Giving Up Breastfeeding
Making the Decision to Quit
Mothers give up breastfeeding for a variety of reasons. Returning to work, and physical difficulties breastfeeding are among the most common ones. Some women give up breastfeeding simply because they feel it is the right time for them and their baby. Other reasons women quit breastfeeding include sore nipples and their baby's teeth coming through, making nursing rather painful! If you want to continue breastfeeding but are having difficulties breastfeeding, such as your baby not latching on or cracked nipples, contact your midwife or GP for help, or phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.
Some parents wean their baby off the breast when their baby gives them signals they are ready. This is called child-led weaning, and the idea is that you let your baby decide when to give up breastfeeding. Some mothers wean their baby off the breast when they are 12 months old, as by this time they should be getting all their nutrients from food.
Giving up breastfeeding can be emotionally difficult for you and your baby, as mums and babies alike enjoy the physical and emotional closeness breastfeeding provides. Stopping breastfeeding doesn't mean you'll lose any of the bond you have with your baby however, it is a natural part of your baby growing up. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months, but whenever you decide to stop, and for whatever reason, it is important to do it safely and comfortably for you and your baby.
How to Stop Breastfeeding
If your baby is younger than 12 months and you are planning to stop breastfeeding, you'll have to give your baby formula milk (cow's milk isn't suitable as a drink until your baby is one). See our section on Encouraging Baby to Accept Bottle for tips on how to wean baby from breast to bottle or cup.
If you are weaning your baby from the breast onto solids, it's best to do this slowly. Give your baby his usual breast milk feeds, and then offer him a taste of solids. Let him eat as much or as little as he wants. As your baby gets used to solid food, he will start to eat more when you offer him food. You can then start offering him solids before his milk feed.
You may experience leaks for a few weeks when you wean your baby off the breast. Use nursing pads to soak up any leaks.
If you are giving up breastfeeding because you are returning to work, give yourself plenty of time to wean your baby, as it may take a few weeks for your baby to be completely happy with bottle feeding. If you wish to continue breastfeeding alongside bottle feeding, it is possible to breastfeed in the evenings when you are home. Nature is amazingly astute and your breasts will adapt how much milk you produce to how much milk you give your baby!
Engorgement and Mastitis
Giving up breastfeeding gradually is not only easier on your baby, but also on your body. Giving up breastfeeding cold turkey can lead to engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis. Breast engorgement is when your breasts become swollen and hard. It can be very uncomfortable and you may get a temperature. To avoid this, drop one or two milk feeds a week. Don't rush this process. If you still get uncomfortably full breasts, hand express or use a breast pump to release some of the milk. Don't empty your breasts completely, or your body will just refill your milk supply. Just pump enough out to feel more comfortable, and your body will adjust how much milk you produce. Cold packs, damp flannels and cabbage leaves applied to engorged breasts are also great ways to relieve pressure.
Mastitis is caused by milk getting into your breast tissue causing it to become inflamed. Mastitis can happen when women stop breastfeeding abruptly, as it is caused by a buildup of milk in your breasts. Weaning your baby from the breast slowly will help you to avoid this unpleasant experience! If you feel your breasts becoming hard and swollen, express a little of the milk.