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How to Stop Breastfeeding Smoothly and Comfortably

How to stop breastfeeding smoothly and comfortably

Weaning Your Baby Off the Breast

If you are a breastfeeding mother and are seeking help and guidance on how to stop breastfeeding in the best way, then this blog is for you.

There can be many reasons why you have chosen to stop breastfeeding, from medical problems and physical problems to mental stress, or you have simply just had enough. It can get to a stage where you are just fed up and want your body back, and that is fine and totally normal. It can be hard to feel constantly ‘touched out’, or having to worry about how to dress, and having to opt for breastfeeding-friendly clothing over what you would prefer to wear.

Maybe you are a co-sleeping mother whose toddler wakes up constantly at night, not necessarily for those important feeds, but rather to feel close to you. Breastfeeding provides your baby or toddler with a sense of security which they will have become accustomed to to help them fall back asleep. All these things your child does are totally normal.

As a mum, you know they no longer need to feed so much at night. You are also acutely aware that you need more sleep yourself in order to function properly during the day. This will be particularly true if your maternity leave is over and you are back at work. No doubt you tried avoiding or reducing nighttime feeds as a means of getting your toddler back to sleep, but when they start screaming and refuse to sleep until you give the breast back, it can prove hard to resist. By this stage, you are probably starting to ask yourself how you will ever be able to wean your child off the breast. 

My Own Differing Experiences as a Breastfeeding Mother

I breastfed two babies, my first stopping when she was 18 months old, and my second when she was 15 months. In each case, the experiences (which I will share) were very different. Keep in mind that every child is different so just because these methods worked for my situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will work for you. The key part is to try to make things as easy as possible for them, as it can be extremely hard on a little one when they first stop breastfeeding. Prepare yourself, expect some tears and less sleep, but it will pass! You may even be one of the lucky ones whose child decides to stop breastfeeding of their own accord, although that doesn’t happen very often!

How to Stop Breastfeeding: Method 1

I will start by looking at my first experience with Maddalena, whom we stopped breastfeeding at 18 months as she was constantly waking for comfort feeds. It was almost like we had regressed to the newborn stage, waking 5 to 8 times for feeds. As a result, I was constantly exhausted and approaching breaking point. I knew it had to stop if I wanted to feel alive again, so I started the process with some reading up on how to stop breastfeeding. I quickly learned that it’s not something you can just stop without upsetting your child.

Aside from your baby, there is also your own health and comfort to consider, namely the high risk of developing mastitis which is not a pleasant experience. Approaching the process gradually helps to avoid mastitis and is physiologically easier for your baby or toddler.

To make the transition easier I started feeding less during the day but continued all the night feeds. Where we previously had 6 feeds during the day, this was reduced to 4, then to 2, 1, then finally down to none. This staged reduction lets your body know your child needs less milk and subsequently, you will start producing less milk. If your child asks for a feed instead of saying no, offer some water, a piece of fruit, or some crackers. You could even distract them by playing a game with them, taking them outside for a walk, or a play at the park. The more distracted they are the more likely it is that they will forget they asked!

If your breasts start to feel full you can self-express, but don’t fully empty the breast, instead express just enough to make you feel comfortable, your breast will eventually begin to produce less milk. In our case, the process of stopping the day feeds took about 3 weeks and when she no longer asked for day feeds I waited a further 10 days to make sure she was happy, at which point I moved to stage 2, the dreaded night feeds.

Try to Maintain Your Usual Nighttime Routine where Possible

We kept our usual nighttime routine, bath, pj’s, and book, but skipped the feed. Instead I would sing her a lot of nursery songs which would usually be enough to get her to fall asleep, albeit with a few tears softened with lots of cuddles. It took about 7 days for her to be comfortable falling to sleep without a feed, during which time I maintained the overnight feeding. The final stage was to stop the overnight feeds completely, which resulted in lots of screaming and tears, but it’s important to NEVER give in at this stage because it will only drag out the process and make it even harder.

How to stop breastfeeding your baby

In Maddy’s case, this final transitional period lasted about 10 days with lots of waking and crying but it did eventually stop. She no longer needed the night feeds, nor did she ask for any feeds at all. After a hard 18 months I finally had a child who slept through the night!

Stopping the night feed can be very hard and exhausting and you will want to give in, but I promise it will pass. Remember though, all children and mums are different, and if you feel that you are not ready to stop, don’t feel pressured to, just start again when you are.

How to Stop Breastfeeding: Method 2

With Ilyana, although the basic method of weaning her from the boob was more or less the same, there were a few key differences that needed a slightly different approach. When she reached 15 months old I once again found myself with a toddler who was up a few times a night for a comfort feed. Yet again I was completely exhausted and knew it was my time again. Ilyana was more of a ‘boobie monster’ than my first and really wanted the days feeds constantly, but she was actually sleeping much longer stretches at night compared to Maddy. When it got to the point that she was up only once or twice at night, I decided then to stop the overnight feeds.

Like Maddy, she was also used to falling asleep on the boob, so my partner started putting her to sleep. Although there were sometimes tears, she understood there was no milk to be had, and quickly adjusted to the point she would readily fall asleep with my partner. When I felt she had fully adjusted to that I just stopped the night feeds (there weren’t many anyway), and if she did wake up crying I put her next to me or on my chest until she would fall asleep again, sometimes using a dummy if necessary (keep in mind you will probably end up having to wean your baby off their dummy at some point).

Each Baby Weans Off the Breast at Their Own Pace

It did take a little longer to wean her off the boob compared to Maddy at around 3 weeks altogether. There were tears, but we both came out the other end fine, and once again I must emphasize the importance of not giving in! I actually struggled more to stop the day feeds as I could tell she really wanted those feeds still and depriving her of them did make me feel guilty.

So again I tried what I did with Maddy which was using distractions and fun baby activities as much as possible until she eventually stopped wanting them. Once she was successfully weaned off the breast she also started sleeping through the nights and was much happier to sleep in her cot rather than co-sleeping.

Some Final Notes and Tips on How to Stop Breastfeeding Your Baby

Keep in mind that not all children will automatically sleep through the night when you stop breastfeeding (or even bottle feeding), although it probably is more likely. The age at which you wean them off the breast will also be a factor to take into account. In our case the age our babies came off the breast worked well for them and in general the whole process was less stressful than I believed it would be for all concerned. At this point I would just reiterate that the above is all based on my own experience, and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. Being ready yourself is also important as this will have a direct impact on how effective your actions are.

Finally, remember it is important to try and avoid mastitis by expressing your milk using your hands until you feel comfortable. If after expressing you are still uncomfortable you can try to empty the breast completely, but the more you express the more the more your body will think it needs to make milk. Tip: taking a warm shower and expressing at the same time can help get the milk out, and you can also take paracetemol to help any pain.

Weaning your baby off the breast is a significant milestone in your mother/baby journey, but done right it doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. There are many methods other than what I have written about here, so take your time and do some research. Seek further advice from your local support groups, mum friends, or even your GP if you are concerned.

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