The top five things to consider when you want to stop breastfeeding effectively.
As an experienced midwife, I have found that this is one topic that all breastfeeding mums want to know more about. However, for many reasons, it might be a difficult topic to bring up as there can be a weight of expectation around breastfeeding. So you may only hear it whispered, “So just how do I go about stopping breastfeeding?”. We believe in supporting mothers to feed in a way that works best for them and their baby. That means giving them all the information that helps them to make the best decision for them, their baby and their families. These are the top five things to consider when you want to effectively stop breastfeeding.
Why You May Want To Stop Breastfeeding
We hear numerous reasons for stopping breastfeeding. We can’t list them all as each mama and baby is a unique pair, but as midwives, these are the frequently seen situations:
- Medical issues for mother or baby
- Medication that isn’t compatible with breastfeeding
- Mum decides breastfeeding isn’t for her (equally, baby decides breastfeeding isn’t for him or her)
- Sore or painful feeding that cannot be solved by proper support
- Mum simply feels that she and her baby have come to the end of their breastfeeding journey.
A note here on returning to work (do read about the new maternity leave policy here). This can be a reason for stopping breastfeeding, however, if this isn’t what you want, make sure you speak with a maternity expert, midwife or lactation consultant about the transition. We recommend starting transitioning (whether it is to bottles of expressed breast milk or formula) 4 to 6 weeks prior to the date when you’re returning to work. This will ensure a smooth transition with as little stress as possible. Also, chat with your employer about provisions for pumping at work. It is your right to maintain breastfeeding when you go back to work if that is what you want, but know that it needs support! Our team at Urban Hatch has worked with many working mothers who have been well prepared for a return to work that includes breastfeeding and pumping in a sustainable way.
When To Stop Breastfeeding
The World Health Organisation suggests that babies are exclusively breastfed for at least six months and to continue with breastfeeding once they start weaning until they are two years old. Now, this scenario exists in an ideal world and whilst many mothers do manage this, for some it simply isn’t possible for physical, practical or emotional reasons (some as outlined above). So the answer to when to stop is: when it is right for you and your baby.
How To Stop Breastfeeding Gradually
Slowly but surely is the optimal way to stop breastfeeding if possible. This gives your body, mind and baby time to adjust comfortably. If you have been exclusively pumping, you can mimic this process by stopping pumping slowly.
The most straightforward way to do this is to drop one feed/pumping session at a time. To find out which feed to drop first, speak with an expert to help you find the best way to go about this. Your energy levels, routine and baby’s routine need to be taken into account. Once you drop one feed, make sure you wait a few days to allow your body to adjust before moving onto dropping a second feed. If your baby is younger than a year you will need to replace the dropped feed for a bottle (or a cup or sipper, depending on their age). This process can take a matter of weeks or months depending on how you get on. Keep an eye out for how your breasts feel – any engorgement or mastitis will need attention. Engorgement can be worked through with the help of a midwife, as we often do at Urban Hatch. If you develop symptoms of mastitis you should consult your doctor.
How To Stop Breastfeeding Immediately
If a mother has been advised to stop for medical reasons or to take medication that isn’t safe for breastfeeding she may need to stop immediately. So just how do you do that? The key here is taking care of your breasts, your emotional wellbeing and your baby’s wellbeing.
Taking Care Of Your Breasts
This can be a tricky balancing act. Ideally, you do not want to stimulate them at all. Get a comfy, supportive bra that doesn’t dig in but that does keep them fairly secure and immobile. The lack of stimulation will signal to your body that milk is no longer needed and it can switch off supply. If they become engorged (hard and overfilled) you can hand express some of the milk to ease the pressure, but be mindful that this can stimulate production! Or if you develop mastitis you will need to see your doctor for treatment. If you have to opt for this immediate stopping approach, your doctor may prescribe medication that will suppress milk production.
Taking Care Of Your Emotional Wellbeing
Please make sure you ask for support, ideally from a professional such as a midwife, lactation consultant or your doctor. Going cold turkey might make you feel anxious, low or sad. This is all really normal and the interplay of hormones will have a lot to do with this. Not to mention sleep deprivation or grief and loss if breastfeeding was the way you had chosen to feed your baby. Be gentle with yourself above all else. Treat yourself to nutritious food and drinks, rest when you can, keep moving if possible and talk to your partner, friends and family. Get extra support from a pro if needed!
Taking Care Of Your Baby’s Wellbeing
Here we prescribe as much cuddling as possible. Hold your baby, but be careful if you are having skin-to-skin time with your precious bub that they don’t stimulate milk production by kneading and routing around your breasts. If you have a partner, get them to cuddle and have skin-to-skin with baby. When a baby is being fed mimic breastfeeding by looking into their eyes as they feed. Ideally only a maximum of three people should feed the baby so they establish a routine and bond whilst feeding. Always remember, babies are very robust and adaptable little creatures! They will feel loved and cared for whether they are being breast- or bottle-fed.
What To Watch Out For
No matter why, when or how you choose to stop breastfeeding make sure to seek support from your midwife, lactation consultant, doctor or paediatrician if you are concerned about:
- Your breasts – are they hot or engorged (overfilled, hard and tender)? Do you have a rash/fever or flu-like symptoms? These are some of the symptoms of mastitis.
- Your emotional wellbeing – do you feel low, unable to go about your daily tasks, constantly tearful and overwhelmed, anxious or hypervigilant?
- Your baby – is he or she gaining weight appropriately, able to settle with comfort or feeding, alert and engaged when awake?
If you have any concerns the first tool at your disposal is seeking support. That may be your partner, family and friends for emotional support. Or professional postnatal mama and baby support from a midwife, lactation consultant or doctor.