If you are able to and you want to, breastfeeding can be one of the most rewarding things a new mom can experience. However, at some point you or your baby will be ready to wean.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively feeding with breast milk (either breastfeeding or with a bottle) for at least the first six months and offering breast milk for at least a year. That said, how long a mom offers breast milk to her baby is first and foremost a personal choice.
Breast milk is full of antibodies, stem cells and proteins that are made specifically for your baby. The more breast milk babies can get and the longer they get it, the better. Some moms believe if they can’t provide a full supply at every feeding, they should stop. Remember, any amount of breast milk benefits your baby, so even if you have a low supply, nursing is healthy for however long you can do it.
When the time comes that either baby or mom is ready to transition off breastfeeding/breast milk, it’s important to wean gradually. Gradual weaning can take a week or more to reduce milk production. Abruptly stopping breastfeeding or pumping could lead to mastitis (a breast infection) and can be difficult for your baby to adjust.
To stop breastfeeding, start by eliminating the nighttime feeding and replacing it with a bottle of pumped milk or formula. In a day or two, replace another breastfeeding session with a bottle. Repeat this process every couple days until you have eliminated all breastfeedings. Your baby should now be on all bottle feeds and/or baby foods (or cup feeds and table food if older than 1 year).
During the weaning process, your baby may become fussy or needy and may need to snuggle with you more. If they whine or tug at you to breastfeed, offer a drink from a bottle or cup. You can also offer a comfort toy or blanket to help the baby soothe themselves.
To stop pumping, start by increasing the time between your pump sessions by 30-60 minutes once or twice a day. Repeat this process every couple days, gradually reducing how often you are pumping.
Once you have decreased your pump sessions to a few times a day, pump only until you are comfortable and softer, not empty. After several days of this you should be able to eliminate all pump sessions. Keep in mind that you may still have some milk in your breasts but you should not feel the need to pump them.
If you have breast discomfort, apply ice packs. Pain medication such as ibuprofen can also help decrease inflammation and discomfort. If your breasts become painful, you may need to pump until your body stops making milk. For extreme discomfort, such as flu-like symptoms or extreme tenderness or redness of the breast, call you doctor as you may have mastitis.
When you wean, you may experience a shift in your hormones. It is not unusual to feel a bit sad or depressed when this happens. This typically lasts for a week or two. If these feelings get worse or last longer than a few weeks, you should speak to your doctor.
Remember, feeding your baby breast milk is one of the best things you can do. Once you have weaned, be proud of the wonderful start you have given your baby.