How to Stop Breastfeeding
Regardless of whether you’re one of the brave souls who managed to breastfeed for a year or more, or whether you decide early on that this pursuit is not for you, there comes a decisive moment in every new mother’s experience when she decides to stop breastfeeding. But especially for women whose milk supply is abundant, or whose babies are very attached to the process, the question becomes: how do you stop breastfeeding without enduring a world of pain?
Here are a few pointers.
Don’t go cold-turkey
Breast milk production is a self-fulfilling endeavour; the more you do it, the more milk your body produces. So the key to ramping down milk production is to train the body to produce less milk, which can only effectively and painlessly be done over time. The easiest thing to do is gradually drop one feed at a time; give the body a few days to adjust milk production accordingly after each drop, and only move towards eliminating the next feed once the new schedule is comfortable. The alternative, of course, is some very painful, swollen breasts.
Cold helps to slow milk production. So when you decide to stop breastfeeding, you can use ice packs (or packages of frozen peas) and take cold showers to slow the production of milk and reduce engorgement.
Don’t pump excessively
Many women assume that pumping excess milk will help make weaning more comfortable. But remember that the body produces milk according to the baby’s needs, and pumps are designed to mimic the baby’s suckling. So pumping to empty your full breasts can actually produce the opposite result: your body will assume the milk you remove is going to fulfill a baby’s needs and will, in fact, maintain or even increase milk production.
Pumping is an effective way to reduce painful swelling, but be sure to pump only to until you become physically comfortable again; do not drain the entire supply, or you could be giving your body mixed signals.
Continue the same feeding routine
In order to make the weaning process less difficult for the baby, it’s good to initially bottle-feed during those dropped feeds in the same manner that you would have breastfed (that is, in the same chair, a similar position, etc). This provides some measure of continuity, and ensures that the baby does not feel a change in the physical bonding that comes with breastfeeding. This makes it easier to “convince” babies they are not missing out when they no longer get to breastfeed.
If your child is almost one, or older, and already has solid food constitute a large proportion of their diet, this shift should be somewhat easier, as both your milk production and their dependence on this liquid portion of their diet is lower.
With a gradual ramp-down approach, supplemented by a few ice packs, you should be wean your baby with minimal physical discomfort in one to two weeks.