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Weaning: how to stop breastfeeding

weaning, breastfeeding

When’s the right time to stop breastfeeding?

It is recommended that you start offering solid foods when your baby is around 6 months old. The 4–6-month window is the most optimal to reduce the chances of your baby developing a food allergy. However, do look out for the following signs to indicate that your baby is ready to eat solids:

  • Your baby can hold their head up
  • They can sit up well in the support of their highchair
  • Your child shows interest in mealtimes and food
  • They can move food to the back of their tongue and swallow

If you’re unsure, please make sure to check with your doctor.

After you’ve introduced solids, you can start weaning them or continue to breastfeed you baby along with other foods until you’re ready to fully wean them.

How to stop breastfeeding

It is important that you do this gradually. Suddenly stopping breastfeeding might lead to engorgement which can be very uncomfortable. You are also at higher risk of developing mastitis or clogged ducts. Thus, you’ll still need to express your milk sometimes. Express just enough for comfort. If you express too much, it won’t reduce your milk supply and the weaning will take longer.

Some mums will go from one feed a day to one feed every few days to reduce the aforementioned symptoms, before stopping breastfeeding altogether.

Night weaning

When your kid is six months old, you can think about night weaning for breastfed babies or phasing out night feeds for bottle-fed babies. Most babies at this stage are getting enough food during the day for healthy growth and development.

However, if you’re comfortable with feeding your baby at night, there’s no hurry to phase out night feeds. It’s good to chat with your doctor prior to weaning to get individual advice.

If night wean, you baby will still get all the benefits of breastmilk if you continue breastfeeding during the day.

If your baby’s nighttime feed is short (less than 5 minutes) you can phase out night feeds by stopping the feed altogether and resettling your baby with your favourite settling technique. Note that it’ll take a few days for your baby to get used to the new routine.

If your feedings last for a longer period of time, you can gradually cut down the length of feeding over 5-7 nights, which will help your baby get used to the change.

Weaning for the baby

You can wean your baby to a cup or a bottle, it depends on your baby’s age. By 7-8 months old, babies can generally learn to drink from a cup.

The age of your baby also determines if you should replace breastmilk with formula or cow’s milk. If your baby is younger than 12 months, you should not offer them cow’s milk. They will need to be weaned onto formula.

Before you start weaning, you need to replace the breastfeed your baby seems the least keen on with expressed breastmilk, infant formula or cow’s milk, from a cup or bottle. Drop one feeding at a time and wait a few days before dropping the next one.

Stopping breastfeeding before six months

If you’re unable to continue breastfeeding until six months and want to try mother-led weaning, start by cutting out one breastfeed a day and replace it with formula.

Ideally, start with the mid-day feed. Be careful and mindful of good hygiene when preparing feeds. Your baby may take fewer feeds of expressed breast milk than from the breast during a 24-hour period. Don’t force them to take more milk than they want.

Once your body is used to this new volume, cut out another feed per day. Repeat until you’re no longer producing milk and your baby is fully weaned.

If you want to maintain the intimacy and health benefits of breastfeeding, but need to cut back, try partial weaning, where only some of the feeds are replaced with formula.

Stopping breastfeeding naturally over time

You can also choose to let your toddler decide when to stop breastfeeding (baby-led weaning or natural-term breastfeeding). The weaning process is likely to be slow and gradual. Over the months, her feeds will become shorter and less frequent, while they might also just lose interest one day.

Your body should have time to adapt, do you’re unlikely to experience any uncomfortable engorgement. You may find it tough emotionally however, so make time for plenty of cuddles and bonding moments.

Stopping breastfeeding quickly

Although this isn’t ideal, sometimes it’s necessary to stop breastfeeding suddenly for health reasons.

You’ll almost certainly need to express milk to avoid your breasts becoming uncomfortably engorged. Only express to easy any discomfort since you don’t want your body to produce more milk.

Your breasts may feel swollen and tender, but they will adapt. However, this may take days or even weeks.

Things to note about weaning

When weaning an older baby or toddler, it’s best to go slowly if you can.

It’s also normal to feed a bit down after your last feed, even if you were looking forward to it.

Your hormones may time some time to return to normal. Some women begin ovulating as soon as they reduce night feeds or begin to wean, while others find that ovulation and menstruation takes a few months.