Feb 17, 2019 6 min read

How To Stop Breastfeeding: Know All About Weaning

How To Stop Breastfeeding: Know All About Weaning

Breastfeeding is one of the most precious moments a child shares with their mother. Due to the special bond built during this time, moms often have mixed emotions when the time comes to stop breastfeeding.

Work, the age of your toddler, or just simple life circumstances could be some of the multitudes of reasons why a nursing woman decides to stop breastfeeding. This article will explore the journey to stop breastfeeding and frequently asked queries on how to stop breastfeeding.

When is the right time to stop breastfeeding?

There is no specific time to stop breastfeeding. Women can decide based on their lifestyle and schedules when is the appropriate time to stop breastfeeding. Some women decide to wean within the first year, others continue breastfeeding until their toddler is two years of age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding your newborn baby exclusively with breastmilk for the first six months of their life. After this time frame, semi-solids can be added to a child’s daily diet along with breastmilk.

While this is an ideal scenario, most of the time mothers might not be able to meet the requirements for feeding their baby breast milk throughout the first year of their child’s life.

Medical conditions, limited maternity leave, an inability of the baby to latch correctly are some of the reasons why women decide to wean their babies earlier than expected.

Regardless of when a woman decides to wean, it is important to keep in mind, that if weaning is done before the first year is complete, formula milk should be used as a substitute. When weaning is attempted after the first year, cow’s milk can be used as a substitute.

What if my baby is not ready to stop breastfeeding?

For babies and toddlers, breastfeeding is more than just a process to satiety. It is also a moment to bond with their primary caregiver. The touch, smell, and sounds that a child’s mother makes during feeding sessions comfort her child. When deciding to reduce feeding sessions ensure that you spend equal amounts of time with your child as you would when you breastfeed your child. This is especially vital if you stop feeding before one year of age.

If your child is older (about two years of age), you can try to explain to your child why from now on you will be reducing feeding sessions. Alternate ways in which both you and your child can spend time together can also be worked out. Discuss activities, different types of food they would be interested in trying and also add in playtime with other family members.

There is no harm in delaying weaning if your child is not ready. If time permits, you can postpone the process for a couple of weeks to a month. Work on a schedule that can be put in place when you are sure that you are ready to start weaning. This works great for both you and your child as it will help smoothen the transition and also give you an idea of what to expect during the weaning process.

What are the different ways to attempt weaning off breast milk?

There are two basic ways in which a woman can stop breastfeeding her child, either gradually or immediately.

Gradual Weaning

Most women prefer to give a month’s buffer before they wish to completely stop breastfeeding. Opting to stop breastfeeding through a gradual process reduces the pain and also opens other options for your child one step at a time. There are several ways to reduce breastfeeding sessions over the course of a few weeks.

  • Start reducing the length of each feeding session. For a session that would take 20 minutes, limit it to 15-17 minutes. Every third or fourth day reduce the time further.
  • Eliminate some feeding sessions throughout the day. It would be best to start with the ones that your child shows the least interest. Nap times are usually a child’s favorite feeding time, so opt for ones that occur in between these sessions.
  • Replace breastfeeding with either solid food sessions or other interactive activities.
  • When switching to a bottle or reducing feeding sessions, allow your child to interact with his father or other members of the family. This will help to divert your child’s mind from the fact that you are the primary source for feeding.
  • Switch to methods that promote independence. This can include eating with a spoon or drinking out of a cup. By the age of one year, your child should be able to hold basic utensils in their hands. Buy ones that are child-friendly and also make eating and mealtimes fun activities.

All children take different lengths of time to stop breastfeeding. Some may stop in a couple of weeks, while for others it might take a couple of months. Do not get disheartened, just keep trying.

Immediate Weaning

It is rarely advised to stop breastfeeding sessions abruptly. This is because it can cause confusion for your child and also result in pain due to engorgement and mastitis in your breasts. However, for some women the gradual process might not work as other commitments in their daily schedule might require attention.

While it is not promoted, ceasing breastfeeding abruptly is possible, with as little transition struggles than anticipated. If you decide to stop feeding immediately here are a few tips for you to help you through the process.

  • Give your child formula milk or cow milk in a bottle or cup to replace breastfeeding sessions. Solid foods can also take up some of the menus during the transition.
  • Be sure to spend the same amount of time with your child, like breastfeeding. Not only for nourishment but it also secures the bond that you have with your child.
  • Do not disrupt any other part of your child’s schedule.
  • While it may be confusing for your child for the first few days, they will soon enough adjust to a new drawn out schedule quickly. Try to follow your child’s cues on what provides them comfort during this time.

How can I reduce the pain incurred during this weaning period?

As a woman stops or reduces feeding sessions, her breasts continue to produce milk at the rate it was produced initially. This can lead to engorgement, plugged lactation ducts as well as inflammation. Not all women go through this, but there are some who might experience this to varying extents. There are some simple steps to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with this process.

  • Invest in some supportive bras that will assist with reducing the pain and help in supporting your engorged breasts.
  • Ice packs should be used freely to help reduce swelling and pain encountered with heavy and painful breasts. Some women have tried using iced cabbage leaves in their bras to reduce swelling. While there is no scientific proof that this is a sure shot way, there is no harm in trying this method.
  • If you have to pump, only remove a little milk using a breast pump or manually. Large amounts of milk pumped can stimulate the glands to produce more milk which can be counterproductive.

In most cases, a woman’s breasts stop producing milk in about a week to ten days after she stops regular feeding sessions. If it prolongs it would be ideal to consult with a physician. Also during the weaning process, if the pain is unbearable or the breasts become inflamed it is mandatory to visit a doctor. Painkillers and appropriate anti-inflammatories can be prescribed to ease you through the process.

What changes will my body go through once I stop breastfeeding?

When you stop breastfeeding your body might go through several changes, mainly due to the shift in hormones. The hormones that favor milk production usually modulate the hormones that control your menstrual cycles. This is one of the reasons why some women have irregular to no menses at all during the first year after delivery. Some of the changes your body might go through during the weaning process is listed below.

  • Changes in the shape and size of the breast: As highlighted above, as you stop feeding, your breasts will swell due to the continual production of milk. This usually subsides within a week. After that, your breasts will reduce substantially to the size it was before you got pregnant.
  • Regular menstrual cycles: Within a month or so after you stop breastfeeding, you will observe your cycles to normalize and flow to return to its pre-pregnancy state.
  • Mood changes: This is due to the shifts in hormones. Once your hormones begin to regulate these changes will disappear.
  • Weight changes: During the breastfeeding phase, women tend to consume more calories to compensate for the expended energy in producing milk. Many women continue to intake these excess calories and tend to gain a few pounds. The key is to work on your diet and start adding in exercise as you begin the weaning process with your child.

These are some of the highlights of what the weaning and post weaning changes that might occur with your body. Hormonal fluctuations can also cause nausea, headaches and bloating. These can mimic premenstrual syndrome or even the early stages of pregnancy. Most women should ideally rule out pregnancy in such cases, but more often than not it is due to the shift in hormones that occur after you stop breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a great experience for any woman. Halting this process has several physical and emotional changes that occur in a woman’s life. Many of these changes can be especially trying but also open up new doors of building your relationship with your child. It is always best to be well informed before beginning the weaning process. Do not hesitate to get professional help when required. Seek assistance from those close to you to help you through this process with ease.

This article is originally published on Sheroes

Dr. Michelle Frank
Dr. Michelle Frank
Unconventional Doctor|Health Advocate|Spare-time Doodler|Classic Rock Enthusiast|Avid Seeker of Happiness
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