Breastfeeding is a natural process and the decision to stop breastfeeding is a personal choice. With this personal choice bestowed in you and depending upon your baby’s age, you wean off accordingly. Only you & your child gets to decide when’s the right time to move on from breastfeeding.
As per both The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) & The Academy of American Pediatrics (APA), a breastfeeding mother is usually recommended to breastfeed her child exclusively for 6 months. However, it should be generally continued till 12 months of age or more at minimum. But with the introduction of solid food items at 6 months of age, your child begins to show interest in other food items too ensuring growth & development.
Since breast milk is the prime source of nutrition for your child throughout, it is a vital means of your child’s development. During the initial days of childbirth, your breasts produce colostrum. It’s a yellow milky fluid rich in vitamins, minerals & proteins. In particular, it keeps your baby away from infections & illness at this stage. That being said, breast milk never sheds its nutrient value even after 1 year of a baby's age.
Moreover, if you’re willing to increase interaction between you & your child, register for a baby massage right away. This may positively affect your baby’s hormones & shall provide comfort to them. Besides, do you remember the importance of post-natal massages? Reduced swelling, muscle relaxation, improved breastfeeding, and others. So, book your home sessions right now.
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What’s The Right Age To Stop Breastfeeding?
As per The World Health Organization (WHO), a baby must be exclusively breastfed for 6 months. Additionally, the institution recommends that after achieving optimal growth by 6 months through breastfeeding, it should be generally continued up to 2 years and beyond. That’s because your baby receives the essential nutritional elements through breast milk. It is also powered by complementary foods altogether.
As it is, solid food items are generally introduced when your baby turns 6 months of age. However, in between 12 to 23 months of age, breast milk still looks after the 35-40% energy needs of a child. (with the consumption of 500g/day) Not to forget, it also offers health benefits to breastfeeding mothers as well.
Contrary to what you might be told, it will always be your choice to decide upon the age limit. However, renowned health organizations advocate at least 1 year or majorly 2 years and beyond for desired benefits. But obviously, it depends upon the mother & infant. As per a study published in Maternal Child Nutrition, the nutritional sketch of breast milk remains as it is through the second year of breastfeeding. Through the second year, elements of protein & sodium rise, and calcium & iron contents fall.
Weaning is the process of quitting feeding breast milk to your baby. It is when your baby moves forward from breastfeeding to other sources of consumption. This stage can also be characterized as a developmental stage which usually takes around 2 weeks for the entire transition.
The process is important because moving onto other sources of nourishment is equally crucial for your baby. Through this, your child learns how to swallow, chewing skills & discover lip & jaw movements. Besides, if the weaning process is normally led by the baby, it shall inculcate good eating habits & responses towards their hunger.
With your baby being much more involved in the eating process, it offers a variety of benefits. Since your baby self-feed, this may be your baby’s first step towards adapting to self-regulation. Follow these signs to know now is the right time for weaning your baby -
When your baby can sit straight without support.
When your baby reacts to the one’s eating in the surroundings (For instance, opens the mouth or try to reach out to food)
The baby is now double the weight before.
When your baby can coordinate with the eye & hand movements. (For instance, picks up food & swallow it)
When your baby is not interested in nursing and is consuming solid foods regularly.
Is Sudden Weaning Right?
Sudden weaning simply means quitting breastfeeding abruptly. You can also refer it to as abrupt weaning which is usually difficult for both mother & baby. Moreover, the process can also lead to engorgement, mastitis, & blocked ducts. As a consequence, this can be hard for you & your baby emotionally as well.
Well sometimes, sudden weaning can also be because of a maternal illness or some other severe illness. In that case, the separation between you & your child will be quick & completely unexpected. This quick separation might also bring in changes for your baby’s digestive & immunity system. That means the flow of transition has to be slow & steady so that you & your child can cope accordingly.
In any case, if you’re going too fast on your child, you’ll know by your child’s behavior. You can look for signs like anxiety, tantrums, increased night walking, fussiness, clinginess, and others. The right method for a seamless transition from breastfeeding would be to substitute with the right food items or formula.
Related: 10 Tips For Successful Breastfeeding: Guide For New Moms
Common Reasons Why Mothers Quit Breastfeeding
Sometimes the following mentioned reasons can let you wean off your baby completely. Breastfeeding is good for your bond with your baby & nutritional contents that contribute to nourishment. Consequently, it is also necessary to examine how ready you are to continue breastfeeding.
1. Milk Production Is Too Low
When there’s an inadequate milk supply for better or worse, you may consider weaning your baby. Mothers are usually worried about their milk supply being not enough or their baby is not drinking enough. Although you can opt for breast pumping and can make sure that your baby is latched on properly. Latching requires your baby to be attached to the dark part of your breasts. (areola) Besides, both of these factors contribute to the effective continuity of breastfeeding. In any case, this may not seem to work, you may look upon weaning as your option.
2. Introduction To Solid Foods
Since breastfeeding is exclusively recommended for 6 months, solid foods are introduced thereafter. Even beyond 6 months, breast milk continues to pass its nutrient elements onto your child. But the addition of complementary food items is equally important for complete nourishment. In short, for every reason, the transition to solid foods is significant for your baby at this stage.
3. Mother’s Health Conditions & Choices
Even a mother’s health conditions & choices determine the right time to wean off the baby. Let’s see how?
If you’re a working mother, you’ll be required to join back after your maternity break. As a result, this may lead to fewer feeding sessions naturally.
Sometimes, it gets difficult to avoid alcohol & caffeine for a long time. However, it is safe to breastfeed your child right before consumption in moderate quantities. Yet, this may be another reason that can lead to weaning sooner or later.
Breastfeeding may often lead to vaginal dryness which may impact your sexual experiences.
4. Baby’s Lack Of Interest
Nursing is natural & so is baby-led weaning. In some cases, babies are encouraged to self-feeding which marks their active involvement in the entire process. Your baby enjoys the taste of other food items so much that it may also reduce their fussiness around food if any. To conclude, they may forget about breast milk completely.
Related: A Beginner’s Guide: 8 Baby Care Tips For New Moms
What Can You Do To Stop Breastfeeding?
To stop breastfeeding, the process of weaning comes into the picture. You must avoid weaning during the major changes in your baby’s life. For instance, teething. Gowing slowly would be a reasonable decision and will make you & your child more comfortable. You must help your baby through the process in the following ways -
1. Identify when you & your baby are ready
It is important to recognize when you & your baby are ready to wean off. You can look for cues like when your child is skipping feeding sessions and is interested in other food items. Moreover, your child may get fussy or cranky during the breastfeeding schedule of the day. Take note, it is equally important for you to be ready to stop breastfeeding.
2. Substitute with other food items
It’s the right opportunity for you to substitute breastfeeding sessions with other food items. For this gradual transition to happen seamlessly, you can introduce formula milk to your child. It is heavier than breast milk and will fulfill their appetite easily.
3. Cope up with your child
It is important to render emotional comfort to your child by being there or simply cuddling. For sure, you can expect resistance if it is not baby-led weaning. It would be best if you’d allow your child to lead the process & follow their hunger cues & interest towards other food items. Just make sure that you fulfill their needs and avoid offering them your breasts.
4. Set up a weaning schedule
You can set up a weaning schedule for your child by making sure there’s enough room for changes. You must spend a lot of your time with your baby at this stage. So, it’s important to go slowly and follow an exclusive combination of bottled milk & solid food items instead of breastfeeding. However, the schedule will vary as per your child’s age. If your baby resists, switch up their feeding schedule.
5. Explore quitting breastfeeding partially
It is equally important that you cope with your emotions as well. Your body goes through changes that need consideration. So, take care of yourself throughout the process. Secondly, if you feel that your baby is not okay with the entire weaning process, you can always consider quitting breastfeeding partially. You can either nurse and pump together or nurse and formula feed together. The choice is totally up to your convenience.
Can You Breastfeed Again After Stopping?
If you wish to resume breastfeeding again after weaning, you can do so. The process is called re-lactation. It is the process by which a mother starts to breastfeed again by producing milk. This induced lactation may take some time & determination but frequent stimulation will get to your goal. It’s possible to come back after drying up from pumping and ideally from nursing.
When your baby is latched on and is feeding, this stimulates hormones to produce more milk. So, this process works on two principles - breasts stimulation & milk extraction. Frequent nursing & pumping will stimulate your breasts to produce milk. Whereas, complete extraction of the milk through feeding will allow it to produce more milk.
You may see your baby struggling through or after the weaning process. And if you’ve decided to resume breastfeeding again seeing the discomfort, you can go for it. It is very normal to feel & acknowledge what’s your child is feeling & act on it. Besides, if your baby has not attained the age of 6 months yet, it will be easy for you to get back. However, beyond 6 months, you’ll have to make a lot of effort. Your milk supply would not be the same though. So try to be sure about the weaning process, rest assured you’ll be fine.
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1. What is a good age to stop breastfeeding?
As per The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a child must be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and be continued till 1 year of age. However, other health organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) claims to continue breastfeeding for at least 2 years and beyond. Despite this, make sure that it is your own decision to determine the right age to stop nursing your child.
2. Is breastfeeding after 2 years harmful?
No, not at all. When breastfeeding is continued till 2 years & beyond, your baby still receives the nutritional elements from the breast milk. By 12 to 23 months of age, breast milk still contributes the 35-40% energy needs of a child. (with the consumption of 500g/day) Moreover, it also offers health benefits to breastfeeding mothers as well. These include a lower risk of breast milk, diabetes, depression & weight loss.
3. What happens to your body when you stop breastfeeding?
When breastfeeding stops, your body goes through certain changes. As a result, the milk-producing cells will gradually contract. This will make their size smaller and decreased stimulation of oxytocin & prolactin hormones might make you anxious. This hormonal change is temporary and you will be fine in no time. By any chance, if you feel your breasts are unfilled that’s again because of weaning. In short, the following are the changes that will occur to you -
Feeling of sadness
Saggy & engorged breasts
Drying milk production
4. Is it painful to wean off breastfeeding?
Even if you wean off gradually, you make experience mild pain and that’s normal. When you stop nursing your child, you still produce milk for a while. That’s because, during your last breastfeeding days, you might have pumped more often to stimulate the production of milk. Now, as a result, the milk supply takes the form of plugged ducts. Furthermore, these plugged ducts make their way through an agonizing condition called mastitis. Therefore, abrupt or sudden weaning may cause slightly more pain. You can look for these symptoms in case of breast infection -
Red lines on the breasts
A feeling of warmth when touched
5. How do you know when your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore?
If your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore, that’s probably because your child is self-weaning or is about to enter the weaning process. You can look for these signs to indicate such change -
Disinterested in breastfeeding
Shorter feeding sessions
Turns away from breasts & are distracted
Lose heed in breastfeeding
6. Is it safe to keep breastfeeding while pregnant?
It is perfectly safe to breastfeed while you’re pregnant. However, it is important to maintain a healthy diet throughout the period & make sure to avoid certain food items during breastfeeding & pregnancy. You may experience certain changes in your body like mild contractions. It does not cause any major harm and is usually safe during uncomplicated pregnancies. So, in the case of high-risk pregnancy, preterm labor, uterine pain, or if you’re carrying twins, you can consider weaning.
7. When will your breast milk dry up after quitting breastfeeding?
Breast milk can dry up just within a few days or may even take several weeks for some women. It won’t happen swiftly, but if you don’t nurse or pump, eventually the production will stop. You may go through some hormonal changes and the less you stimulate your breasts, the faster will be the drying up process.
8. Is it right to stop breastfeeding when your baby gets teeth?
No, it’s not necessary to stop breastfeeding when your baby starts teething. Usually, this is good because during the process, when their gums are paining, your breasts can provide comfort to them by being properly latched on. In some cases, some children aren’t hurt a bit when they’re teething. However, for those who are hurt, you can do the following things to help them out -
Offer your breasts for longer periods.
Try different breastfeeding positions so they are latched properly
Massage their gums with your clean finger
Offer something to gnaw on, for instance, a baby teether
Consult a lactation expert
When to quit breastfeeding is completely a decision for you to make and abide by. You mustn’t go with the flow with what your outside sources tell you. Instead, trust yourself and make sure your baby is ready for the process too. With the hope, that this guide walked you through the entire process, we’ll see you on the other side. In short, just make sure that you & your baby are comfortable and are clear about when to stop.
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