You can breastfeed your baby for as long as you wish but there may come a time when you want to stop. This article offers tips on how to stop breastfeeding a baby or toddler.
Breastfeeding provides nutrition and immunity for your baby (WHO, 2013a). It is also a time for closeness and connection, no matter how old your baby, toddler or child is.
NCT supports parents whichever way they choose to feed their babies. If the time comes when you decide you’d like to stop breastfeeding, there are ways to make it easier for you and your baby.
You might find it helpful to explore your options for stopping with a breastfeeding counsellor or supporter from your local NCT branch. You could also call the NCT support line on 0300 330 0700.
Recommendations for when to stop
The NHS and the World Health Organisation recommend that you exclusively breastfeed your baby – give them breastmilk only – for the first six months of their life (WHO, 2013b; NHS, 2017). The World Health Organisation recommends continuing to breastfeed your baby for up to two years and beyond (WHO, 2013c).
"The longer you breastfeed up to two years, the greater the health benefits may be for you and your child (WHO, 2013c). Yet the most important thing is to continue to breastfeed for as long as feels right for you and your baby (ABM, 2018)".
When should I stop breastfeeding?
What really counts is what feels right for you and your baby, not other people’s opinions.
But it’s worth considering your reasons for stopping breastfeeding.
If you’re having breastfeeding problems, there’s support available. Getting the right support may mean you don’t need to stop breastfeeding, if you wish to continue. It’s sometimes possible to restart breastfeeding if you have had a short break and wish to carry on. If you aren't sure whether to continue breastfeeding, you can contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.
Common reasons mums say they consider stopping breastfeeding:
- Breastfeeding difficulties: If your baby is struggling to feed efficiently or not gaining weight, you can get support from an NCT breastfeeding counsellor and peer support from other breastfeeding mums. This may help you continue breastfeeding if you wish to.
- Returning to work: This doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding – you should be able to continue to breastfeed if you want to. Workplaces should provide a private place for you to express and store breastmilk if required. You may wish to consider changing your work hours or combination feeding your baby (offering both breastmilk and formula milk).
- Going on holiday: A break away doesn’t mean you need to stop breastfeeding. Many breastfeeding mums finding breastfeeding on holiday is easy because they don’t need to take bottles, formula or sterilising equipment.
- Your baby’s age. It’s up to you and your baby how long you continue breastfeeding.
How to stop breastfeeding your baby
It's important that even if your baby is eating solids, breast milk or formula is still their main drink until they’re at least one year old. Whichever way you stop breastfeeding and whenever you do it, take it slowly.
Stopping breastfeeding your baby gradually is important for your own comfort and wellbeing, and can make the adjustment gentler for your baby.
- Reducing breastfeeds too rapidly can lead to engorgement, which is when your breasts become overfull. It could also lead to mastitis, a painful infection of the mammary gland.
- As stopping breastfeeding can be an emotional time for you and your baby, taking your time can help make the transition easier for both of you.
(La Leche, 2017)
Approaches to stopping breastfeeding
Here are some of the different approaches to stopping breastfeeding but only you know which approach is right for you and your baby.
- One option is to increase the gaps between breastfeeds by offering a drink of formula milk. Use a bottle if your baby is 6 months or under or a cup for older babies.
- Another idea is to, after a year, start by dropping a breastfeed a day and replacing it with a suitable alternative milk. Carrying on breastfeeding while giving your baby some formula can work very well.
- You may want to keep some breastfeeds. For example, keep a breastfeed to help your baby settle to sleep in the evening or during the night, or an early morning feed to give you extra time in bed. You can drop these feeds when it suits you and your baby.
Some mums go for breastfeeding to natural term, which is where their child chooses when to stop breastfeeding. This is likely to happen gradually over a long time – months or more. If you breastfeed to natural term, you’ll notice your little one’s feeding sessions eventually become shorter and more infrequent, until they finally stop completely.
(La Leche, 2016; NHS, 2017)
It’s helpful to stop breastfeeding gradually for toddlers as well as for babies. Often toddlers are very keen on breastfeeding and sometimes increase their need for it. Read our article Ten tips for stopping breastfeeding a toddler, to help smooth the transition for you and your toddler.
Other mums who have breastfed beyond babyhood may have useful experiences and tips to share. Check with your local NCT branch to see if there is a drop-in breastfeeding group. These groups give you the chance to chat with other mums or speak to an NCT breastfeeding counsellor for support. You can find breastfeeding support contacts listed here.
"It’s important to stop breastfeeding when the time feels right for you. Whenever you choose to stop breastfeeding, support is available".
This page was last reviewed in October 2017
Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
NHS Choices breastfeeding information.
Visit our breastfeeding support page.