- When you’re ready to stop breastfeeding, it can take up to 3 weeks for your body to stop producing milk.
- Home remedies, supportive clothing, and deadlines can help you adapt as your milk runs dry.
- Lactation counselors can offer emotional support and counseling to make the transition easier for you and your baby.
Whether you’re about to go back to work, your milk supply is low, or your breasts are causing you too much pain, you can stop breastfeeding if it’s no longer working for you or your child, says Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC , a lactation practice consultant and childbirth educator.
When you stop breastfeeding or nursing, you may notice a range of symptoms, from engorgement to depression. And depending on your child’s age, he may also show sadness, anxiety, or other emotional reactions as he adjusts to this change in your relationship.
Having patience with the process can help, but there’s also a lot you can do to make these changes easier for you and your baby – read on for 9 tips to get started.
1. Consider your baby’s age
Always ask your pediatrician about the best feeding plan for your child, but this plan will usually depend on your baby’s age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Babies 6 months and younger should be fed only formula or breast milk from another source.
- Babies 6 months and older may be ready to begin the transition to baby foods, purees and solid foods.
- Until your baby reaches 12 months, you’ll need to offer milk in some form —whether it’s from your stock, a donor, or formula. After their first birthday, they usually no longer need breast milk or formula to supplement their diet.
Most kids are ready to switch to cow’s milk (or an alternative) after their first birthday, Levine says.
2. Drop sessions gradually
Gradually weaning your baby instead of stopping breastfeeding all at once allows your child to get used to new tastes and routines over several weeks.
Ending your nursing relationship will take time, possibly up to a month. Keep in mind that it takes between 10 and 21 days for milk production to completely end, says Levine.
According to Sethi, factors that affect how long it takes for you to stop producing milk include:
- The amount of milk you usually produce
- How often did you pump or breastfeed
- How hydrated are you
The CDC suggests replacing one daily feeding with formula at a time. Every few days, you can gradually replace another breastfeeding session with formula until you have completely stopped breastfeeding.
If you’re switching to formula, you can make the transition easier for your baby by slowly changing the ratio of milk to formula in the bottles. “Start by adding more breast milk and small amounts of formula, then change the proportions once baby has become more acclimated to the taste,” says Sethi.
3. Set deadlines
Setting a time limit on breastfeeding sessions, especially if your child is not solely dependent on breast milk, could facilitate this change.
For example, if you typically breastfeed for 10 minutes, consider stopping after 7 minutes and shaving an extra minute every other day.
If you are ending your breastfeeding relationship with a toddler who is old enough to understand, you can count for them or use a song to keep the breastfeeding session within your time limit.
4. Opt for supportive clothing
To stay comfortable at the end of your breastfeeding time, opt for supportive bras and avoid tight, tight tops.
You can even use your clothing choices to discourage breastfeeding – some parents find that high necklines and extra layers limit the accessibility of their breasts, which can help reduce the frequency of requests for breastfeeding from an older baby. elderly or a toddler.
5. Prepare for mood swings
Breastfeeding causes many hormonal changes, and these hormones change again when your body stops producing milk. In particular, prolactin and oxytocin, respectively the milk-producing hormone and the love hormone, decrease when you stop breastfeeding.
As these hormones decline, you may experience:
Some parents on Reddit and Babycenter are also reporting flu-like symptoms that mimic the first trimester of pregnancy when they stopped breastfeeding.
It may help to remember that these effects are temporary and tend to go away within a few weeks, but good self-care becomes especially important during this time.
The following strategies could help make the process smoother, Sethi says:
6. Try Home Remedies for Pain and Engorgement
It’s common to experience at least some engorgement when you stop breastfeeding, says Levine.
If you experience pain or engorgement, consider trying:
- Cabbage leaves: Cabbage leaves can help soothe the pain caused by engorgement. Placing a pre-frozen cabbage leaf on each breast for 20 minutes can be especially soothing for extreme engorgement, Levine says.
- Hot and cold compresses: Using heating pads or hot water bottles can help reduce pain from engorgement, while ice can help reduce swelling. Applying a cold compress with ice to any painful areas for 10 to 15 minutes at a time as needed is usually enough to help relieve mild engorgement, Levine says.
- Express milk: Using a pump or a hand expressing just enough milk to relieve discomfort can help you adjust, Sethi says. Remember that expressing too much milk can cause your body to produce more.
Additionally, some doctors might suggest taking a decongestant like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to help dry up your supply. But in most cases, home remedies (without drugs) do the trick, Sethi says.
7. Remember that any moment can be a bonding moment
Breastfeeding is a natural way to bond, but “you can still spend a lot of time snuggling and cuddling with your child, even when you’re not breastfeeding,” says Levine.
It’s normal to worry about this big change, says Levine. Remember that there are many other ways to bond and strengthen your relationship with your child:
- Instead, use the time you would spend breastfeeding to cuddle or play a game.
- If you have a young baby, remember that you can still cuddle him while bottle feeding.
- Create new nap routines, like reading a story together.
Remember that this transition is probably more difficult for you than for your baby. So if they seem upset, it’s probably temporary. Young children tend to adapt and move on quickly, Sethi says.
8. Try “Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse”
“Don’t offer, don’t refuse” is a strategy that can help parents distance themselves from breastfed babies and toddlers who don’t exclusively drink breastmilk or formula. In short, you stop initiating breastfeeding sessions, but feed if your child asks for it.
This gradual approach doesn’t work for everyone, especially if you need to stop quickly or want to stop breastfeeding a baby who still needs breastmilk as part of their diet.
But if you have an older baby and a bit more time to end the breastfeeding relationship, this strategy could make the weaning process easier — for both of you.
9. Talk to a professional
If you are unsure about any aspect of nursing, you can contact your OB-GYN, midwife, or lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants can help with many nursing issues, including:
- Difficulties with latching on baby
- Suspicious tongue tie
- Ducts often clogged
If these issues are making breastfeeding difficult but you don’t feel ready to stop yet, lactation consultants can help you resolve them so you can continue.
Are you sure you’re ready to quit? Lactation consultants can also offer advice to ease any physical discomfort or emotional distress that occurs when you stop breastfeeding. They can teach you how to express milk by hand to relieve pressure or engorgement, Sethi says.
They can also provide emotional support when you leave the nursing stage. It’s not uncommon to need space to reflect on the ups and downs you’ve experienced on your nursing journey, Levine says.
Many parents hold themselves to high standards or feel strong social pressure to continue breastfeeding. You might even experience feelings of guilt when you decide to quit, Sethi says.
It’s common to feel skeptical or sad when you decide to stop breastfeeding. You might even ask yourself “Am I a good enough parent?” or “Am I doing what’s best for my baby?” But at the end of the day, what matters is that the baby gets fed and grows, Sethi says.
Ending your nursing relationship is an important step, no matter when – or why – you choose to do so. The progress you and your baby have made is something to celebrate.