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 or toddler is.
We support parents whichever way they feed their babies. If you are breastfeeding and you decide you’d like to stop, 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 our support line on 0300 330 0700.
Watch our video for tips on how to stop breastfeeding.
Recommendations for when to stop
The NHS and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that you exclusively breastfeed your baby – give them breastmilk only – for the first six months of their life (WHO, 2013b; NHS, 2017). The WHO also 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 might be for you and your child (WHO, 2013c). Yet the most important thing is to continue breastfeeding for as long as feels right for you and your baby, rather than what other people think (ABM, 2018). At the same time, it’s worth considering your reasons for stopping breastfeeding.
When should I stop 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’ve had a short break and want 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 consider stopping breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding difficulties. If your baby is struggling to feed efficiently or not gaining weight, there’s help available. You can get support from one of our breastfeeding counsellors 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 find 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
Even if your baby is eating solids, breast milk or formula still has to be their main drink until they’re at least one year old. This is a must.
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. It can also 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 League GB, 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 League GB, 2016; NHS Choices, 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 one of our breastfeeding counsellors 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.
NCT’s support line offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood, whether you are breastfeeding your baby, formula-feeding them or a combination: 0300 330 0700.
NHS Choices breastfeeding information.
Visit our breastfeeding support contacts page.
ABM. (2018) Questions mums ask about stopping breastfeeding. Available from: https://abm.me.uk/breastfeeding-information/questions-mums-ask-about-stopping-breastfeeding/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].
La Leche League GB. (2016) Thinking of weaning. Available from: https://www.laleche.org.uk/thinking-of-weaning/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].
La Leche League GB. (2017) When breastfeeding ends suddenly. Available from: https://www.laleche.org.uk/breastfeeding-ends-suddenly/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].
NHS Choices. (2017) How to stop breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/stopping-breastfeeding/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].
WHO. (2013a) Short-term effects of breastfeeding. Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/95585/9789241506120_eng.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed 1st October 2017].
WHO. (2013b) Global strategy for infant and young child feeding. Available from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/9241562218/en/ [Accessed 1st October 2017].
WHO. (2013c) Beyond survival: integrated delivery care practices for long-term maternal and infant nutrition, health and development. Available from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/BeyondSurvival_2nd_edition_en.pdf?ua=1 [Accessed 1st October 2017].
Ystrom E (2012) Breastfeeding cessation and symptoms of anxiety and depression: a longitudinal cohort study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 12:36. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-36. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22621668 [Accessed 1st October 2017].