How to decide when to stop breastfeeding
Exclusive breastfeeding (with no other food or drink) is recommended for around the first six months of a baby's life. After this, you can breastfeed alongside other foods for as long as you and your baby wish. This might be into his second year or beyond. Find information here about stopping breastfeeding and introducing your baby to solid foods.
Every day you breastfeed makes a difference to you and your baby (see our article 'why breastfeed'). There’s no need to decide at the beginning how long you'll breastfeed for. Many mums continue to breastfeed when they return to work or college, while others decide to stop breastfeeding or combine breastfeeding with formula milk.
How long should I breastfeed for?
The important thing is to do what feels right for you and your baby. Continuing to breastfeed helps to reduce the chance of food intolerances and continues to protect your baby from infections, regardless of if he is four months or two years old.
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the good health effects will be for you and your child.
Many breastfeeding women in the UK continue well past six months. Mums who return to work can continue breastfeeding and this can ease both mums and babies through this major change. During the day the carer gives the baby expressed breastmilk or formula. Mornings, evenings and days-off the baby can continue to breastfeed.
Feeding, however it’s done, is always far more than just a way of getting milk into your baby. It’s part of your relationship with him. There are many factors – practical, physical, emotional – involved in your decision to carry on, wind down, or to stop breastfeeding. Talking it through with a breastfeeding counsellor can help you decide about stopping breastfeeding. Advice from family and friends may be well-meaning but inaccurate or biased, so if you need impartial support regarding when and how you can stop breastfeeding, there are many excellent resources on the internet and in your community. NCT breastfeeding counsellors can also talk you through which feeds to drop first, encouraging your baby to take a bottle, and how to stop breastfeeding without developing problems such as engorgement or mastitis.
By the age of six months, a baby’s body can cope with solids. He can also sit, grasp objects and move them to his mouth. Baby-led weaning is a natural approach where the baby is offered a selection of nutritious finger foods, suitable for his age, and progresses at his own pace.
NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.
National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021