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How to stop breastfeeding and what to expect physically and emotionally

How to know when to stop breastfeeding? It's very personal.
A lactation consultant gives tips on how to stop breastfeeding.
A lactation consultant gives tips on how to stop breastfeeding.David Trood / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for how to stop breastfeeding, and nursing mothers may choose to wean their babies for many reasons.

You may want to know how to stop breastfeeding at night, or how to stop breastfeeding without getting mastitis. Many parents want to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula.

Registered nurse and lactation consultant Hillary Sadler told TODAY Parents that mothers should stop breastfeeding when they are ready and emphasized that the timing will be different for every mother.

"I always tell moms to make sure you’re 'really readybecause it’s the end of a season and with it may come feelings of guilt or emotions they might not have expected," Sadler said. "On the other hand, when a mother gets to the point where she’s knows she’s ready, stopping breastfeeding, no matter when that is, is the right thing to do."

How to stop breastfeeding

Sadler, the founder of Baby Settler, a sleep and lactation education brand, shared that some of the most difficult conversations she has with moms surround how and when to stop breastfeeding.

"You can blame it on our hospital policies, society or social media, but many mothers feel guilty if they aren’t able to breastfeed, or provide breast milk, to their baby," Sadler said.

Related: Breastfeeding mom fights off bald eagle to save pet goose

Sadler told TODAY Parents that when the mother’s mental health is being negatively affected, it’s time to consider weaning.

"There are times mothers become overwhelmed and the continuation of breastfeeding might negatively affect the mother-child relationship," she said. "This is when it’s time to stop breastfeeding."

When to stop breastfeeding

Sadler recommends making a list of the reasons “why” you are ready to stop breastfeeding.

"Look at that list for a few days before you start the process of weaning," she said.

If the list consists of things like: Breastfeeding hurts, I want to get more sleep, or I’m worried my baby isn’t getting enough breastmilk

"I highly recommend working one on one with a lactation consultant before you stop breastfeeding," Sadler said. "There could be solutions to meet your needs that will allow you to continue breastfeeding if you desire."

 If your list consists of things like: I don’t enjoy breastfeeding. I’m not able to enjoy my baby when I’m breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is making me feel anxious or sad

"It’s time to stop breastfeeding," Sadler said.

Related: Breastfeeding diet: What to eat and drink while breastfeeding

Tips for how to stop breastfeeding

Sadler emphasized that no matter when a mother decides to wean, the decision to stop is theirs alone.

"You don’t need permission from anyone to stop breastfeeding, however, if you’re looking for support and validation along the way, reach out to a friend, family member, postpartum support group, or even look on social media for a community to support you," she said.

Make sure you understand how to “stop” breastfeeding.

"I don’t recommend stopping abruptly," Sadler said.

Make a plan.

"A lactation consultant can help you come up with a personalized plan for weaning if you’re looking for more support," Sadler said. "Breastmilk or formula should be your baby’s primary source of nutrition during the first 12 months of their life. Have a plan for the transition to formula."

Go slow.

“A gradual wean, dropping one feed every 3 to 5 days, is ideal both physically and emotionally," Sadler said.

Expect to feel a rollercoaster of emotions.

"Your hormones will be fluctuating as your body stops producing breast milk," Sadler said. "I think many women are surprised by their emotions when they stop breastfeeding — even though they might have been really ready to stop — give yourself grace."

Engorgement will happen.

"It’s your body’s way of telling your breasts that you don’t need that milk anymore," Sadler said, adding that cold therapy can help with inflammation. "If you’re experiencing moderate to severe engorgement, reach out to a lactation consultant for help."

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