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 always provides a nutritious drink plus a time for closeness and connection, no matter how old your baby, toddler or child is. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. The longer you breastfeed, the more the good health effects will be for you and your child. However, the important thing is to do what feels right for you and your baby.
If you decide to leave it up to your child to stop, without taking the initiative yourself, you can expect this to happen gradually, stopping breastfeeding over a long time lasting months or more. Your child’s feeding sessions get shorter and more infrequent, until they finally stop completely. If the time comes when you decide to stop breastfeeding instead, then there are ways to make it easier for both of you.
How to stop breastfeeding babies
Gradually stopping breastfeeding, rather than suddenly, is important for your own comfort. Increase the gaps between the times you feed your baby by offering a drink from a cup (or a bottle, for babies too young to manage cups well) or a snack if your baby is eating solid foods.
Reducing feeds too rapidly can lead to engorgement (when your breasts become overfull). Babies less than one year old will need formula instead of breastmilk. After a year, your baby can have ordinary cows’ milk.
You may want to retain some breastfeeding – for example, to help your baby settle to sleep in the evening or during the night, or an early morning feed which gives you some extra time in bed. These feeds can be dropped at a later time, if you wish.
How to stop breastfeeding toddlers
Again, it’s important to stop gradually. Often toddlers are very keen on breastfeeding and sometimes increase their need for the breast – and just as with any other toddler behaviour you want to change, what you would like to happen might be different from what your toddler wants to happen.
Some mums find they can designate a specific time and place for a breastfeed, and they stick to that. Toddlers are often fine with this, and accept it when it is consistent.
When toddlers are old enough to have language and understanding, they can grasp the concept of ‘later’ or ‘only at bedtime’.
Another approach is to adopt ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’ – so you wait to be asked, and within reason, you comply, but you don’t actually sit or lie down as you might once have done, and offer.
If the time comes when you want to stop completely, older toddlers and preschoolers may agree to stop after their next birthday, or Christmas – obviously this depends on your child having a concept of future time, and you may need to reinforce the reminder as the ‘occasion’ gets nearer.
Other mums who have breastfed beyond babyhood may have plenty of useful experiences and tips to share. You can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor, too – she will support you and may also have some ideas if you are finding it difficult to decide whether to stop breastfeeding or not.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending on of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group learder 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.
Healthtalk online has further information on breastfeeding older babies and toddlers.