The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until babies are six months and it can be continued till age two. However, the decision to breastfeed or to stop is completely up to the mother. If your baby is eating a large variety of foods and has started drinking water and milk, you can start the weaning process. So why and how should you stop breastfeeding and what should you expect?

TC46 asked Infertility Specialist & Endoscopic Surgeon, Dr Sushma Tomar from Fortis Hospital in Mumbai and Gynecologist & Obstetrician, Dr Manjiri Mehta from Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai to answer the questions about weaning, its effects on the body and vital tips to stop breastfeeding naturally. 

1. What is a good age (of your baby) to stop breastfeeding?

Dr Tomar says, “The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all babies should be breastfed till the age of six months. Afterwards, the child needs other supplements and only breastfeed may not be enough. You can continue to breastfeed for up to 2 years or more, depending on the baby’s demand and ability to digest solid food. Normally, with the introduction of solid meals, gradually breastfeeding demand decreases and the time interval between two breastfeed demands also increases. Breastfeeding is important as breast milk contains vital nutrients that are absolutely essential for the child’s development.”.

“The baby should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, after that, ‘top feeds’ are started and the baby can be weaned off slowly.”, states Dr Mehta.

2. What are some common reasons/causes to stop breastfeeding?

Dr Mehta explains, “The common reasons for stopping or reducing breastfeeding is when the mother needs to resume work and is no more available 24×7 for the baby. Some mothers do stop feeding the baby by choice once top feeds are started. In a few cases, babies themselves prefer top feeds to breastfeeds.”.

Dr Tomar shares the following insights;

“Common causes to stop breastfeeding could include;

  • The mother could get pregnant again
  • She may have an infection
  • She may have a fever (that can be transferred through milk to the baby)
  • Other complications
  • The mother could also be having breast congestion, which makes feeding very painful
  • She could also have Mastitis, in which the breasts become red, painful and warm

Many times, lactation decreases and there isn’t adequate milk to satisfy the baby. Cracked nipples are not uncommon and result in soreness and pain. Due to this, the mother may not be able to feed.”.

3. How long does it take to dry up breast milk?

“Once you stop breastfeeding, it takes a few days to weeks to dry up lactation. If it does not stop and you experience breast congestion; you can also take medication, under your doctor’s advice, to stop lactating.”, suggest Dr Tomar.

Dr Mehta states, “Once breastfeeding is stopped completely, it may take variable time for the milk to completely dry up, it happens faster if there is absolutely no touching, handling of the breast and the breast is supported well.”.

4. What effects do you see your body go through when you stop nursing?

Dr Tomar says, “When you stop feeding, for a few days you feel heaviness and congestion in the breasts. For that you can wear a tight bra or a sports bra, do hot fermentation and milk expression, your doctor will guide you through these. If you feel pain, fever and malaise, you can take Ibuprofen or a Paracetamol, however, these experiences must be shared with your doctor; they will guide you appropriately.”. 

“When nursing is stopped, the most apparent change is seen in the breast itself, they go back to the earlier size; they may feel loose and a bit sagging. Apart from that, the menstrual cycle may resume its regularity.”, clarifies Dr Mehta.

5. What process should you adopt for stopping breastfeeding your baby?

Dr Tomar suggests, “After stopping breastfeeding, it takes months for the breast to return to the pre-pregnancy size. Your menses gradually become normal too. Some physical and emotional changes are seen in the body. Best way to stop breastfeeding is to wean off slowly, so it doesn’t hurt the baby and the mother. You may skip a few sessions of feeding in between.”.

“How to go about stopping breastfeeding has no universal answer, it differs with each mother and baby. There is some resistance by the baby; various techniques like a distraction, new toys, a lot of physical playtime and physical absence of the mother may help.”, shares Dr Mehta.

6. How long can your baby take to stop breastfeeding?

“Once top feeds are started, the breastfeeding during the day stops pretty quickly. To stop feeding at bedtime of the baby may take longer up to a month or two also.”, says Dr Mehta.

Dr Tomar explains, “When you are planning to wean, first ensure that the baby is getting adequate nutrition from other sources. Slowly start weaning during the night. It takes a few weeks to a few months for lactation to stop, and until the baby’s breast milk is completely replaced by other foods and drinks.”.

7. What are some solutions if your baby still demands breast milk? What are some vital tips to stop breastfeeding naturally and without pain?

Dr Tomar advises, “You should know when to stop feeding. Reduce breastfeeding sessions slowly. If the mother is having engorgement then do hot fermentation and milk expression, or you can use a breast pump.”.
“To stop feeding your baby takes time and effort. Be patient, be innovative, don’t expect miracles. As a mother it’s difficult emotionally, so is it for the baby.”, shares Dr Mehta.

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