How to Stop Breastfeeding

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The time has come. You’ve made the decision to stop breastfeeding, and now you’re experiencing all the feels.

Maybe you’re beyond ready to get rid of your nipple shields, breast pump, and breast pads. Perhaps you’re not personally ready to stop breastfeeding, but it’s become evident that you shouldn’t continue. Maybe you never breastfed, but need to dry up your milk supply after being pregnant.

Whatever your reason and however you’re feeling about this decision, know that it’s OK.

Whether your baby is 3 days old or 3 years old, we know that you’ve probably put a lot of thought into this decision — and we’ve got your back. (Or should we say front?) We’ve got the information you need to efficiently stop breastfeeding as comfortably as possible.

Although there isn’t a precise formula for determining how long it will take to dry up your milk supply, we hope following some of the suggestions below can make it an easier process.

A word on doing it quickly

Ideally, you stop breastfeeding over a period of weeks or even months. This allows your milk supply to gradually decrease as milk is removed less often.

Depending on the age of your child, this extra time also gives you the opportunity to introduce other solids and liquids besides breastmilk. Giving yourself time to slowly wean off breastfeeding will be more comfortable and less stressful. (Slow and steady wins the race!)

But sometimes it may not be possible to stretch out the weaning process. If you need to stop breastfeeding quickly (or even cold turkey), here are some suggestions to help the process:

  • Begin by dropping the breastfeeding session that your child seems least interested in. Many people maintain the early morning or bedtime breastfeeding sessions for last. Unless you’re going cold turkey there’s no need to give up those sleepy snuggles right away!
  • Wear a supportive bra that doesn’t put pressure on your breasts or cut into them. (Yes, we just offered you an excuse to go shopping!)
  • If you really need to dry up your milk supply quickly, talk to your doctor about the possibility of using Sudafed, birth control, or herbsto try to reduce milk production.
  • Consider also talking to your doctor about offering your child formula or another age-appropriate food item before offering the breast at feeding session times to decrease interest in breastfeeding.
  • Offer your child only one breast per feed and try to stick to a fixed feeding routine to minimize breastfeeding “snacking.”
  • If your breasts become engorged and painful, try to hand express or use a hand pump just until you feel more comfortable. Try not to empty your breasts. You don’t want to trigger an increase in the supply!

Side effects of stopping too fast

You may have experienced physical changes — and emotional ups and downs — as your milk supply increased. Now, as your body stops producing milk, many of those same side effects may appear again (or for the first time if you didn’t experience them when your milk came in.)

For example, you may find yourself with engorged breasts from milk not being drained out regularly. Clogged ducts or mastitis may come along with this. You may also find that your breasts leak some of the excess milk and that you feel a great amount of sadness, anxiety, anger — or even happiness.

Wondering how you can minimize some of the unpleasantness or deep emotions? The answer, though perhaps not what you want to hear, probably comes as no surprise: You may have fewer (or less severe) side effects to deal with if you prolong the weaning process.

By giving your body more time to adjust and decrease milk production, engorgement may be less — which generally means less breast swelling and less boob pain.

If you do experience side effects, consider treating your symptoms with some of our tips below sooner rather than later.

Weaning in a way that minimizes discomfort — for both of you

If you’re ready to stop breastfeeding and dry up your milk supply, a good rule of thumb is to plan to drop one feeding session every 3 to 5 days. This sounds simple and straightforward enough, but let’s talk about minimizing some of the common issues that come with this tried-and-true method.

Preventing mastitis

No matter how long your milk supply is lasting, one method not to use to reduce milk production is breast binding. This may cause clogged ducts and mastitis.

Mastitis — basically, inflammation usually caused by infection — can come with a great deal of pain. In addition to not binding your breasts, consider the following tips to help avoid mastitis as you stop breastfeeding.

  • We can’t say this enough: Give yourself time to slowly discontinue your feeding and pumping sessions. One of the major causes of mastitis is milk buildup in the breast tissue. Slowly tapering off feeding sessions gives the body more time to gradually decrease the milk supply so the milk buildup won’t be as great.
  • Make sure to continue taking good care of your breast tissue. Bacteria can enter through any sores or cuts leading to an infection and mastitis.
  • Only use pumps that fit properly!

Should any signs of mastitis — such as fever and hard red bumps — develop during weaning, immediately notify your doctor as you may need antibiotics or other medical treatment.

Dealing with the emotional ups and downs

Even with slow and steady weaning, your hormones are changing. And we’re not going to sugarcoat it — even if you haven’t been a fan of breastfeeding (which is totally OK, by the way), it can be emotionally tough to stop and may even feel like you’re losing some closeness with your sweet baby. (Don’t worry, though — the bond you have with your child will only deepen as the years go by.)

Some tips for dealing with this roller coaster if it happens:

  • Make sure that you’re getting sufficient rest and nutrition. This will help regulate your hormones and make you feel your best!
  • Find a support group or friend who understands what you’re going through.
  • Spend time doing your favorite activities and hobbies.
  • Get those endorphins flowing with some exercise!

Using home remedies for painful boobs

Here are some effective ways of treating sore breasts and engorgement at home:

  • Use cold packs and over-the-counter pain medications to help with pain and inflammation.
  • Hand express as needed to take a little breast milk out of the breasts tissue and relieve that pressure. (But be careful not to empty the breast completely and trigger more milk production!)
  • Some women report that using some cold cabbage leaves inside a well supporting, but not tight, bra helps with engorgement.

Helping your baby through the process

Let’s be honest: Weaning can be hard on both mom and baby. If you find yourself with an enraged child, take a deep breath and try the following:

  • Offer a pacifier for your child to suck on in place of your breast.
  • Offer your child plenty of liquids and solid foods if age appropriate. Make sure to check with your child’s doctor to ensure that all of their nutritional needs are being met.
  • Continue to spend plenty of time cuddling with your child and bonding!
  • If your baby associates bedtime (or other activities) with breastfeeding, consider having your partner take over these duties during weaning.

The takeaway

Whatever your reasons for moving on from breastfeeding, you deserve to be as pain-free as possible — physically and emotionally. It’s important to be kind to yourself and your body. Remember this is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage with your child.

If you have to stop breastfeeding quickly, talk to your doctor about methods that can help — and keep a watchful eye on your symptoms. Otherwise, try dropping a feeding every 3 to 5 days and remember that no matter the emotional ups and downs of the process, you’re doing a wonderful job.

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