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.

When you stop breastfeeding or chestfeeding, 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 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. Keep reading to learn how to stop breastfeeding in 10 simple steps.

When to Stop Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies consume only human milk for their first 6 months of life. After that, they should continue to breastfeed while eating a variety of solid foods, preferably for at least one year. But the AAP supports "continued breastfeeding after solid foods are introduced as long as you and your baby desire, for 2 years or beyond."

Of course, these guidelines aren't set in stone, and parents can wean whenever they want. They can also choose formula-feeding instead.

The decision to stop breastfeeding is a personal one influenced by various factors, such as returning to work, your baby's temperament, or physical challenges. There's no right or wrong timeline when it comes to weaning your baby.

mom holding weaning baby

10 Steps for Stopping Breastfeeding

While there's no universal approach to weaning, these 10 tips might help parents going through the process.

1. Recognize the signs your baby is ready to stop breastfeeding

If you want to start weaning, look for signs that your child is ready, which might include the following:

  • Holding their head in an upright position
  • Sitting with support
  • Expressing interest in what you're eating
  • Losing their active tongue-thrust reflex
  • Acting indifferent or cranky during nursing sessions

2. Set a schedule for weaning

Allow yourself a full month to successfully stop breastfeeding; this gives you and your 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.

Quick Tip

A word of advice: Many experts recommend that you stop breastfeeding over a course of weeks. Weaning too quickly can have some negative side effects, such as breast engorgement and anxiety for your little one.

3. Start out slowly

Easing into a weaning routine lets 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/or 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 weaning 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. You may even avoid triggering an episode of mastitis, a painful infection caused by clogged ducts.

4. Provide emotional comfort

Breastfed babies love close physical contact with their parents, 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 your partner, an older sibling, a grandparent, or a 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 bottle or 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; 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 parents opt for partial weaning, where a caregiver bottle feeds during the day, and you nurse when you're home. Here are two strategies for partial weaning.

Nursing and formula-feeding: Combination parents 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 parents 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 parents 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 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 parents who can relate.

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