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How to stop breastfeeding and what to expect physically and emotionally

How do you know when it's to stop breastfeeding? It's very personal.
A lactation consultant offers tips for parents on how to stop breastfeeding.
A lactation consultant offers tips for parents on how to stop breastfeeding.David Trood / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Nursing mothers choose to wean their babies for many different reasons at many different times, but whenever they decide to do it, the question remains about how to stop breastfeeding once and for all.

Simply put, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for how to stop breastfeeding, according to registered nurse and lactation consultant Hillary Sadler. The timing will also be different for every mother.

“I always tell moms to make sure you’re ‘really ready' because it’s the end of a season and with it may come feelings of guilt or emotions they might not have expected,” Sadler says. “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.”

Once the breastfeeding parent decides that the timing is right, they may wonder how to stop breastfeeding at night or how to avoid mastitis. Many want to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula but don't know how how to do it or where to start. Sadler, the founder of Baby Settler, a sleep and lactation education brand, is here to help with all of the above and more.

When to stop breastfeeding

Sadler shares that some of the most difficult conversations she has with moms are about when and how 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 says.

"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."

Hillary Sadler, Lactation consultant

Sadler tells 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 says. "This is when it’s time 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 says.

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," then Sadler says an expert might help

"I highly recommend working one on one with a lactation consultant before you stop breastfeeding," Sadler says. "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," or "breastfeeding is making me feel anxious or sad," then Sadler is very clear on the next step.

"It’s time to stop breastfeeding," Sadler says bluntly.

How to stop breastfeeding

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

  • Make sure you understand how to “stop” breastfeeding

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

  • 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 says. "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 says.

  • Expect to feel a rollercoaster of emotions

"Your hormones will be fluctuating as your body stops producing breast milk," Sadler says. "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 says, adding that cold therapy can help with inflammation. "If you’re experiencing moderate to severe engorgement, reach out to a lactation consultant for help."