When to Stop Breastfeeding + Post-Pregnancy Tips
How Long Should You Breastfeed Your Baby
It is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) that babies should be fed entirely on breast milk for the first six months of life and continue to intake their mother’s milk in conjunction with complementary foods until at least the age of two years old. This would, of course, depend on the mother’s and baby’s preferences, if they decide to pursue breastfeeding at all.
Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life not only provides the nutrition that your baby needs, it also provides health benefits for your baby. Babies at 11 to 16 months can still obtain half of their daily calorie intake from breastmilk. Like many phases of motherhood, absolute breastfeeding milestones or cutoff dates don’t really exist. Some mothers continue to breastfeed into late toddler years, while other mothers stop breastfeeding after several weeks, for many different reasons. Whatever decision you or your baby makes, know that you’re a great mom regardless. Your breastfeeding journey does not define you as a mother.
When Should You Stop Breastfeeding?
The decision to stop breastfeeding your baby should be made by you, though in some cases, your baby may “decide”. So often mothers think that they need to stop breastfeeding at a certain point along their journey, when you really don’t have to stop until you feel it’s best. Breastfeeding provides your baby the nutrition they need, but it also provides an intimacy and a bond for both parties involved.
I always looked at breastfeeding as a special bonding time with my children, especially being a mother who worked full-time during the day. Breastfeeding was one of the things I looked forward to doing when I got home from work each night. It was a special moment I will never take for granted. Of course, like most other beautiful phases in a mother’s life, there comes a time that the breastfeeding journey comes to an end. Below are some reasons you may find it’s time to transition away from breastfeeding entirely.
Reasons to Stop Breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding your baby is starting to hurt or never stopped hurting.
- You’re not producing enough milk no matter how hard you try.
- You are too tired to continue breastfeeding.
- Trying to pump at work is extremely challenging or becoming overwhelming.
- You have made the 6- month mark and you are ready to stop.
- You have made the 6-month mark and your baby is more interested in solid foods than milk.
- Your baby would rather take a bottle than the breast.
- Your baby does not seem interested in breastfeeding.
- It causes you and your baby more stress than anything that a bottle of formula seems more appealing.
- You become pregnant again while breastfeeding and the thought of breastfeeding two toddlers is too much to take on.
- You’re taking medication that prevents you from breastfeeding.
- It’s affecting your mental health.
- Your baby is having allergic reactions to your breast milk.
- You are going back to work and pumping won’t be a possibility.
- You need more sleep and to focus on your self-care and overall mood.
- Your baby has become so distracted with the outside world that breastfeeding only brings frustration.
- Your baby is not gaining adequate weight as expected with just your breastmilk.
How to Stop Breastfeeding
Weaning your baby is a process where you prepare to stop feeding your baby breastmilk by starting to introduce more complementary foods alongside your breastmilk. This process typically begins when your baby is around six months old. Weaning continues until your breast milk is ultimately replaced by other foods and drinks. The point of the weaning process is to progress gradually. An abrupt stop to breastfeeding may have sudden negative consequences both physically and emotionally for you and your baby. Although sometimes, it may appear that your baby suddenly refuses the breast altogether. Always check with your baby’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Steps to Stop Breastfeeding
- Baby-led weaning is the process when your baby slowly reduces the frequency and length of breastfeeding sessions. This is the most natural approach and your body most likely won’t experience intense physical side effects as with mom-led weaning. With baby-led weaning, the feeds will become much shorter and less frequent. I find this tends to make the least impact on your body.
- Distracting your child and finding other ways to bond can help with weaning your baby as well. Many moms distract their children during the weaning process by providing them with water and a snack. My kids loved their bibs and new water bottles, so getting them some new baby gear to help with the process might be helpful. Connecting with your baby in different ways to establish bonding connections outside of breastfeeding could include cuddling, singing, carrying them with you or finding them a special baby toy to play with.
- If at any time the weaning process becomes difficult, it’s always encouraged to seek advice from your physician. In addition, I utilized my lactation support group and specialist for advice on breastfeeding and weaning. There are many breastfeeding support groups around the country. Researching online to find the right one can really help you connect and make this weaning process less daunting. It’s easier to go through it with support from other mothers that are in the same phase.
When & How to Introduce Solid Foods
It’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that you should introduce foods other than breast milk or formula products when your baby is around 6 months old. You should look for the following signs that indicate that your baby might be ready:
- Your baby is able to sit upright and hold her own head up.
- Your baby is interested in everything around them including showing interest in food while you’re eating.
- Your baby lost the ‘tongue thrust’ reflex. (This reflex is where the tongue automatically pushes food out of the mouth.)
- Your baby seems unsatisfied after receiving her full amount of milk for the day (8-10 breastfeeding sessions or an estimated 32 ounces of formula).
Tips on Introducing Solid Foods
- Continue to give your baby the breast or baby bottle in the morning, before and after their meals and right before bedtime.
- Set up an eating schedule.
- Introduce more solids as your baby grows. At 9 months your baby should only be intaking 20-28 ounces of milk every 3-4 hours. At 9-12 months, she should be intaking 16-24 ounces every 3-4 hours.
- At 4-6 months, feed your baby two meals a day providing her with 2-4 teaspoons of food. At around 7-12 months, feed your baby three meals a day, each meal being no bigger than your baby’s fist.
- Introduce new solid foods every couple of days. Write down any signs of rashes or discomfort after trying a new food.
- Persistence in trying new foods and also recognizing that maybe your baby isn’t ready are key to this new journey in motherhood. Try again in a few days if your baby loses interest. She might not be ready – and that’s okay.
Now that your baby is on their journey of eating solid foods, check out these baby feeding products. One thing I did to engage my babies into eating solid foods was purchasing bibs, plates, bowls, utensils and sippy cups to get them excited and to also associate that when mom took out the baby products it signaled eating time.
Encouragement on Ending Your Breastfeeding Journey
Whether you breastfed your child for a few weeks, 6 months or 5 years you are an amazing mama. Breastfeeding memories can never be replaced. I’m glad my body was able to not only bring two lives into this world, but also provide nutrition for them. It’s something that I will always be grateful for. Whatever route you decide to take with breastfeeding, let it be your and your baby’s decision and no one else’s input (or criticism) impacting that decision. If you want to breastfeed your child until they’re 5 years old, then do so with no regrets. Only those who have breastfed a baby will ever know the profound connection that is built during that journey of motherhood.
Congratulations for making it this far. You got this.