When Is It Time to Stop Breastfeeding?

All good things must come to an end, and the beautiful adventure that is breastfeeding is no exception. Parents often find it difficult to know when the right time is to stop, and need to be certain that this important decision reflects what is best for both mother and child. There are instances when moms naturally recognize a clear stopping point, and for those moms, that’s great! Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case because each mother and child have a very different and unique experience with breastfeeding. Sometimes the “right time” to wean your baby isn’t quite so obvious, and a decision of this magnitude requires a deep personal understanding of your own needs as well as the needs of your baby.

When to stop breastfeeding?

Although the recommended length of time to breastfeed varies depending on which health organization you look to for guidance, many suggest exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months. Some, like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend nursing your baby until they turn two, while others, like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), tell parents to wean their baby at the age of one.

All recommendations considered, women often face many obstacles related to breastfeeding that may require them to cut their time short. Sometimes, women also choose to wean their babies early for personal reasons, which is absolutely fine as well. Experts even suggest that breastfeeding works best for moms and babies who are both successfully enjoying the process, and some go further to say that there is no specific time frame that moms should follow, but agree the longer a mom can breastfeed, the better.

How to stop breastfeeding?

Your baby’s age and your personal circumstances are just a few factors that ultimately play a major role in deciding how to wean your baby. Below are different weaning scenarios that offer helpful tips to consider when choosing which process will work best for you.

Before six months: If you have decided to stop breastfeeding your baby before they are six months old, it is important to gradually reduce the number of breastfeedings and substitute those feedings with formula. You can begin this process by replacing one breastfeeding session per day with a formula bottle for one week. You can slowly continue this process, and, as your milk supply begins to dwindle, you can increase the formula replacement meals each subsequent week.

If possible, try switching up the places where you feed your baby and also allow other adults to give your baby some of their bottles. If your baby ever seems to be in distress or uncomfortable during or after feedings, they may need a different type of formula, which can be recommended by your pediatrician. Remember, even if your baby seems fussy about these changes, patience is key!

After six months: Weaning after six months of age is oftentimes considered much easier because parents are now able to safely introduce new foods and flavors to their baby that aid in growth and development. Since babies over six months old can eat some solid foods, you can also allow their feedings to be supplemented with these new menu options. Although this new food is fun and delicious, your baby’s main source of nutrition at this age is still breastmilk. To ensure your baby is receiving all of the vitamins and nutrients required to source a healthy diet, continue focusing on a gradual wean off of the breast milk while slowly substituting a growing amount of breastfeeding sessions with formula. You can also add powdered formula to soft foods, like oatmeal, for a nutritional boost, and always make sure to provide your baby with enough bottles of formula in order to meet daily caloric intake requirements.

● After one year of age By the time babies turn one, they are able to consume a wide variety of foods and are now allowed to drink cow’s milk and water. So, if you decide to stop breastfeeding after one year of age, there is no need to provide your baby with infant formula. This is because they are now getting their nutrients solely from the drinks and solid foods they are consuming. Although weaning a toddler may seem easy, young children often form an emotional attachment to the actual process of breastfeeding. Introducing a new comfort item to your toddler may help to ease the transition period for you and for them.

● Weaning off suddenly An abrupt stop to breastfeeding can be very risky for mothers and babies. Not only is a sudden stop mentally taxing for the mother and the baby but mothers also risk becoming engorged and suffering painful breast infections. While an abrupt stop is never a recommended approach, sometimes a mother has no other choice. If a mother is taking a medication that is not compatible with breastfeeding, for example, she may need to wean her baby off as quickly as possible. If there is ever an emergency situation in which you need to wean your baby right away, contact your pediatrician and seek professional medical advice for yourself. If your baby is younger than six months old, you will need formula recommendations from your pediatrician.

If you do find that you must suddenly wean your baby off of breastfeeding, you may end up with engorged breasts. Try using cold cabbage leaves or a cold compress to relieve pain, and also try gently expressing some milk with your hands to decrease swelling. Be sure you do not completely empty your breasts, as that will induce milk production. Try to take some relaxing time for yourself and make sure to comfort your little one, as an abrupt stop to breastfeeding can take a major toll on a mother’s mental health.

● Self-weaning As the name indicates, self-weaning is when a child decides to wean themselves off breastfeeding. There is no specific time frame of when this may happen and could range from the age of two years old all the way up to the age of seven years old.

The Takeaway

Knowing the needs of your baby at different ages and understanding how to wean your child is an essential skill that will benefit both mother and child. Following the recommended steps can help a mother avoid negative and painful side effects, and make for a much happier and healthy baby.

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