How to Stop Breastfeeding in 10 Simple Steps
There’s no universal approach to weaning, but a few golden rules can make the transition go smoothly. We've rounded up advice from lactation consultants and developmental experts for how to stop breastfeeding your baby.
When you stop breastfeeding, only one thing's for certain: you're bound to run into some surprises. "Just like every other aspect of motherhood, weaning very rarely happens the way we think it's going to," says Diane Bengson, author of How Weaning Happens (La Leche League International) and longtime Ohio La Leche League leader. But no matter your baby's age, there are some tips and tricks that can make the process easier. Here's how to stop breastfeeding your baby in 10 easy steps.
1. Recognize when your baby is ready to stop breastfeeding.
Your baby will give some clues that they're ready to wean. For example, they'll hold their head in an upright position, sit with support, and express interest in what you're eating. In addition, their active tongue-thrust reflex will disappear, and they may act indifferent or cranky during routine breastfeeding sessions.
2. Set a schedule for weaning.
Allow yourself a full month to successfully stop breastfeeding; this gives Mom and Baby extra breathing room for obstacles and setbacks. Also, you should avoid weaning during a major life change (teething, moving homes, starting daycare, etc.), says Claire Lerner, LCSW, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, in Washington, D.C. And realize your baby will be more apt to cooperate when they aren't overly tired or hungry.
3. Start out slowly.
Easing into a weaning routine allows you and your baby to adjust to the change. For instance, you may omit one breastfeeding session per week-probably the most inconvenient feeding or the one your baby's least interested in-and gradually drop feedings until they're solely having bottles and solids. (Note: If your baby is 9 months or older, it's best to wean directly to a cup so you don't have to deal with getting them off the bottle in a few months.)
By going slowly, you'll produce less and less milk, which will make weaning more comfortable for you. It will also make weaning more pleasant for your baby, since they'll be progressively adjusting to nursing less and drinking more from the bottle or cup.
4. Provide emotional comfort.
Breastfed babies love the close physical contact with their mothers, so when you're weaning, it's important to provide comfort in other ways. For example, you can spend quality one-on-one time with activities that keep them emotionally stimulated-cuddling together while reading a book or singing a lullaby, romping around together at the playground, or massaging their back.
5. Consider letting your little one lead.
Some babies excel at weaning when they're in control. If you're OK with letting your baby call the shots, rely on the tried-and-true "don't offer, don't refuse" method. In a nutshell, you nurse when your child expresses interest, but you don't actually initiate it. It's not the quickest weaning strategy, but it ensures your baby's needs are met.
6. Switch up your feeding routine.
If your baby resists a bottle from you, La Leche League International recommends seeing if they'll accept it from someone else while you're in another room-maybe Dad, Grandma, or the babysitter. Or, if you're the one serving the bottle, change up your routine-if you nurse in your bedroom, for example, try nursing in the living room and holding them in another position. If changing the routine doesn't work, revert back to your old ways, then try again in a few weeks.
7. Expect resistance when you stop breastfeeding.
It's normal for babies to resist weaning. Just know that, after a day or two of mourning the loss of the breast, most little ones will begin eating solid foods and drinking liquids from a sippy cup without problems. Healthy babies generally eat when they're hungry enough, no matter how badly they'd like to nurse.
8. Learn how to prevent-or soothe-engorgement.
Another reason to take it slow: You can experience engorgement in your breasts after nursing ends quickly. Why? Your milk ducts miss the memo that they need to reduce milk production, and all that milk has nowhere to go. If you're engorged, soothe the pain with cool ice packs or acetaminophen. Or reach for your trusty breast pump; you can serve the pumped milk in a bottle or mix it with your baby's cereal.
9. Consider partially stopping breastfeeding.
All-or-nothing isn't your only option. Many working moms prefer partial weaning, where a caregiver bottle feeds during the day and Mom nurses when she's home. There are two strategies:
Nursing and formula-feeding: Combination moms nurse when they're with the baby but have their caregiver feed formula. This may mean nursing right before you leave for work and as soon as you're home to prevent engorgement. On weekends, if your milk is low, you may want to supplement with formula.
Nursing and pumping: Other moms pump at work so their caregiver can put breast milk in the bottle. You pump as often as your child would nurse, maybe about three 15-minute sessions in a day.
10. Understand your own emotions.
Your baby isn't the only one who has to adjust to weaning. You must deal with a whirlwind of emotions-for example, some moms want their bodies back, while others feel rejected when their baby passes up the breast. Though you may be pleased to end nursing once and for all, it's totally natural to feel pangs of nostalgia about your baby getting older. Your best bet? Embrace their independence, know that weaning is an emotional experience, and talk to other breastfeeding mothers who can relate.