Every day, new mothers across the world face questions about how to feed their babies. As your newborn grows, you begin to think more and more about these questions. When should you stop breastfeeding? What is the healthiest way to make this transition? New mothers receive so many opinions on this delicate subject from doctors, family members, and other parents. It can be overwhelming, and we put together this short guide to give you some concise and simple advice.
For all mothers, making decisions about what is best for their babies and their bodies can be stressful and confusing. Here is what you need to know to make the most well-informed and healthy weaning choices for your new baby.
How long should I breastfeed?
The World Health Organization advises exclusively breastfeeding for at least 6 months. Making sure this period of time is met before you stop breastfeeding will ensure that your baby gets the maximum health and wellness benefits that breastmilk and breastfeeding have been scientifically proven time and again to support.
According to the NHS, breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk of stomach issues, infections, and SIDS, and even lower their chances of developing the cardiovascular illness as an adult. No other food is perfectly designed to support every aspect of your individual baby’s developmental needs. To ensure that your little one gets the healthiest possible start in life, breastfeeding is very important.
When should I stop breastfeeding?
There is no time-limit on the health benefits of breastfeeding, but after 6 months of age, breast milk can no longer be your baby’s sole source of food. After 6 months, you will need to introduce complementary feeding with baby food or other soft and gentle foods to provide your baby with a balanced diet.
Throughout this process, you may continue to breastfeed for as long as you like; it’s up to you to decide when to stop, and why.
There are a number of factors to keep in mind as you decide when to stop breastfeeding. Here are some of the most common reasons why mothers decide it’s time for a change:
Breastfeeding fatigue, work, or other commitments: breastfeeding or pumping can be taxing on a mother’s body and mind, and sometimes it is not sustainable to keep going as desired, especially if they are working, studying, or doing something else. Help from family and friends is important to keep breastfeeding going.
Concerns about low milk production: is breastfeeding enough for the baby? Is the baby getting enough milk and gaining weight? These questions have probably been in the head of every breastfeeding mother. In most cases, breastfeeding is enough but still, some mothers prefer to quit breastfeeding rather than risking underfeeding the baby. Some studies have found that professional support can be very helpful to sustain mothers and to keep them breastfeeding for longer.
On the other hand, some women simply produce more breast milk than others. A variety of environmental, medical, and genetic conditions beyond your control may cause your milk supply to be low.
During the crucial first 6 months of nursing, breast pumps and certain milk expression strategies can help mothers with low milk supplies feed their babies. After 6 months, many of these mothers choose to wean rather than continue the struggle of low-milk breastfeeding. Other women may run out of milk entirely after a certain period of time, making stopping breastfeeding a necessity.
Pain: For many mothers, extended breastfeeding can cause painful side effects like cracked nipples or sore breasts. Some of these problems are related to improper latch which can start a cascade of negative events that might seriously undermine breastfeeding. Read here if you want to have more about the latch on the breast.
Nipple confusion or baby bottle refusal: Nipple confusion is another common reason why many mothers decide it’s time to quit breastfeeding. Once you begin introducing an occasional bottle to your baby’s mealtime routine, they may begin having trouble switching back to the breast. On the other hand, if the baby is struggling to get used to bottles and you can’t be present all the time, weaning as soon as possible might be the only choice.
What are the side effects of stopping breastfeeding?
Changes occur to both the mother’s body and her baby’s routine when she decides to stop breastfeeding. For mothers, the side effects of stopping breastfeeding stem from the extraction of milk suddenly stopping. This may lead to health issues such as blocked ducts, abscesses, and mastitis when milk that would usually be expressed is blocked instead. As you stop breastfeeding, consider using a pump to express milk with the same regularity to avoid these medical side effects.
What is the best way to stop breastfeeding?
Experts agree that weaning should be a gradual change and one good advice is to drop one feed at the time, leaving the ones you feel more comfortable with at the end (for instance if you like to breastfeed at night, drop the morning sessions first). According to the NHS, the compounds in breast milk actually help your baby’s digestive system break down solid foods or formulas; therefore, supplementing your baby’s first solid foods with intervals of breastfeeding helps to contribute to overall digestive health. A gradual transition with complementary feeding will also reduce a mother’s risk of blocked ducts or mastitis.
Remember, the smallest changes can be overwhelming for infants who are experiencing our world for the very first time. The shape and texture of a standard baby bottle are drastically different from a mother’s breast, and many babies will refuse a bottle that is hard, narrow, and unfamiliar. The best way to stop breastfeeding is to keep nipple confusion in mind.
In summary, there are many reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding, and being such a personal matter, every mother has the right to do whatever she feels right for herself and the baby. However, in many cases, lack of professional support might be the reason why breastfeeding is discontinued. So, asking for help from a lactation consultant can be very important to keep your breastfeeding journey alive!
One last piece of advice…
If at any point you will need a baby bottle for your breastfed baby, it might be wise to choose a product that is as similar as possible to a natural breast so to avoid problems of nipple confusion or baby bottle refusal. Either if you are thinking about stopping breastfeeding altogether, or you want to alternate it with bottles, if your baby is used to the breast you should always look for something very similar to it. With this idea in mind, we created the Teatle and the innovative REALATCH technology that conforms to your baby’s mouth as they nurse, mimicking the texture and shape of a natural breast.