How to stop breastfeeding

It’s time to start the weaning process, but you’re not quite sure how you feel about it – or where to start. Don’t worry, having mixed emotions about how to stop nursing is completely normal.

The natural weaning process begins once your baby starts consuming anything other than breast milk and it usually takes some time before breastfeeding is completely replaced by other foods and drinks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding until the baby is six months old.

Breastfeeding has many benefits for you and your baby – even after the six-month mark. It protects them from infections and there is also some evidence that it aids them in digesting solid foods.

The WHO says weaning can start at 6 months
Quitting breastfeeding, however, doesn’t mean the end of these benefits or the end of the bond you two have created through breastfeeding.

This article covers the following topics:

  • When to stop breastfeeding
  • Reasons why moms stop breastfeeding
  • How long does it take to stop breastfeeding
    • How to stop breastfeeding quickly
    • How to slowly stop breastfeeding
    • How to safely stop breastfeeding
  • Weaning your baby from breastfeeding
    • Baby-led weaning
    • Mom-lead weaning
    • Night weaning
  • How to stop your breast milk supply
    • Home remedies to dry up your milk supply
  • How to take care of your breasts

When to stop breastfeeding

The WHO recommends that all babies are breastfed up until they are six months old, with continued breastfeeding alongside solid foods for up to two years – or longer.

If your baby is younger than one year old when you decide it’s time to start weaning, then breast milk should be replaced by formula feeding and not only solids. Two years is a long time, and some mothers are simply not able to breastfeed for that long.

top reasons moms stop breastfeeding

Some mothers have medical reasons for needing to stop nursing, some may have been experiencing excessive pain when breastfeeding or an insufficient breast milk supply.

Other moms may need medication, which could be passed on to the baby through breast milk if they don’t start weaning. Sometimes, moms need to go back to work and just can’t pump breast milk.

Top 3 reasons moms decide to stop breastfeeding:

  1. Baby has just become too busy: Your little bundle of joy has simply decided that your boob is no longer a priority right now. Breastfeeding can become a battlefield with a baby that is very busy exploring life.
  2. Discovering solid food: Your little one may begin to lose interest in breastfeeding in favour of all the interesting new tastes and textures.
  3. Mom’s lifestyle has changed: Breastfeeding takes two to tango, and whatever your reason, it’s time to quit breastfeeding.

Ultimately, the answer to the question ‘when should I stop breastfeeding?’ is that it’s completely up to you and your baby to decide.

Weaning from breastfeeding

No matter when, why or how, weaning your baby should be seen as a transition and another positive step in your little one’s development.

Don’t give your baby cow’s milk until they are at least a year old

Don’t forget that your baby’s very delicate digestive system will not be ready for cow’s milk until they are at least one year old.

Clinical Advisor Allison Jamieson says evidence now shows that cows’ milk is not suitable for babies under one year old as it contains higher levels of protein and salt (not safe for a baby’s immature kidneys). It also does not provide the vitamins and minerals a growing baby needs, especially iron.

How to stop breastfeeding

The one most important aspect of how to wean your baby is to offer breast milk or formula in a bottle or cup to supplement solid food. Remember, younger (one year or younger) babies still need what only formula/breast milk can give them.

How long does it take to stop breastfeeding?

It normally takes about 2-3 days for your body to adjust to just one less feeding, so the amount of time it will take depends on how often you are currently feeding or pumping per day.

Cutting out one breastfeed every few days, or even each week, depending on your comfort and your baby’s willingness to cooperate, can make the entire process of weaning less of a shock to your body as well as your baby.

Wean from breast milk to formula

Whether you’re switching completely to formula or just supplementing your breast milk, making the change gradually makes the process easier for you and your little one.

Remember this is a transition and therefore should not happen overnight.

  • Start with the feed of the day your baby seems least interested in to have more of a chance for success
  • For every breastfeed you drop, replace it with formula.

How to stop breast milk production without pain

When it comes to weaning your baby, the rule of thumb is to go as slowly as possible. This will protect your breasts from engorgement (breast tissue overfills with milk, blood and other fluids) and ease any anxiety your baby may feel.

There are different methods to stop breastfeeding

Ways to stop breastfeeding

There are quite a few ways to stop breastfeeding. Some methods take longer, while others can be achieved fairly quickly.

How to stop breastfeeding quickly

There is really no easy way to cold-turkey this one. Stopping breastfeeding too quickly can be very stressful for your young baby (toddlers, however, may find this method easier to cope with).

If you’re looking for tips to stop breastfeeding quickly, then:
a) consider waiting until your baby is at least four months old, and
b) cut one feed every two days.

This process will happen fairly quickly if all goes well and your baby is accepting of the change.

Stopping cold-turkey can be quite sore as your breasts become painfully engorged because they continue making normal amounts of milk.

Don’t be surprised if you leak everywhere for about a week if you do choose this method – your body will take time to adjust. You and your child may also experience a great deal of anxiety and stress during such a transition.

How to slowly stop breastfeeding

By slowly replacing breastfeeding sessions with formula/solids, your body slows down milk production to prevent engorgement. Stopping slowly is probably the least painful way to stop breastfeeding.

Cut out one feed and wait until your breasts are no longer uncomfortably full, usually about 48 hours, before cutting out another feed at a different time of day.

The last feeds to be swapped for formula should be the morning and the evening feeds. These are generally a baby’s favourite feeds and it will be easiest to keep them around the longest.

How to safely stop breastfeeding

As long as you are not replacing breastfeeding with solid foods immediately, you are safe.

When is it ok to safely stop breastfeeding

Remember that breast milk or formula should be your baby’s main source of nutrition for about the first year of life and stopping breastfeeding doesn’t mean this important fact falls away.

The concentration of antibodies to bacterial and viral diseases is increased as weaning progresses and milk supply reduces. The slower this process takes, the longer your baby is given to build up these antibodies.

How to wean a baby

Despite what all your friends, relatives, or even strangers (often acting like experts) may say, there’s no right or wrong way to wean. You can choose a time that feels right to you, or let your child wean naturally when they are older.

  • Baby-led weaning
  • Mother-led weaning
  • Night weaning

Baby-led weaning

How old should my baby be to start baby-led weaning?

It is easiest to wean your baby from the breast when your child begins to lose interest in breastfeeding on their own. This can happen any time after they start eating solids (around four to six months).

what is baby lead weaning (how to stop breastfeeding)

You may find that some babies are more interested in solid food than breast milk by the time they turn one year old, after they’ve tried a variety of foods.

If your baby has become fussy and impatient while nursing or is easily distracted, they may be giving you signs that they’re ready to be weaned from the breast.

What is baby-lead weaning?

Baby-led weaning is an approach to introducing solid foods and/or formula, while moving away from the breast. Your baby is given the chance, allowed and encouraged to self-feed solid finger foods instead of receiving only purées via spoon at meal times.

The frequency and length of feedings that stay behind can vary, according to the baby’s needs and interest in nursing. If your baby is distracted while nursing or does not want to latch anymore, stop. Give your baby the chance to try something new.

Baby-led weaning usually happens over a few months, during which breastfeeding patterns are often irregular. Your baby may only breastfeed in the morning or at night, or once every other day eventually.

Baby-led weaning encourages family/social eating so choose a time when you will be eating as well.

Baby lead weaning - make eating a family affair

How do I know when my baby is ready for baby-led weaning? 

  • They sit on their own.
  • They coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they will be able to bring foods to their mouths themselves.
  • They no longer have their tongue thrust reflex that pushes food out of their mouth instead of swallowing.

We suggest getting a high chair with a tray, and you can expect this experience to get a bit messy.

baby lead weaning - get a high chair as it can get messy

The best way to stop breastfeeding 

Remember that up until the age of one, babies still need formula if you are weaning from breastmilk. Try to make the bottle or cup something that goes just before some interesting new foods (or they may be too full to drink it after eating).

Foods to avoid:

  • Foods that could be a choking hazard (nuts, tomatoes, etc.)
  • Allergy-causing foods
  • Raw or undercooked foods
  • Foods containing added salt or sugar
  • Processed or “junk” food (this is important, or you may have trouble at a later stage).

Baby-led weaning is not the golden rule, however, and it doesn’t work for everyone. Some babies are not ready for solids yet and mommy will still need to lead the way.

Mother-led weaning

When it’s mommy’s idea, weaning can (and probably will) take a lot more time and patience.

how to stop breastfeeding use mother lead weaning

If you’re ready but your child isn’t showing signs that they want to stop breastfeeding just yet, then the mother-led weaning process is probably what you’re going to be moving towards.

We still advise avoiding the ‘cold-turkey’ method as such an abrupt change can be traumatic for your baby and for your body, too.

“When it comes to weaning your baby, the rule of thumb is to go as slowly as possible.”

How to get started with mother-led weaning:

  1. Skip a feed: Every two to three days, drop a feed and replace it with formula (for all babies under the age of one) or with some solids or homemade baby food.
  2. Drop the afternoon feed first: Many moms will advise that this is the least daunting place to start.
  3. Shorten feeding times: If you plan on dropping a feed in the next day or two, then specifically cut that feed short for the next few days leading up to it.
  4. Expect some resistance: Remember that your baby doesn’t really want to stop breastfeeding yet, so resisting the bottle, cup or foods is normal.
  5. Be patient: If the whole process is a bit stressful, breathe. It will happen.

If you’re trying to ease your baby’s transition from the breast to a bottle, then putting a few drops of breast milk on their lips or tongue before slipping the bottle’s teat into their mouth can work really well. The taste will be familiar and they may be more willing to give it a go.

Night weaning

In a perfect world, your baby no longer wakes up in the night begging for a feed because they are hungry. You get to sleep through and your bundle of joy is there smiling at you in the morning waiting for a cuddle. Some moms can be so lucky, but this is not the norm.

What is night weaning and how does it help me stop breastfeeding

Babies under the age of four months need the extra calories during the night and they will need to wake you up (they wake up because they are really hungry).

After the four-month mark, your baby should be able to sleep for at least a five-hour stretch before really getting hungry.

How to night wean

Wondering how or where to start? If your baby wakes up in the night just to fall asleep after a little bit of sucking, they may be ready to sleep through.

how to stop breastfeeding - night wean

To transition over to sleeping through, try these little tricks to help you:

  1. Shorten your night feeds every night until your baby isn’t waking up anymore (this can take up to two weeks).
  2. Try to get your baby to drink and eat more during the day, especially before bedtime. Feeding too early could result in your baby getting hungry in the night.
  3. Feed nutrient-rich foods during the day to up their calorie intake. Babies will often stop waking up in the night when their daily diet is sufficient.
  4. Stop using your breast to soothe. Some babies simply feel that they need to fall asleep while feeding. Your baby will need to find a new way to soothe and this is the perfect opportunity for your partner to take over.

how to stop breastfeeding - get dad involved with bottle feeding

Tips to stop breastfeeding

Here are some things to get the best out of this transition:

  • Timing is everything. Make sure you and your baby are ready for this transition.
  • Eliminate stressors. Don’t let a weekend away or a work deadline be the reason you are quitting breastfeeding. A deadline means added stress that your baby will detect.
  • Ensure good nutrition during this time. Eating the correct and sufficient amount of calories will make this process easier.
  • Start night weaning first.
  • Use a pump.
  • Manage breast pain and pay attention to what your body is telling you.
  • Comfort your baby and stay calm.
  • Wean slowly. Take your time.

Tips on how to stop breastfeeding - use a breast pump

How to stop your breast milk supply

Are you wondering how to stop milk supply? The answer is simple: when you stop breastfeeding, your milk will eventually stop coming in.

Some medications can stop milk production and ‘the pill’ is known to do this too. However, if you are wanting to get pregnant again soon then this option is not for you.

How long does it take for breast milk to dry up?

The process of drying up your milk can either happen fairly quickly (days) or a little longer (weeks) depending on how long your body has been producing milk. Usually, the longer you have been nursing, the longer it will take to dry up your milk.

Wear a supportive, well-fitting bra such as a sports bra while your milk is drying up. This will support your breasts and help keep you comfortable.

Home remedies to stop breastfeeding

For moms looking for a more natural approach to drying up their milk, various herbs have been used by different cultures for centuries. Herbs can act just like medications, so talk to your practitioner before taking these.

  1. Using sage
    Sage contains a natural form of oestrogen that can help dry up milk.

Taking a quarter/half a teaspoon of sage three times a day for one to three days will help encourage your body to stop producing milk. Sage can be found in the form of a herbal tea and three cups of this a day will do the trick, too.

2. Cook with parsley
Parsley is considered a very effective way to reduce the production of breast milk. This method will be most efficient if added fresh to a salad.

3. Cold compress
Wondering what to put on your breasts to stop breastfeeding? This will ease pain and discomfort caused by stopping breastfeeding. Wrap some ice in a towel and apply to your breasts every two to three hours to reduce pain.

4. Cold cabbage leaves
Head over to your local grocery store and grab some cabbages, because this vegetable has plenty of mommy-fans raving about its success.

Cold cabbage leaves help dry up breast milk supply

Do cabbage leaves help reduce milk supply?

Cold cabbage leaves are helpful in reducing milk supply and easing the pain of having full breasts. Here’s how to use them:

  1. Separate some leaves.
  2. Rinse, dry and refrigerate the leaves.
  3. Wrap them around your breasts, leaving your nipple exposed to breathe.
  4. Keep the leaves on for a couple of hours.
  5. Use the cabbage leaves for as long as your breasts feel full.

How to take care of your breasts after stopping breastfeeding

Naturally, your breasts will need some TLC during the process of quitting breastfeeding and this will continue for a while after you’ve stopped.

how to take care of your breast after stopping breastfeeding - exercise

Here are some things you can do to get your breasts back to normal again:

  • Balanced diet: Eat a healthy diet containing fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein.
  • Provide good support: A good bra will ease pain and discomfort.
  • Massage your breasts in the shower: Using first hot, then cold water will help make your muscles flexible as this promotes blood circulation.
  • Exercise: This will promote blood circulation, so start with simple exercises such as jogging, swimming and walking.
  • Moisturise: Rub a lotion or oil (such as tissue oil) on your breasts.

Whether you’re quitting breastfeeding because you are ready or because your baby is the one leading the way, hopefully, we have equipped you with enough information, tips and tricks to get you on your way to putting the breastfeeding days behind you.

weaning is a personal choice & mom and baby get to decide when to stop breastfeeding

Weaning is entirely a personal choice and you shouldn’t feel pressured to carry on longer than you feel is right. That being said, you don’t need to stop when people tell you to, either. You are in charge.

Remember our top tip: This will probably not happen overnight. Slow and steady wins the race!

Also read:

Weaning ways
Laying nutritional foundations

View our articles, competitions and promotions on BabyYumYum for all things parenting. SA's #1 Parenting Portal.