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Facts and advice about stopping breastfeeding. Written by pediatricians, for parents. There may be different strategies to stop breastfeeding a small baby vs. a larger baby. It’s time to stop breastfeeding when mom and baby want to stop. Long-term or short-term breastfeeding, fulltime breastfeeding or partial breastfeeding is your choice.
It’s time to stop breastfeeding when mom and baby want to
Sometimes you need to take medications that are contraindicated in breastfeeding. Or maybe the mother has a contagious HIV infection where she must not breastfeed. In very rare cases, the baby does not tolerate their mother’s milk. That’s when she must also stop breastfeeding.
But for the vast majority of a mother-child relationship, breastfeeding should end when the mother or child does not want to continue anymore. For some, this happens in the first week of life. For others, this occurs in their fifth year of life. But for many, this takes place at some point in the first or second year of life. Babies are different and mothers are different. And every mother-child relationship is unique. The length of breastfeeding that once suited a mother with her first child, may not suit at all with her other children.
Only the baby wants to stop breastfeeding, but mom wants to continue
This sometimes happens early in life, during the first weeks. Children prefer the bottle often when they don’t manage to get enough milk out of the breast. It may be because the mother does not have enough milk, or that the baby is not so good at sucking.
If you as a mother want to continue breastfeeding, you can try to figure out which situation your child may still like to breastfeed. Maybe for starters? For dessert? Before bed? For comfort and cuddles? In that case, continue to breastfeed in that particular situation to begin with. If you achieve a nice breastfeeding collaboration there, your baby may then want to breastfeed more and more. Or not.
It’s important though, not to fight too much against the baby’s will. As it rarely works. Try not to fight it. Sometimes breastfeeding shields or ‘fake nipples’ can be great for babies who find breastfeeding difficult. An add-on set can also help. It’s a thin plastic hose taped to the nipple. On one end, the tube sits in the baby bottle of milk delivers and feeds the baby on the other end while they are sucking at the breast. Contact a nurse at a breastfeeding clinic for help with the feeding set. Breastfeeding shields are available for purchase at pharmacies.
Mom wants to stop breastfeeding, but not the baby
This situation is very common in larger babies. When moms want to stop the nighttime breastfeeding, or stop breastfeeding completely. However, the baby or the young child wants to continue. I usually have “one year of age” as some kind of mental boundary here. Under the age of one, it’s good to let the baby control as much as the mom can handle. Over the age of one, I think mom needs to decide a lot more about how much she wants to breastfeed. And set breastfeeding limits. For example, at home but not while out; in the evenings but not during the daytime; or whatever you want.
Keeping in mind, a one-year-old is not carved in stone. On the contrary, rather they are shifting. But most one-year-olds usually eat so much that they manage to grow without breast milk or formula.
For some reason, in the first ten days after childbirth, women are protected against breast engorgement. Therefore, if you stop breastfeeding in the first week of life, you do not have to be as careful with weaning. Although, your breasts may become tense so it may feel nicer to wean if you have already started breastfeeding.
After the first week, you risk getting engorged breasts if you stop abruptly. Engorged breasts is where your breasts become painfully overfull with milk. Weaning is preferred. Keep in mind that the more often your baby empties or sucks on your breasts, the more milk is formed. So if you reduce breastfeeding, milk production will decrease with a few days delay. A tight bra is a great aid. Small tender lumps on your lactating breast may be a sign of blocked or plugged milk ducts. Let the baby suck on that breast to release it. At the same time massage the lump towards the nipple as if to help the milk out. Don’t massage hard!
To stop night breastfeeding
Many newborn babies can only go to sleep with a breast in their mouths. How lovely! But when they’ve been doing it every night for seven or nine months, many mothers tend to long for some time to themselves. At that age, children are fine without food at night. Sleep often gets much better when you stop night feeding.
Stopping night feeds in children is often a struggle. This will perhaps be the first big fight between you and the baby. If this is the case in your family, decide if it is worth it. Discuss with the other parent what you think feels best. Some prefer the other parent to sleep with the baby while the breastfeeding parent sleeps in the other room. Other mothers want to continue to put the baby to bed and sleep with them but with a tight sweater and bra and without offering the breast. Often there will be a few nights of much protest, before the child has learned that the breast is no longer offered at night.
But the other parent then, shouldn’t they be able to decide something about breastfeeding?
If the other parent sees that the mother is hurt by breastfeeding, I think they have an obligation to raise it with the mother and check with her how she is feeling and what she really wants. Otherwise, breastfeeding is a shared body experience between the nursing mother and the baby. Therefore, I think they should decide whether breastfeeding is something they want to do, for how long and under what conditions.
Starting with food, other than breast milk, is different to stopping breastfeeding. Read more about it in the post: Taste portions – about introducing food other than mother’s milk or formula. In order for the child to meet their nutritional needs, especially their iron needs, children need to start with other foods around 6 months.
Breastfeeding and working
I know many people who have balanced part-time breastfeeding and working without much trouble. We are the many doctors who have had to pump breastmilk during our night shifts. Breastmilk adapts to how often or much you usually breastfeed.
You have the legal right in Sweden to a breastfeeding break from work. But in my eyes, it is a lot to ask a partner on their parental leave to take care of a hungry baby and revolve it around my job. But if this suits the both of you, then do it! Go for it!