of comfort for them. Be sure that during this process, you:
* Comfort your child
Lesser breastfeeding sessions do not have to mean less intimate time with your little one. Give them loads of cuddles and snuggles to reassure them that you are still there for them even though you have reduced or stopped breastfeeding.
* Remain patient with your child
If your child is old enough, explain that you will have to stop breastfeeding him or her to some point. Be gentle but firm in this decision. Instead of nursing on demand, try delaying breastfeeding sessions.
* Introduce distracting activities
Replace feeding sessions with other activities, such as singing or playing. This will help them seek other sources of comfort. Also, avoid places where you normally breastfeed to help them disassociate activity times with nursing time.
* Feed your child enough formula/complementary foods
As we have discussed, younger babies get the majority of their nutrition from milk. You may have to try different brands of formula that suits your baby’s tastes, as he or she may reject feeding through a cup or bottle in the beginning. Also, make sure that you provide healthy snacks for your child. You may also enlist the help of your partner or other adults as your child may demand breastmilk if you are around.
* Check if your child is healthy
Your child may be allergic to some types of formula or solid foods, or they may reject them altogether. Make sure that their weight is normal. Seek the help of your pediatrician once you observe that your child is not coping with weaning very well.
Are there available drugs that suppress lactation?
There are drugs that help dry up milk production, but be sure to discuss the benefits and side effects with a health professional. Some side effects may include nausea, dizziness, and/or palpitations.
Others recommend consuming herbs such as sage, peppermint, or parsley to help reduce milk production. It is also reported that wearing a garland of jasmine flowers also helps.
How long will it take to stop breastfeeding?
It really depends. Some take days, especially for mothers going cold turkey. It may also take weeks or a couple of months. It is best to consult a health professional if it goes more than several months. It can take a full year to completely dry up milk production. Still, after stopping breastfeeding, it is also normal to occasionally experience milk let-downs.