Breastfeeding is a new experience for a first time mother, one that is both uncomfortable and difficult to adjust to in the beginning. However, as you get used to feeding, both you and your baby may find the activity comforting and bonding. As your baby starts to grow up, you are faced with the question of how stop breastfeeding and when to do it. This post attempts to help you find the answers.

When to Stop Breastfeeding Your Baby

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you breastfeed your baby for at least 6 months and up to one year for optimum growth and health. This can be extended for a longer time if both mother and child are comfortable with it.

AAP recommends delaying the introduction of formula for as long as possible. That’s because a teaspoon of breast milk has more calories than a teaspoon of baby food and its more straightforward to give it as well. If you plan on introducing solid foods, doing so after 6 months is the healthiest option.

Mothers who exclusively breastfeed their babies for 6 months experience the benefits of greater postpartum weight loss and lower risk of breast cancer, while the babies themselves have lesser chances of catching ear infections and suffering from gastrointestinal illnesses.

Stopping breastfeeding suddenly is not good for you or the baby. Your breasts will become engorged, you’ll be leaking milk, and will be in a lot of pain. Your baby will also be deeply upset.  When to stop breastfeeding your baby therefore depends on how easy and comfortable it is for the both of you.

How to Stop Breastfeeding Your Baby

Your baby’s natural instincts are usually a good guide on when to start weaning breastfeeding. As soon as your baby is able to sit up with little or no support, start introducing him/her to your mealtimes. Ideally this should be a time when your baby is not hungry or sleepy. Place the baby on your lap or a high chair so that he/she can easily reach for the food. You can either share your plate with your baby or place a few pieces of food especially for him/her.

If you are sharing your plate, make sure that the food you are eating is healthy, because your baby may just decide to pick some off your plate and put it in the mouth. Thinly sliced cooked vegetables and small pieces of fruits are a great place to start. You can gradually introduce other foods but avoid readymade meals and junk food. Offer water for your baby during mealtimes, but don’t be surprised if it is rejected. Your baby may still prefer to have breast milk and if he/she demands she be fed, go ahead and do it.

Babies will rarely want to stop breastfeeding on their own, at least until the first birthday. However, even if babies no longer rely on breast milk for nourishment, you can still continue to breastfeed if that’s what you or your baby wants. The World Health Organization recommends that all babies be breastfed for at least two years, but there is no specific age limit.

If your baby seems perfectly content with feeding, but you want to stop it, do it gradually. You can stop drop one feed at a time, preferably the daytime feeds. You can gradually reduce the frequency and amount of nursing time. Night time feeds can continue for a longer time as it is a lot difficult to stop. You can try new sleeping arrangements, distractions such as a music, swaying, dummies, whichever works for you.

Once you’ve not breastfed for a few days, the milk will start to change taste and become salty and unappetizing. This will take much of the work out of the weaning process.

How to Stop Breastfeeding When Your Child is Not Ready

In many cases, breastfeeding gradually wanes as the child starts to outgrow the need for it. Sometimes, you may decide to stop weaning, but if the child wants to continue, you may have to try different strategies to help your child give it up.

  • Don’t offer to breastfeed your child. Simply wait until he/she asks. The child will gradually stop asking and you’ll feel less guilty about denying your child.
  • When your sense that your child is about to ask for a feed, offer a distraction, such as a trip to the shop or a game.
  • Get your partner or other family member to take care of the child at key feeding times.
  • If your baby’s sleep pattern involves breastfeeding before winding off to sleep, try changing the sleep routine before you completely wean off.
  • If your child is old enough, simply tell him/her that he/she is too old for breast milk. Reassure and comfort your child with hugs and kisses, but stick to your approach and he/she will gradually accept it.

How Long Will it Take to Stop Breastfeeding?

It can take as little as a few weeks or up to 6 months to stop breastfeeding. If your baby is quickly bored, it might end sooner, but if your baby is emotionally attached, it may take longer.

Breast-feeding is a personal and intimate activity that bonds you and your child. Just as the baby has difficulties letting go, you may also have mixed emotions about stopping it. Therefore, take a gradual approach to weaning and offer plenty of love and support to your child to help make the transition to a bottle or cup smooth and natural.