Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing. But that doesn’t mean that both parent and child won’t experience some complications along the way. From the first few days of getting the latch down right and your milk supply up through the final weeks of not knowing if you’ve hit your threshold — breastfeeding is indeed beautiful, but complicated, too.
Similar insights come from mothers who exclusively pump. You are nourishing your child and providing them exactly what they need to grow and develop from your very own body. Exclusive pumping parents often feel isolated from the traditional groups of breastfeeding families and formula feeding families.
So it should be no surprise that the end of the breastfeeding or pumping journey can come with a myriad of feelings.
There comes a time when the question “How much longer should I do this?” creeps into your mind. And while harmless, it is easy for parents to feel guilt at even the thought of it.
Whenever this question starts to tug at the back of your mind, give it some careful consideration and yourself some grace. Be gentle with yourself. You will ultimately be the one to make this decision about your attachment parenting journey.
Here’s what to keep in mind as you wean your nursing baby.
How do you know it’s the right time to wean?
While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months. And a recent update to their website states:
“There are continued benefits from breastfeeding beyond 1 year, and up to 2 years especially in the mother. Long-term breastfeeding is associated with protections against diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers of the breast and ovaries.”
That said, the decision to stop breastfeeding will – and should – come down to you and your baby. Most experts and parents who’ve been there themselves, recommend staying in-tune with your own emotions while also taking cues from your baby.
If you find that you start to dread feeding times, it could be time to stop. If your baby seems to be losing interest in the breast (beyond the usual distraction ages), it could be time to stop.
Essentially, there is no wrong time to stop breastfeeding. The cutoff will be individual for everyone. Try to take that advice to heart.
“Personally, I knew I was ready to wean my son when I was starting to dread his next feeds,” shares Riley Blanton, a mom who breastfed her son from birth until he was 2 years old. “I also wasn’t as excited for us to spend our special bedtime feeds together and often cut it short or was anxious to rush through it. I had a ‘get it over with’ attitude.” says Blanton who is a graduate student therapist who also runs PostpartumBrain.com.
Your breastfeeding journey is unique to you and your baby, so the conclusion of it should not be any different. Try to not let outside pressures get to you and aim to breastfeed for however long best suits you and your child – not the nosey neighbor, your partner, or your in-laws.
How to stop breastfeeding: What to do first
Recognize when either or both you and your baby are ready to stop breastfeeding. Take it slow, “It is imperative that you do not suddenly stop breastfeeding as this can leave the breasts feeling uncomfortably full and may even lead to infections or issues like mastitis and blocked ducts,” notes Marie Burke, Lactation Consultant at O’Flynn Medical. “You should attempt to halt breastfeeding slowly and over time.”
Here are some more tips:
How to stop breastfeeding:
- Set a new schedule. Dropping one breastfeeding or pumping session every few days is a good way to start. Try to phase out one breastfeeding session around every 2-3 days for the first few week. And, start with the daytime feeds. “You can then give your baby a formula feed from a bottle during the times you’re not breastfeeding,” says Burke. “Once the baby has acclimated to this new routine, remove another breastfeed and repeat this process until the supply of breast milk has petered out. The morning breastfeed is when a mother has the most milk, so leave this until last.”
- Or go the “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” route. Let your baby take the lead by trying the “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” method. This means that a schedule can effectively go out the window. So, consider this only if you have the flexibility necessary.
- Introduce new foods. If your baby is old enough, the introduction to solid foods can help with the transition away from the breast. Confirm with your pediatrician that your baby is ready for solids. And then begin to swap meal time for some regular feed sessions. Make sure you provide enough nutrition to meet your baby’s needs. Here are some tips for baby lead weaning.
- Be ready to soothe and comfort in new ways. If you are weaning a toddler or older child, then it’s important to talk to them about what is happening. There are books that can also help cover the topic of weaning. If you are weaning a younger child, be ready to cuddle and soothe your baby in other ways.
- Let someone else introduce the bottle. There’s no better time for your partner or support system to step in and start handling some feedings. Removing yourself from the process at the start can help your baby make the move to the bottle.
- Take care of yourself. Engorgement is a real pain. Try using a breast pump in the morning to alleviate your supply at the start of the day. And avoid over pumping throughout the rest of the day. You can remove pumping sessions little by little as you would remove feeding sessions. According to the La Leche League, “As well as cutting out a whole expressing session every two or three days, you can also reduce the time at each session. Expressing less milk each time will also help limit how much milk you produce.”
What should you anticipate?
Even if you are ready to wean, it still might not be easy and can bring up a lot of emotions. “Weaning my baby felt like the first trimester all over again,” shares Kelly Van Zandt, from Powerful Postpartum. “Like many mothers, I focused my efforts on establishing a strong breastfeeding experience, but when it was time to wean, I was not met with much guidance.”
It’s normal to experience varying emotions, mood swings, tiredness and possibly even nausea. Your hormones will undergo another shift and it’s not uncommon to feel like you did at the start of your pregnancy journey.
If you’re looking into how to stop breastfeeding, chances are the time is right. Ultimately you know what is best for your baby and your body. Remember that. There are bound to be hard times throughout the weaning process. Just give yourself plenty of grace and know that you’re doing your best.