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FAQs on what to do when you want to stop breastfeeding

breastfeedingWhen a mother decides she wants to stop breastfeeding, a lot of questions will run through her head. As a lactation consultant, it’s my job to answer them. Here are some of the questions I get asked on a daily basis:

1. How do I go about stopping breastfeeding? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages mothers to breastfeed for a full year, or when mother and baby mutually desire it. When it is time to wean, the best approach is to do so gradually. This makes the transition away from breastfeeding easier for all. Gradually dropping one breastfeeding session at a time (drop one every few days) is the general idea behind gradual weaning. Replace the dropped breastfeeding sessions with bottles. After a few days, your body will gradually become used to making less milk and when it has adjusted, then it is time to drop another breastfeeding session.

2. How fast or slow should I wean off breastfeeding? 

Definitely give yourself time and wean slowly if possible. This will make the transition easier on your body and easier on your baby, too.

3. I’m trying to stop breastfeeding, but my breasts are still full of milk. Do I still pump or will that create more milk?

You could utilize your pump to remove small amounts of milk (just enough so that you feel you can tolerate that “overly full” feeling. Thoroughly emptying your breasts when weaning will not decrease your milk supply, so avoid frequent and long pumping sessions during this time.

4. Where does the milk go if I don’t pump it out?

The milk in your breasts, if not removed, will gradually reabsorb and diminish.

5. My breasts start to hurt when they fill with milk, but I’m trying to stop breastfeeding. Will they stop hurting if I don’t pump the milk out? 

The uncomfortable fullness felt when weaning can be remedied by applying cold compresses to the breasts, wearing a good fitting and supportive bra, wearing cold cabbage leaves inside the bra or eating lots of peppermints. Peppermint can help decrease milk supply.

6. What do I replace breastfeeding with? 

You should always check with your baby’s doctor about any dietary changes your baby is going through. Depending upon the age of your baby and when you wean, the doctor will be able to guide you through this question. Generally, children under 1 year of age will require formula feedings if weaning off of breast milk.

7. What if my baby doesn’t want to stop breastfeeding? 

Every baby tolerates the transition of weaning a little differently. Some babies wean to a bottle very easily and others do not. Weaning a younger baby, say three months of age, is going to be different than weaning a one year old. Older babies are much more easily distracted away from breastfeeding and toward cups and other foods. Younger babies will need to wean from the breast to a bottle and this can be a bigger transition. Plan to spend extra time on holding, rocking and playing with your baby during the weaning process. This will help make the transition less stressful for both of you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the breastfeeding office at St. Elizabeth Hospital at (920) 738-2734 or email us at breastfeedinghelp@affinityhealth.org.

About Deb Waters, RN, IBCLC

Deb Waters has provided breastfeeding support at St. Elizabeth Hospital for almost 20 years. Prior to this, she worked as a staff nurse on the Pediatric and OB units. She obtained her International Board Certified Lactation Consultant status in 2004.

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