Choosing to stop breastfeeding
The question of when to stop breastfeeding is a personal one and will depend entirely on your individual circumstances. Sometimes there are very practical reasons for choosing to stop breastfeeding and sometimes problems will mean breastfeeding is not possible for you or your baby.
The NHS recommends that every child is exclusively breastfed until six months(1). Similarly, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to six months with continued breastfeeding alongside suitable complementary foods up to the age of two or older.(2) However, these are just guidelines and what you choose to do will depend on a range of individual factors.
Reasons to stop breastfeeding
There are two major reasons why women choose to stop breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding is proving too challenging
Whether your baby won’t latch on, is not gaining weight, is not feeding well or you are suffering from breastfeeding-related pain and/or anxiety, there are many possible difficulties that might prompt you to consider bringing breastfeeding to an end. Before you make the decision final, it may be worth seeking the help of your GP, midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor.
If you do decide to stop early, don’t be tempted to see it as a failure; the most important thing is that your baby receives a nutritious diet and neither of you suffers physically or emotionally in an attempt to keep on breastfeeding when your circumstances are not conducive.
Returning to employment
Before stopping breastfeeding purely because you are going back to work, bear in mind that workplaces should be flexible to your needs and should, where necessary, provide you with a suitably private place to breastfeed and/or express milk.(3)
Breastfeeding can also be a great way for you and your baby to continue to bond if you have to return to work quickly and are spending fewer hours together at home. It also means your baby will receive antibodies through your breast milk to help protect her from infections which you might bring home from the workplace or that she might pick up while in childcare.
Of course, if you are away for extended periods or are finding it too challenging trying to combine breastfeeding with your return to work, you may decide it is best to stop – this is your prerogative.
What if your partner wants you to stop breastfeeding?
It is not uncommon for partners of breastfeeding women to resent the feeding process and to hope that it comes to an end as soon as possible. This is frequently related to sex and the partner’s pre-parenthood experience of the breasts being exclusively “theirs”.
However, your partner’s feelings should not be the major consideration as breastfeeding is all about mother and baby. Of course, this does not mean you should disregard your partner’s reservations. Instead, talk to them about breastfeeding, its benefits and why you wish to continue. You can also help to reassure them that it won’t be this way forever. If you are feeling under too much pressure, you should contact your breastfeeding counsellor or health visitor for help or advice.
Time to move to solid foods – weaning
Ideally, you should begin the process of weaning at any time from six months. At this point, your baby will probably be ready to start sampling solid foods. However, breast milk should remain their major source of calories for some time and toddlers who continue to have breast milk alongside a nutritious diet of solid foods are likely to have stronger immune systems
The weaning period may last months or even years and, in many cases, will be led by your child.
Ultimately, weaning is likely to be a gradual process and your milk supply will reduce as your child’s breastfeeding needs begin to taper off.
Breastfeeding is recommended by the NHS and the World Health Organisation as it provides better nutrition than formula milk, helps provide your baby with antibodies, reduces the risk of infection and is associated with lower child obesity rates.
However, at which point you stop breastfeeding is entirely your choice and will depend on your personal circumstances and the needs of your child.
Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.