Are you thinking that it’s time to start weaning from breastfeeding?
Stopping breastfeeding and/or pumping can be a nerve-racking time. Not only are you worried about whether you’re making the right decision, but the hormones that get involved can just make you feel like a crazy person.
It doesn’t have to be though. Whether you’ve decide to stop breastfeeding when your baby is three or before you even begin, there are ways to make the process easier to get you back to a life more your own.
Deciding When to Wean from Breastfeeding
The decision to stop breastfeeding is a very personal choice. Some people decide to stop almost immediately after birth, while others continue breastfeeding or pumping for their children well into the toddler years.
There is no right or wrong answer. Ultimately, it will come down to what is best for you and your baby.
While the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until your baby is two, that’s not to say that is what’s best for you and your baby.
Some babies have health issues where a special formula is the best option.
There’s also the factor of a mother’s supply. While every drop of breast milk is beneficial for your child, if you have a low milk supply and are unable to produce enough to sustain your baby and are tired of the fight, then there is nothing wrong with making the decision to stop.
Just know that no matter when you stop breastfeeding, you will experience some hormone changes that will make you a little crazy for a while. It’s totally normal, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Just be strong and push through, you’ll be fine once things settle back down.
Stopping Breastfeeding as a New Mom
If you choose to start the weaning process while your baby is still a newborn, then things could go one of two ways.
Weaning could be very easy because your milk supply is not established and your body is not used to making milk.
Weaning will be more difficult because all of the hormones in your body are pushing the milk production and not breastfeeding is going against your body’s impulses.
Either way, expect for things to be a little weird for a little while.
Choosing not to breastfeed
If you know right off the bat that you don’t want to breastfeed at all, then you simply don’t need to nurse or pump after birth.
If you aren’t stimulating your breasts to produce any milk, then you won’t. Don’t be surprised if you still leak for a bit though.
A tighter fitting bra can help can really help with this. With any luck, you’ll be able to squash the impulses before your milk “comes in”.
Weaning before establishing milk supply
If your milk has already come in and then a few weeks later decide to wean, then you will need to take a few extra steps.
Your milk supply will regulate around 12 weeks postpartum. Now that doesn’t mean that at exactly 12 weeks your breastfeeding journey will be set in stone, it just means that your milk supply goes from being primarily hormone based to being supply and demand based.
Deciding to wean from breastfeeding before this regulation part is both good and bad.
Good because your body isn’t yet set in its rhythm and routine of making breast milk. Your supply can be easily manipulated during this time.
It can also be bad because you still have a massive number of hormones running through your body that really want you to make milk. You’re essentially going to be sending your body counteracting signals.
It’s definitely possible to wean during this time, just be prepared for some weirdness and for it to take a minute.
Before you stop breastfeeding though, you need to help prepare your baby.
Weaning Off Breastfeeding to Formula
Until 12 months of age, the primary source of nutrition for a baby comes from either breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two.
Switching from nursing to formula
If your baby is very young, you probably will not have a problem switching him over to the formula. An older baby that is more established at nursing though could have some aversion to the bottle.
It’s best to start introducing the bottle slowly, and preferably by someone that isn’t you.
Your baby can smell the milk on you. If you have been nursing, then he is going to associate you with milk. If you want to move from nursing to the bottle, then you should have your partner or a caregiver offer the bottle first.
Do this for a feeding or two a day until your baby is comfortable with it. Once he is, then you can start transitioning the rest of the feedings to the bottle.
Be aware that the evening feedings will be the hardest ones for your baby to drop. Many babies nurse for comfort, not just for nourishment. You will need to find other ways to comfort your baby that don’t involve nursing.
Some skin-to-skin and just general cuddling may be all you need, but just play it by ear and follow your baby’s lead.
Switching from pumped milk to formula
If your baby is established on the bottle already because you have been pumping, then making the switch to formula will be much easier since he is already used to being bottle fed.
Some babies are perfectly fine taking a full formula bottle from the get go, while others still prefer the taste to the breast milk.
If that’s the case, you can make the transition slowly by mixing the breast milk and formula in the same bottle.
You can start with 25% formula to 75% breast milk and then slowly move to more and more formula.
Just keep in mind that as soon as the formula is mixed in with the breast milk, then the bottle has to follow the formula feeding guidelines.
It can only sit out at room temperature for an hour, can be in the refrigerator for 24 hours, and cannot be reused after your baby has drunk from it.
Because of this, I would strongly suggest only mixing what you really need as you need it rather than preparing a bunch of bottles in advance.
You will be mad having to throw all of that out otherwise.
How to Wean Off Breastfeeding at 12 Months
Once your baby is a year old, you will no longer have to worry about feeding him formula. You can move right on to other milk options if you’d like.
Most people transition their babies to whole milk at a year, but that isn’t actually necessary.
I spoke extensively about it with my pediatrician, and she explained to me that the purpose of the whole milk is the fat content.
Growing toddlers need more fat to help with brain development. She said that as long as he was getting enough fat from other sources, then whole milk is not required.
Definitely talk with your doctor about specifics regarding your baby and his nutrition.
The great thing though is that if you don’t want to use cow’s milk, then you don’t have to. My son actually loves canned coconut milk and avocado. I even drizzle a little olive oil on all of his meals. It works out great for us.
It’s okay to be flexible with it.
**Please keep in mind that babies should not be introduced to cow’s milk before 12 months of age unless instructed by a doctor. While babies are allowed to have cheeses and yogurt, dairy milk can be dangerous due to different bacterium.
Deciding to stop breastfeeding once your child reaches 12 months, can also be better for your baby. Not only do you not have to worry about dealing with formula, but your baby may be ready to wean anyway.
If your baby is ready, then that will make your job a lot easier.
Determining if Your Baby is Self-Weaning
Since breast milk or formula is a baby’s primary nutrition until 12 months, your baby should not be showing signs of self-weaning before then.
Some moms though, will mistake normal developmental milestones as a baby trying to wean.
- Being distracted
- Being more interested in solids
- Seeming less interested in nursing
While these all sound like signs of weaning, they can actually just be signs of a healthy, growing baby.
As your baby gets older, he will become more interested in the things going on around him. Different sights, sounds, smells, and tastes will intrigue him in ways they never did before.
He will also become more and more active and the act of having to sit through a full feeding may become frustrating to him.
That isn’t because he is ready to stop breastfeeding, but rather he’s just too excited for everything else going on.
I had this trouble with my son and ended up having to give him smaller bottles with a faster nipple flow to help him take in enough milk.
Talk to your pediatrician if you are ever worried that your child isn’t getting enough milk before the age of one.
Signs Baby is Ready to Wean from Breastfeeding
Once your baby has reached his first birthday and no longer truly needs breast milk for all of his nutritional benefits, he will probably start showing you signs when he is ready.
Signs your baby is ready can include:
- Excessive biting
- More interested in playing than nursing
- Requesting a cup
- Refusing to lie down and drink
- Shows preference to solids
- Turns away when offered
While there are other signs that may appear, your toddler will most likely show at least one of these when he is ready to wean from breastfeeding.
Ways to Wean from Breastfeeding
Not surprisingly, there are two main ways to stop breastfeeding. The fast way, and the slow way.
The route that makes the most sense for you will have several factors.
If you have a large oversupply then it will take you longer to wean that it will for someone with a low milk supply.
The same is true for someone with a well-established supply. I was able to produce my full daily amount at three pumps per day once I hit a year, and even when I got to two pumps, it was still most of what my son needed on a daily basis.
The longer you breastfeed, the more established your supply, the more you may have to work to get your body to finally stop producing milk.
Can I Just Stop Breastfeeding or Pumping Cold Turkey?
Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, do NOT try quitting cold turkey. You will be in a lot of pain and you are MUCH more likely to develop clogged milk ducts that could turn into mastitis.
Just don’t do it!
How to Gradually Stop Breastfeeding
If you are not pressed for time because of some reason or another, then stopping your breastfeeding and/or pumping journey will be so much easier if you do it slowly.
How to stop nursing
When you are ready to stop nursing, then you can easily start the weaning process by choosing your least favorite session during the day and dropping it.
If your child is still bottle feeding, then just feed him that way and try to skip the session.
If your child is older and not bottle feeding, then you will probably have to try some distraction. Play a game, have a snack, what ever you need to do to make sure that his mind is not on breastfeeding.
Try that for a couple of days and see how you feel. If at any point you are uncomfortable, then you can hand express a little out to relieve some of the pressure.
Just remember not to do this too much or you’ll just be sending the signals for your body to continue making milk.
The idea is to relieve the pressure, not to empty the breasts. Just express as much as you need to be comfortable.
Once you are no longer uncomfortable from dropping that feeding, then you can drop another one.
Keep in mind that your last feeding to drop will most likely be the one before bed. This is most likely your child’s favorite nursing session, so you will need to really work on those other comfort methods to help break that need for milk.
Once you get down to that last feeding, you should be able to just stop. You might feel a little pressure, but as long as you aren’t in any pain and overly uncomfortable, it’s perfectly fine.
**If you are nursing and your baby decides to abruptly stop, then please follow the recommendations for stopping pumping.
How to stop pumping
If you are pumping, then the process may work a little differently.
As a pumping mom, you should be pumping until empty to help signal that you need more milk. So, the easiest way to stop pumping is just to start cutting off time from your pumps so that you aren’t fully emptying.
You can do this slowly by just cutting 5-10 minutes off of one pump until it is gone before moving onto the next one, or you can cut off 5-10 minutes off of all of your daily pumps.
If you have a very large supply, then I would suggest trying to do this very slowly. You will be more prone to clogs otherwise.
Your morning pump will most likely be your last to drop since that should be your largest pump of the day.
Once you get down to that though, you shouldn’t have to continue.
I pumped twice a day for 4-5 days and then only pumped once a day for 1 day and then I was done.
Just follow your body’s lead and take it as slow as it needs to go. You will be much more comfortable if you do.
How to Stop Breastfeeding Quickly
If you need to wean quickly for what ever reason, there are a few things you can do to speed up the process.
- Wear a tight-fitting bra. Wearing a tighter bra like a sports bra leaves your breasts with less room to expand when they are making milk. Less room means less milk.
- Take decongestants. While I am not telling you to go out and start abusing any medications, taking a decongestant can help dry you up.
- Put cold cabbage leaves in your bra. I still think this is crazy, but it apparently works. Just pop the leaves in the fridge and then stuff them in your bra. Just change them out as they get too warm throughout the day.
Be aware that stopping quickly will probably leave you more uncomfortable than you would be if you wean slowly.
Just be sure to drink plenty of water and take some ibuprofen to help with the discomfort.
Also, if you develop any clogs, then you will have to get it out before you can fully wean. Leaving it in can turn into mastitis. Just do what you need to do to remove the clog and then continue with your weaning process.
How Long Does It Take to Stop Breastfeeding?
It’ll take your body 2-3 days to adjust to each dropped nursing or pumping session. So, a person dropping from 8 session each day will take longer than a person dropping from 4.
As a reference, when I decided to stop pumping, I was doing 4-5 pumping sessions each day. I did a very gradual weaning process, but was completely done in two weeks.
While I probably could have sped that process up some, I didn’t want to be uncomfortable or risk any clogged ducts. I’ve had mastitis twice and I wasn’t willing to do it again.
Taking my time with it really allowed my body time to adjust. I never had to resort to cabbage leaves or Sudafed to dry up my milk.
Do what works best for you. Feel free to take is as slow or as fast as you want. There is no one size fits all approach to breastfeeding.
What Happens to the Milk When You Stop Breastfeeding?
Once you stop breastfeeding or pumping, the glands that produced your milk will shrink and become dormant. Any milk that is remaining will also absorb back into your body.
It’s a pretty cool process when you think about it.
Don’t be surprised though if you can still get milk out weeks or even months later. I know I certainly can. It’s just one of those weird things that our bodies do.
Once you start breastfeeding, you could technically always breastfeed.
So, what about you? Are you ready to stop breastfeeding? Tell me about it! Leave me a comment below or come join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!