How to know when to stop breastfeeding is a question many mothers wrestle with. There’s no right answer for everyone, but in this article, we will discuss ten possible reasons why it might be a good time to wean.
There comes a time in every mother’s life when she has to decide whether or not to continue breastfeeding her child. It can be a difficult decision, and there are a lot of factors to consider. It is also a personal decision that others can’t make for you. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you make the best decision for you and your baby.
Figuring out when to stop breastfeeding can be confusing and overwhelming. While it is recommended to breastfeed for the first year of life, sometimes that isn’t possible. If you have a child that has passed their first birthday, you might wonder if it’s a good time to wean or if there are continued benefits for an older baby or toddler.
Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and there is no right or wrong answer. You may wonder how long you should breastfeed, when the right time to stop is, or when to begin the weaning process. Some women choose to breastfeed for years, while others stop after a few months. Ultimately, you should continue breastfeeding as long as it works for you and your baby.
- Reasons to Consider Weaning
- Your Baby Weans Themselves:
- Your Mental Health is at Stake:
- Managing Your Milk Supply is Too Overwhelming
- Food Allergies
- Nursing Aversion/Agitation
- Medical Reasons
- Work/Breastfeeding Balance is too Much
- It’s Too Painful
- It’s Negatively Impacting Your Life:
- Major Life Change
- Baby Cannot Breastfeed
- You’re Just Done
- What Professionals Say
- When Someone Tells You to Stop
- Questions to Ask Yourself:
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing
- How to Start Weaning
- What Matters to You
Reasons to Consider Weaning
Your Baby Weans Themselves:
Most babies will wean themselves eventually, so don’t feel like you have to force it if things are going on. If your baby is no longer interested in breastfeeding, they might have already moved on.
However, a nursing strike should not be seen as self-weaning. When a child goes through a nursing strike (especially for the age of one), focusing on gentle encouragement to get them back to the breast will get them back.
Most of the time, babies won’t self-wean themselves until at least 18 months – but often, it’s much later. If breastfeeding is working well for you and it makes sense to let your child decide they are ready to be weaned – you can certainly let your child be the one to let you know they are done.
Your Mental Health is at Stake:
If breastfeeding impacts your mental health and there seems to be no end in sight, it might be time to stop or slow down breastfeeding.
When this happens, I recommend working with a lactation consultant. Sometimes they can offer your some ways to continue breastfeeding that might be less stressful – and other times, they can provide you with the support you need to be okay with discontinuing breastfeeding.
And often, you will know that it’s time if this is the case.
With my second child, breastfeeding was hard. I was stressed out by all the conflicting information I was getting. However, the thought of stopping breastfeeding was way worse on my mental health than the thought of pushing through and figuring out the problems.
Even though it was hard, continuing to breastfeed made the most sense. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “If I stop breastfeeding, will it lift a weight off my chest or make me feel worse.”
Managing Your Milk Supply is Too Overwhelming
Having an issue with milk production isn’t a reason for your breastfeeding journey to end altogether; UNLESS the impact of your efforts to manage your supply is taking a significant toll on you.
Many mothers with low milk supply find a groove that they feel comfortable with that includes:
On the flip side, having an oversupply can cause various issues, including:
- Recurrent clogged ducts
- Extreme breast engorgement
- Tummy problems caused by oversupply
- Breast abscess
Working with an IBCLC can help you find a way to lower your milk supply.
Sometimes there will be sudden drops in milk supply due to things outside your control, including:
- Hormonal changes (such as pregnancy, birth control, or periods)
- Drastic changes in diet or exercise
- The impact of stress
- Lack of or decreased stimulation
While it is possible to recover from these, some moms take this as a sign that they should be done breastfeeding.
Food allergies can be tricky to navigate. If your child appears to have a food allergy or sensitivity, you can often remove that allergen from your diet and continue to breastfeed successfully.
For instance, one of the most common allergies in infants is dairy allergies. It’s not easy to navigate, but you can continue breastfeeding. Here is a great article on that topic – The Ultimate Guide to Dairy-Free Breastfeeding (From a Dairy-Free Mom)
However, this is just too much to navigate for some moms, and stopping breastfeeding to use a hypoallergenic formula may be easier.
- Hormonal shifts from menstrual cycles or birth control
- Stress from breastfeeding
- Sleep deprivation
- Feeling touched out
While there are ways to overcome these, if it’s becoming too much for you, that can definitely be a legitimate reason to stop.
While many medical conditions – for both mom and baby – are compatible with breastfeeding, there can be some situations where you need to stop breastfeeding for medical reasons:
- Medications – there are many medications that are compatible with breastfeeding. Many women are told to stop for certain medications, when they really don’t need to. I always recommend reaching out to Infant Risk for their opinion. With that said, there are certain medications that you shouldn’t take while breastfeeding, including (per NIH):
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Antiretroviral medications
- Illegal Drugs
- Certain mood stabilizers
- Certain migraine medications
- Seizure medications
- Certain medications that cause extreme drowsiness
- Certain sedatives
- Certain Infectious Diseases – There are some infectious diseases that can be transferred to an infant. If you have any of these, you should work closely with your medical provider (per NIH):
- Untreated, active Tuberculosis
- Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
- Certain Metabolic Disorders – There are some metabolic/inherited conditions that a child might have which can make breastfeeding difficult. PKU is one of the most well-known metablic disorders in infants – and with special attention, breastfeeding is possible, however, you need to work with a specialist.
- Cancer – Depending on your treatment, it may be necessary to stop breastfeeding due to a cancer diagnosis
If you need to take medication that isn’t compatible with breastfeeding, you might have to stop. Talk to your doctor to see if there are any other options available.
Work/Breastfeeding Balance is too Much
It is challenging to be a working and pumping mom, even in the best of circumstances. For some moms, pumping at work is just impossible. Without the right support, it can make more sense for you to stop breastfeeding – though always consider all your options if breastfeeding is a priority.
Your body will adjust to morning and evening feedings, so it is possible to still nurse at home while giving infant formula or donor milk while you are at work.
It’s Too Painful
Breastfeeding pain is common – but not normal. This can be due to many reasons, including latch issues, tongue-tie, breast infection, nipple damage, etc.
Pain with breastfeeding can often be resolved with the right support from a lactation consultant. If it’s so painful and you don’t see any end in sight, some women may choose to stop breastfeeding.
It’s Negatively Impacting Your Life:
If breastfeeding negatively impacts your life, it might be time to stop. This includes anything from feeling overwhelmed to feeling like you cannot do anything else because you’re always nursing.
This can happen when you don’t have much support from friends or family members. If you feel like you don’t have anyone you can relate to, reaching out to a support group (either in person or online) might help you.
Major Life Change
Sometimes there may be a major life change – a new job, death of a loved one, or sudden illness- making it hard to breastfeed. This may sometimes necessitate sudden weaning.
Baby Cannot Breastfeed
Some situations where a baby cannot breastfeed – genetic disorders, cleft palates, or prematurity are some of these situations.
This doesn’t mean you can’t eventually breastfeed or that you can’t pump, but they can be pretty overwhelming. Choosing not to breastfeed or pump in these situations would be understandable, especially if you don’t have a lot of support.
You’re Just Done
This might be the most obvious sign that it’s time to stop breastfeeding. Often, you just come to a point where you’re done – you might be ready to get your body back to yourself, go on a trip and not worry about pumping, or feel like your journey has come to an end.
And that’s okay. You don’t need a reason or to justify stopping to anyone else. If you’re ready to be done breastfeeding, that is the only reason you need.
What Professionals Say
Various professional organizations guide when to stop breastfeeding. These are just guidelines but may weigh into your decision:
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods until two years of age or beyond.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, continuing breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced for at least one year and up to 2 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, continuing breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced for at least one year.
La Leche League International recommends breastfeeding for as long as it makes sense for both mom and baby, which they recognize might be a few weeks for some moms and a few years for others. However, one of their founding principles is that “Ideally, the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.“
When Someone Tells You to Stop
It’s important to note that no one can tell you to stop breastfeeding – only you can make that decision. Even if you experience a drop in milk supply or your child goes through a nursing strike, you can choose to continue trying.
If someone, including a healthcare professional, tells you that you need to stop breastfeeding, ask for more information. There might be a valid reason why they think you should stop, but it’s always up to you to decide.
It’s always okay to get a second opinion. If someone tells you that your child is too old, it’s gross; it makes them uncomfortable, etc., I would share your reasons for breastfeeding and ask for them to support you.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
When trying to decide if it’s time to stop breastfeeding, ask yourself the following questions:
- How is breastfeeding going for me and my baby?
- What are the health benefits of breastfeeding for both of us? Does the impact of breastfeeding on my child’s immune system matter a lot to me?
- Do I feel like I’m able to continue breastfeeding?
- Is there someone I can go to for breastfeeding support?
- What would happen if I stopped breastfeeding? Would I miss the feeling of closeness that comes from breastfeeding?
- How old is my baby?
- Do they seem to take a bottle or sippy cup well?
- Is breastfeeding negatively impacting my life in any way?
- Can my baby breastfeed?
- What do I want for myself and my baby?
There can be many good reasons for continuing to breastfeed and discontinuing, and sometimes when you ask yourself these questions, the decision can become clearer.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Remember – breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing. There are many ways you can make breastfeeding work in your life beyond nursing from the breast around the clock.
Some people might decide to night wean – and the new ability to sleep can make it easier to breastfeed during the day. Some may want to continue night nursing but stop daytime weaning.
Whatever you do, just make sure you keep in mind your child’s age and development to ensure they are still getting the nutrition they need.
How to Start Weaning
If you have decided to start the weaning process, I highly recommend checking out our free Weaning Starter Kit – which you can signup for below.
Beyond that, you can consider whether the introduction of solid foods happened, how they respond to a sippy cup or bottle-feeding, and whether their appropriate foods are available to help with the weaning process.
If possible, avoiding going cold turkey is ideal – slowly dropping feeds usually is best for your body and mind. Regardless of what you do, make sure there are plenty of cuddles involved!
What Matters to You
Ultimately, you are the one who will decide when to stop breastfeeding. There is no best time to wean for every family and situation. You need to weigh all the pros and cons and decide what matters most to you. There is no right or wrong answer – only what is best for you and your baby.
When did you realize it was time to stop breastfeeding? Be sure to share in the comments!
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Katie Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.