Need to know how to stop breastfeeding? Want to stop breastfeeding without pain? Keep reading to learn all about how to stop breastfeeding an infant or toddler quickly – or slowly – without feeling (too) much pain or discomfort.
There comes a point in my breastfeeding journey where I only think about one thing: when will I no longer be breastfeeding?
I love breastfeeding my babies, and am proud of my body for working well enough to feed and sustain my child’s life outside of my womb for months and years. It’s pretty darn incredible and not something I fully understand. I chalk it up to “inspirational design” and that a woman’s body is truly amazing!
But as I venture past the one-year mark of breastfeeding my baby, and find myself nursing a toddler and the fun challenges that can bring (like your toddler trying to rip off your clothes in public because they want to nurse), there comes a point where I just really don’t want to do it anymore. I’m tired of being the cow, the one the baby always wants, the one who still has to get up in the night to nurse the baby. I also really want my body and my freedom back!
Most often I still stick it out for several months past that point anyway, especially if my baby really shows no signs of wanting to stop breastfeeding, as I try to follow the World Health Organization’s recommendation that mothers worldwide continue breastfeeding up to 2 years of age, and remind myself of all the amazing benefits of nursing past 1-year.
- Related: 4 Instinctual and Emotional Benefits of Breastfeeding Your Baby
It isn’t easy though. I have yet to make it all the way to my child’s second birthday, but I’ve made it twice to about 21 or 22 months, so I say that’s still pretty darn good. My desire to stop nursing prevents me from going all the way. The struggle is real!
Regardless of when you want to stop breastfeeding your child, it’s super helpful to know how to stop breastfeeding a baby or a toddler.
To help me write this post, I partnered with Amwell and scheduled an online doctor’s appointment with a certified lactation consultant. Awesomely, as I went to schedule my online video consult and was choosing which healthcare provider I wanted to meet with, I recognized one of the lactation specialists! It was an old friend from my freshman year of college, Stephanie Johnson! I chose her so we could catch up and I’d feel comfortable asking her any and all breastfeeding questions (plus, she’s great!).
I managed to wean my last child about a month ago, so I didn’t have a baby with me during our video chat, so she explained more about what typically happens during these Amwell Lactation appointments (which I’ll share later along with a special discount code) and what help is available through their service for breastfeeding women, should you be interested in some extra personalized help learning how to stop breastfeeding (or any breastfeeding concern).
She answered all my questions about stopping breastfeeding with the most current and recommended information.
How to Stop Breastfeeding a Baby or Toddler
Some women need to stop breastfeeding quickly or want to stop breastfeeding “cold turkey.” However, it’s not recommended by healthcare professionals. It’s harder on mom and on baby to stop suddenly from several nursing sessions a day to none the next. In fact, weaning quickly has been linked with depression.
You can do it, but you may want to take at least two days off work if you do as your breasts will get hard and hurt. See the tips below on dealing with the discomfort and engorgement if you do it this way. Also be sure to pick up some breast pads as you’re likely to leak.
- Related: Breastfeeding Hurts! Uncovering 11 Breastfeeding Myths and Lies
General Best Practices for Stopping Breastfeeding
Similar to the way it takes time to build up your milk supply in the beginning, weaning is also a process that requires time. When a mom initially tries to wean she may find that it takes several days before she does not need to express breastmilk to feel comfortable.
When your baby starts expressing less interest in nursing or you commit to wanting to stop breastfeeding, it’s best to take the slow approach to keep mom and baby happy.
However, you should avoid starting the weaning process when your baby is teething, experiencing a growth spurt, is sick, or you are going through a big transition like moving into a new home.
If you have a goal of nursing for a year, you need to understand that on your child’s first birthday it will likely not be their last day of breastfeeding, but rather can be the first day you start dropping a feeding. Don’t count on being done nursing at 12 months if your baby is still doing seven feedings a day at 11 months old.
The lactation consultant I talked with suggested dropping a single feeding per week. This protects you as it’s easier for your body to adjust and helps you avoid mastitis and plugged ducts.
Start by dropping the feeding that is typically shortest anyway or the one your baby seems least interested in. If your baby is already eating solid foods, you can nurse the baby after he or she eats, and then eventually drop that session as you introduce either formula or whole cow’s milk in a cup (or bottle) instead.
When it comes time to drop a middle of the night feeding, it is helpful to have dad or another person go in to comfort baby so that your child won’t want to nurse. You may also have to put on your big girl pants and try not to cry about it all too.
More tips for a comfortable transition to stop breastfeeding
- Use only one breast at each feeding or use the same breast for several feedings to cut back on supply.
- Have other caretakers step in to help with feeding the baby (dads, siblings, grandparents etc.).
- “Don’t offer but don’t refuse.”
- Shorten nursing sessions.
- Distract infant when wanting to nurse or postpone feedings.
What you can do about fullness and discomfort when weaning from breastfeeding
- Alternate using warm showers & cold compresses.
- Use a breast pump or manual expression to relieve extra fullness, but do not completely empty the breast. Get to comfort and then stop.
- Wear a supportive, comfortable bra & clothing.
- Watch for signs of plugged ducts & mastitis (red skin around the breast, fever, malaise).
- Wear cold raw cabbage leaves in your bra as they’ve been reported to help relieve engorgement.
- Take Ibuprofen to provide relief from swelling if your breasts become uncomfortably engorged.
Foods that inhibit lactation
Just like there are foods that naturally increase your milk production (called a galactagogue) there are also natural foods that decrease your milk supply (or antigalactagogues). Below are some.
- Jasmine Tea
- Peppermint (the real stuff)
As you slowly drop feedings until you go days without nursing, know that it can take a long time for your milk to dry up completely. The average time for involution (or for your breasts to dry up completely) is 40 days after your last breastfeeding session but this varies from mother to mother, and can be longer if you’ve been nursing for an extended period of time (aka your breastfed baby is a toddler). So don’t be surprised if weeks later you can still squeeze your nipples and get a little milk out of it still.
All of these great tips I learned from talking with my lactation consultant online through the telehealth company Amwell!
How to Stop Breastfeeding
So how to do you actually start to end breastfeeding? Well, it is a transition, so there may be a little bit of dancing back and forth on this as you make sure both you and your baby are comfortable. If your baby is 8 months old or older, I would first recommend getting them onto a loose schedule, if they aren’t already. I’m not really concerned with specific times, but intervals or around routines. For instance, with my third, I always nursed him when he woke up from his naps, the time changed but that routine didn’t. That allowed me to plan our meals in a structured way as well, which gave him exposure to foods and helped him develop an appetite for food, too. (You’ll find links for sample schedules at the end of this secion
Once your baby or toddler is nursing at regular intervals and not on demand, you will choose one of those times to take away. This should be the easiest time of day, usually one of the nursings in the middle of the day. Typically bedtime and morning feeds are more difficult to phase out.
The first few days that you take away those feedings you will want to change the routine a little bit and have food and a drink in a cup ready to go. For instance, when I was taking away those after nap nursings. I would go into his room, pull open the blinds right away and start talking to him real silly to get him distracted. I’d pick him up playfully and take him downstairs (he typically nursed in his dim lit room quietly before going downstairs). All the while, I’d be saying, “It’s time for snack! I have your drink, too!” There were a few times where he whined and pointed to the chair he normally nursed in. I would try once more to distract him and if that didn’t work then I’d nurse him. That is part of the transition. If another adult were here, I would have them get him out of his crib as well, which helped change things up.
Once I eliminated that first feeding, I would wait 3-7 days before I took away another feeding, depending on how slow I wanted that to go. Then, I would follow the same procedure. I would do that all the way until I was left with morning and night time nursings. Morning was always easier to get rid of, so I would make sure I had breakfast completely ready, so he could eat right away.
Personally, I always decided to leave the bedtime nursing for another month or so, but you don’t need to do that. That was more for me, weaning each of my children was a very emotional time, and I knew I needed to not rush it. Keeping that bedtime feeding gave me time to really take in those last days of our special connection. After about a month or so, I would make sure they had a really good dinner (serve a favorite food) or a late snack and then I would let Dad do the bedtime routine. In all cases, my kids just let my husband put them to bed, as if they had never been nursed, while I sobbed in another room. My children were fine, and I knew, for me, for us, it was time.
To sum up what we’ve just talked about, and fill in some blanks, when you’re ready to wean you’ll want to: (affiliate links used below)
- Take away one feeding at a time.
- Eliminate the easiest feedings first.
- Offer a meal instead of nursing. All kids should eat every 2.5-3 hours, count from the start of one meal to the start of the next.
- Give a cup at each meal, and place either breast milk or cow’s milk in the cup. I prefer a straw cup (see how to teach your baby to drink from a straw). From an OT and mom friendly perspective I love these cups in particular: Playtex Sipsters, Munchkin Flex Straw, and Advent Straw Cup
- The first time you give cow’s milk, mix it with a 25-50% blend of breast milk. This will help them adjust digestively and to the taste. After a day or two of successful consumption you can continue to add less and less breast milk until it is straight cow’s milk or toddler formula, if you choose.
- Prior to weaning give your baby water at each meal, which will help them get used to having a drink. Have water available throughout the day in a cup that they have access to, once you start serving milk with their meals. Some babies will want to have both at a meal, which is fine for a short transition period.
If you are looking for more specifics on feeding schedules, click on the ages you need: 6-7 months, 8-10 months, and 11 months plus for samples. These, too, are just a guideline but should give you some direction. Adapt them as needed.
Troubleshooting Common Breast Weaning Roadblocks
Although stopping breastfeeding can be as easy as I just made it sound, sometime parents hit some roadblocks. I’m going to run through some common ones to help you troubleshoot. With all of the suggestions below, know that is important to stay consistent and keep trying. All of my boys ended up loving cow’s milk but it took a month or so before they were drinking it really well, usually by the time they were completely weaned from the breast. Keep in mind that once a baby turns 1, they only require 16 ounces of a milk source.
- Refuses a cup of any type:
- Try and try again – every day, at every meal, put the milk in the cup and don’t pressure them. Offer it and even demonstrate, but don’t force. You can experiment with serving cold and warm if you like. If your toddler spits it out, that’s okay, all part of the process.
- Try pumped milk – if you are willing and able, pump and offer that milk in the cup. It will seem foreign and some will likely be wasted, but some babies do better with the familiar taste.
- Focus on 2-3 different types of cups – cycle through a few different kinds of cups, maybe some with bright colors or a silly character on it.
- Water in a cup during the day – always have the water in cup throughout the day. Give it to them in the car, in the bath, outside, wherever.
- Nursing to sleep:
- Change up the routine (as described in the previous section)
- Transitional object – if your child doesn’t already have a special object like a stuffed animal or blanket start encouraging one. Give it to them every time you are nursing, put it in their arms when you lie them down. Every time.
- Well-fed – I don’t want you to overly worry about this, so many parents do naturally, but it will give you piece of mind in knowing that their tummy is full. Serve a later dinner that is a favorite or a bedtime snack, where you can give milk in a cup. Knowing their well-fed will help you feel better if they protest a little and they will be less likely to request nursing.
- Distract – while I urge you to not push your baby too fast, some will protest a little. This is when you’ll want to change gears and do something really exciting. I remember with my oldest, I always used to feed him on the couch in the middle of the day and I’d rearrange the pillows to support my arm. In the process of weaning, I started to do that just to straighten up and he saw me and thought it was time to nurse. He didn’t cry, but I quickly grabbed him and stood up, saying, “Oh my goodness, did you just hear that car go by?” We went over to the window to have a look and he forgot about it in a second.
- Offer another drink – without making to big of a deal about it, provide a drink instead, “Oh, here’s your water.” Notice, I didn’t ask, I just made a statement.
- Cuddles – give lots of these at other times, so they feel that connection with you still.
Tips for success
- Don’t feel rushed, watch for your child’s acceptance and adjustment.
- You may be emotional, this is normal. Make sure you are feeling comfortable with your decision.
- Don’t listen to other’s people opinions.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments, I’ll be happy to answer. And if you’ve been through this before, share your tips, it will be helpful to everyone that stops here.
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What do moms struggle with most?
According to the survey, moms reported that breastfeeding is a greater challenge than anticipated. Out of the 20% who planned to breastfeed for at least a year, fewer than half actually did. Regardless of the reason, giving up breastfeeding can be an emotional roller coaster that comes as a shock to many moms. The end result? We end up feeling like failures who can’t do what Mother Nature intended. But the truth is, guilt is a useless, wasted emotion that serves no purpose and takes the joy out of motherhood.
ALSO SEE: The pros and cons of prolonged breastfeeding
So how do we ditch the guilt and cope emotionally with weaning our little ones off the breast?
- “Remember that a happy baby is a fed baby,” says author and childcare expert, Ann Richardson. “Whether that’s breast milk or formula, your goal must be to have a well-fed, happy baby who thrives, because a happy baby also means a calm mother and solid family unit.”
- “Speak to other moms in a similar situation to avoid feeling alone”, says clinical psychologist Dr Maya Griffiths. “Sharing your experience and knowing that others are unable to, or have chosen not to, breastfeed can help ease any pain or guilt you might be feeling, and will help you find peace with your own situation,” she adds.
- Find other ways to bond with your baby. This could mean spending 10 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted quality time together, whether it’s playing, splashing in the bath, reading stories or simply communicating face to face with your little one, on his level.
- Believe in yourself. Although we suggest speaking to other moms in a similar situation, this doesn’t mean comparing yourself to other moms and feeling bad about your decisions. Remember, all babies are different, and all moms are different too. So, whether you can’t breastfeed or choose not to, believe in yourself as your baby’s mother, and know that you’re doing your best and that’s good enough. Your success as a parent, doesn’t rely solely on whether you can breastfeed or not.
- Make feeding time fun. Just because you’re not breastfeeding, doesn’t mean that you and your little one can’t enjoy feeding times. Make regular eye contact with your child while feeding with a bottle, sing or talk to him, hold him close and savour the moment.