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Nursing your baby may give you a lot of satisfaction. After all, breastfeeding is not just about providing nutrition to your baby, it also strengthens the mother-child bond, making it more beautiful than any other relationship in the world. So it is understandable if it isn’t an easy decision for you to stop breastfeeding your baby.

You might have mixed feelings and thoughts about it. On the one hand, you may feel relieved to get your body back, but on the other hand, you may also fear that it might affect your special bond with your baby. Reaching out to friends, family or a psychologist for emotional support during this time may help you in this important time in your journey as a parent.

The decision around when to stop breastfeeding is entirely up to you, of course. That said, breastfeeding is good for your health as well as your baby’s. Studies show that breastfeeding reduces the chances of breast cancer in women and has long-term health benefits for your child. Doctors recommend that babies be fed on breastmilk exclusively for the first six months of their life. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies should be given a diet of age-appropriate solid foods as well as breastmilk for up to two years of age after the first six months.

There are many reasons why new moms stop breastfeeding. For example, the Indian government has mandated only six months of maternity leave. When new moms go back to work, they may find it difficult to continue breastfeeding multiple times a day.

New moms going back to work may, of course, choose to express if their breast milk supply is well established: they could either pump the breast milk in the morning and refrigerate it in a bottle before going to the office or even express it in the office and hand it over to their partner or a family member with instructions on how to give their baby the expressed milk when he/she demands it. This may give their baby a steady supply of breastmilk for a little while longer. But all new moms will have to stop breastfeeding at some point, and it is best to be prepared for when that happens.

Read more: Benefits of breastfeeding

  1. When to stop breastfeeding your baby
  2. How long does it take to stop breastfeeding?
  3. How to stop breastfeeding
  4. Some reasons for weaning
  5. Changes you should expect in your body and in your baby when you stop breastfeeding
  6. When should you consider postponing the decision to stop breastfeeding
  7. Takeaways
  8. Doctors for How and when to stop breastfeeding your baby

There isn't a right or wrong time to stop breastfeeding. You may have several reasons and obligations to stop breastfeeding your baby, but exclusive breastfeeding for six months is very beneficial for your baby’s health. Breastmilk is not only very nutritious but is also full of antibodies and it protects your baby from many infections. Studies also show that infants who are breastfed learn to understand the hunger and satiety signals of their bodies and develop behaviours that could protect them from obesity in the future.

Most babies start eating solid foods at six months of age: the process of gradually reducing breastmilk and adding solid foods to your baby's diet is known as weaning. Research shows that breastmilk helps babies digest solid food during this transition phase. Hence, instead of replacing breastmilk with solid food, it is recommended to continue with both.

WHO promotes breastfeeding babies for two years or more.

Read more: Tips and foods to increase breast milk

How much time this takes will depend on you and your baby. It could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months.

Experts recommend that you take your time with weaning, though, as stopping breastfeeding suddenly could cause you to suffer breast problems like engorgement, mastitis or blocked milk ducts. It could also affect your baby adversely: remember that your baby draws both nutrition and comfort through breastfeeding.

Of course, some women may have to, or want to, stop suddenly. In this case, it's best to talk to a healthcare professional who can advise the best course of action for you and your baby.

Stopping breastfeeding should be a gradual process. It is unhealthy, both for you and your baby, to stop it entirely as soon as you introduce your baby to solid foods. Your baby will automatically demand fewer breastfeeds once he/she begins eating more solid foods.

In the meantime, start by cutting one feed. Maybe experiment with dropping the post-lunch afternoon feed first. See how your baby responds. If he/she seems comfortable, reduce another feed in a week or two.

  • Make sure you shower extra love on your baby during this time, so he/she feels comforted and supported in every way.
  • Instead of denying your baby a feed when he/she is adamant on it, try to excite your baby with new foods another time. Babies are curious to learn about their environment. Make the best of their curiosity by giving them a variety of foods like super-soft pears, bananas, avocados. Boiled and cooled sweet potato wedges might also be fun (and healthy) for your little one. Try not to force anything on your baby, but present a range of healthy choices of fruit and veggies, if possible. (Avoid hard or big foods that may be a choking hazard for babies.)
  • Doctors nowadays also recommend not to introduce the baby to liquids like water and juices till he/she turns one. Till then, breastmilk should be the main source of hydration for your baby.
  • Drop the breastfeeds one by one. Schedule the breastfeeding sessions according to your convenience and the comfort of your baby.
  • If you have to reduce or stop breastfeeding suddenly, it may be difficult for your little one to get accustomed to it. Ask your doctor about the best way to make this transition smooth for your baby. For example, you could start giving your baby formula milk early - and give it along with breastmilk while you can still express.
  • If you are planning to stop nursing after six months, you could replace some of the breastfeeds with formula feeds. If you stop after your baby's first birthday, you will not need any replacements, as your baby should be comfortable with solid foods by then.
  • Don’t stop breastfeeding while your baby is ill or teething. More than the food, breastfeeding is his/her source of comfort. Be patient and postpone your decision until your baby is healthy and happy again.

Read more: What to do when someone is choking

Every new mom who chooses to breastfeed, and can breastfeed, must figure out how and when she wants to stop. This may depend on a number of factors - some of them within the mom's control and some out of her control. Here's a list of the reasons why a mom may need to reduce or stop breastfeeding:

  • Insufficient milk supply: The growing baby will need more breastmilk to meet his/her nutritional needs. However, some mothers may feel that they are not expressing enough breastmilk to satisfy their baby’s demands. 
    The low milk supply could be because of medical reasons. Improper latching can also often lead to a drop in milk supply. Consult your doctor before stopping breastfeeding and opting for formula for your baby.
  • Pain in breasts and nipples during breastfeeding: Nipple pain in breastfeeding women is not uncommon. However, if the pain becomes unbearable, the new mom may have to stop breastfeeding. Cracked nipples or breast pain can also force some women to stop breastfeeding earlier than they planned - sometimes before the recommended minimum of six months. 
    Poor latching can cause cracks in your nipples. Check to make sure that you are doing it properly. Ask your doctor to guide you about the right positions for breastfeeding your child before you stop nursing him/her for these reasons.
  • The need to take certain medicines: Medications such as anticancer drugs, oral retinoids, iodine, amiodarone and gold salts are contraindicated for women who are breastfeeding. Women who need these medicines may have to stop breastfeeding.
  • Pregnancy: Breastfeeding mothers may contemplate stopping breastfeeding their baby if they are pregnant again. However, nursing your baby during your pregnancy will not cause any harm to the baby in your womb. On the down side, it may be more tiring for you due to ongoing physical and emotional changes in your body during a pregnancy.
    If you have had a miscarriage or gone into premature labour previously, then you should definitely consult your doctor about the risks of breastfeeding. The oxytocin hormone produced during breastfeeding can cause contractions which can lead to unwanted problems.

Read more: Breast changes during early and late pregnancy

While some women may put on a little weight when they stop breastfeeding, this is not a given. In fact, some health professionals say that you can truly start losing the baby weight after you stop breastfeeding. This is because you can now reduce rich foods from your diet without it affecting your baby.

Read more: How to lose weight after pregnancy

Other changes you should expect in your own body when you stop breastfeeding include:

  • Engorgement: There's little you can do about this, except take a painkiller, wear a super-supportive bra and avoid stimulating the breasts in any way for the time being.
  • Leaking, shooting pain and tingling sensations: Your body doesn't stop producing milk on the day that you decide to stop breastfeeding - this process is gradual, too. As a result, you may experience some leaking and/or a feeling of fullness. The good news is that the body reabsorbs any unused milk. The bad news is that it takes time. And as the body completes this process, some moms could experience shooting pain or tingling sensations.
  • Hormonal changes: Prolactin and oxytocin, the milk-producing hormones, will gradually decrease in your body and estrogen, progesterone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) will increase as you stop breastfeeding. On the upside: your sex drive could return to pre-pregnancy levels soon as a result of these hormonal changes. In women who had difficulty holding their pee (urinary incontinence) due to pregnancy, this symptom could go away as they gradually wean their baby. On the downside: as the levels of prolactin and oxytocin in your body drop, you may get acne and/or headaches. You may feel moody, sad and/or notice an increase in your stress levels.

Read more: How to increase libido (sex drive): foods and remedies

Changes you should expect in your baby

Weaning late (when your child is at least one-year-old) could minimise any changes your baby will experience when you stop breastfeeding. That said, weaning can be a big adjustment for your baby's digestive system - so take it slow, if possible. Your baby could also become more prone to some infections - breastmilk contains antibodies that protect babies from some diseases.

Read more: Roseola: symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention

Doctors recommend rethinking the decision to stop breastfeeding if your child is teething or ill. Also, consider postponing this step if you've just moved or introduced any other big change in the baby's life. For example, if the grandparents have moved away or there's a new nanny to take care of the baby.

Here's another reason to reconsider stopping breastfeeding: if you think that you should stop breastfeeding your child as you and your family plan to go on a long vacation, then think again. 

Breastfeeding is actually the easiest option for you to feed your baby when you are out on a vacation. It will save you from the hassles of cleaning and sterilizing the bottles again and again. Instead of carrying the equipment and preparing the feeds, you can feed your baby as and when your little one demands it.

The decision for how and when to stop breastfeeding should be the mom's, of course. That said, breastfeeding has multiple health benefits for moms and babies.

There's no fixed time for when you should stop breastfeeding. However, the Indian health ministry recommends breastfeeding your baby exclusively for six months. The WHO and UNICEF recommend giving your baby breastmilk in addition to solid foods from the age of six months to two years.

Some of the biggest reasons why women stop breastfeeding are: 1) to go back to work, 2) they feel their growing baby is still hungry after a breastfeed. That is, they are not producing enough milk, 3) They need to take medicines that are contraindicated for lactating moms, 4) They can't produce enough milk, 5) They are pregnant again.

You may experience some changes in your body when you stop breastfeeding. These may include increased sex drive, acne, moodiness, stress, breast pain and, of course, leaking.

It's a good idea to stop breastfeeding gradually. If you decide to stop breastfeeding when your baby is 12 months or older, then he/she may not need formula feeds to supplement or replace the breastmilk.

Dr. Yeeshu Singh Sudan

Dr. Yeeshu Singh Sudan

पीडियाट्रिक

Dr. Veena Raghunathan

Dr. Veena Raghunathan

पीडियाट्रिक

Dr. Sunit Chandra Singhi

Dr. Sunit Chandra Singhi

पीडियाट्रिक

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References

  1. Huggins K. The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning: How to Bring Breastfeeding to a Gentle Close and How to Decide When the Time Is Right Revised edition. Harvard Common Press, 17 September 2010; 224 pages
  2. Rogers S.L., Blissett J. Breastfeeding duration and its relation to weight gain, eating behaviours and positive maternal feeding practices in infancy. Appetite, 1 January 2017; 108:399-406
  3. Odom E.C. et al. Reasons for Earlier Than Desired Cessation of Breastfeeding. Pediatrics, March 2013; 131(3)
  4. Hotham N. and Hotham E. Drugs in breastfeeding . Aust Prescr., 1 October 2015; 38(5):156–159. PMID: 26648652
  5. Ruowei L. et al. Why Mothers Stop Breastfeeding: Mothers' Self-reported Reasons for Stopping During the First Year. Pediatrics, October 2008; 122(2)
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