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Article: When to Stop Breastfeeding

When to Stop Breastfeeding

When to Stop Breastfeeding

You’ve done it!!! You’ve successfully breastfed your baby and you deserve a medal. Seriously, you should be really pleased with yourself.

breastfeeding at the beach

You might have been lucky, you might have persevered through all kinds of challenges but either way, you are a rock star. It wasn’t always easy, but it was so worth it.

But now what? You might have decided it’s time to stop breastfeeding for a variety of reasons: you want another baby, you need to be apart from your baby for longer periods of time, etc. So how do you actually stop breastfeeding?

Well, there is no wrong or right answer to that, so we’ve decided that we’ve give you our stories and tips to help give you some tools and insight.

Lisa’s Experience

Right. So with my first son, I needed to wean him off breastfeeding when he was 2 years old and he’d have rather carried on. I needed to wean him because I wasn’t able to get pregnant while I was breastfeeding (some women can) and I was aware we had to allow time for my fertility to return before I could try and get pregnant again. As he was 2 he wasn’t getting breast milk during the day - only at bedtime and at night. What made matters difficult was that my son refused a bottle of any sort - he wanted it straight from the source! So when I had to wean him, I had to put him to bed without his normal feed. I tried reading him to sleep but he cried and wanted comforting. He wasn’t hungry, as we gave him porridge before bed, he just wanted comfort. So I let him suck my little finger. It worked. He sucked himself to sleep and when he woke in the night I used the same technique. It meant that he was still cuddled to sleep, still had me close, and that I still responded to him in the night. After 3 nights of doing this we stopped asking for my milk and he was weaned. My boobs were huge though! Thank goodness for warm showers when I could just expressed it all out.  My son is now 8 years old and I still cuddle him to sleep and he still sucks my finger. He doesn’t remember being breastfed, but he remembers the closeness of always having me at his bedside.

My second son wasn’t so easy! I breastfed him until he was 2.5 years old, and again, he had weaned onto solids during the day and only had nighttime feeds. But I was mentally done with breastfeeding and needed some independance back. He was a terrible sleeper and woke every 3 hours for his familiar routine. So I set about weaning him. I thought it would be easy as I had the finger secret weapon! Ha. He wanted none of it. No stories, no cuddles. He just was so upset. So I stood up, held him and rocked him to sleep as he cried and sobbed and hollered because he didn’t get what he wanted. I never left him alone to cry - I maintained physical contact and soothed him with songs until he eventually succumbed to sleep. I just had to stick to my plan because he really was upset about it and I felt terribly guilty. But eventually, after a week, he accepted the new bedtime routine and I was able to read him stories in bed and cuddle him to sleep. He was still a terrible sleeper for years afterwards and sought me out in the night for cuddles. But I’m glad I always responded to him, because as it turns out he has asthma and needs an inhaler every night. When he got his inhaler he started sleeping through - at 4 years old! It’s tempting to think that our kids are manipulating us, or trying to be difficult, but like all behaviour their nighttime needs are their way of communicating. He had no way of saying ‘I feel discomfort breathing at night’ but he could ask for a cuddle. So by following your instincts, and listening to your children, you can’t really go wrong.

Philippa’s Experience

Philippa and her little one

When I had my first son, I had this preconception that by 6 months he would be sleeping in his own room and would easily wean himself off the boob once he started solids. That’s what babies do, right?!?! How wrong I was!!! As it turned out I relished the ease of cosleeping and I night feeding. When he was about 9 months old I was really struggling with new mum exhaustion so we had a few attempts at cutting out some of the night feeds. My husband and I took it in turns to cuddle him after the first nighttime wake up but he cried and cried so we decided he wasn’t ready and carried on as we were.  When he was about 18 month we were starting to think about baby number two. My periods had returned but they were very irregular so I decided it was time to wean off the milkies, as he called it. He was only really feeding at bedtime and during the night by then so we gradually cut out the night feeds and replaced them with cuddles. He was much more accepting by then, so it felt more like the right time.

Once he had given up the milkies my periods returned and my second son came along when my first turned 3. Again, we were very lucky to have had a lovely breastfeeding relationship. But by the time he was two and a half I was ready to stop. We used the same gentle approach of gradually stopping each night feed, one by one. The whole process took a few months but we got there in the end. I’m sure if it had been down to them, both of my boys would have carried on breastfeeding until they were 4 or 5. Even now my youngest (now 5) loves to give my boobs a cuddle!! I’m sure he still associates them with the lovely comfort they gave him. But we had to balance the needs of everyone in the family and they both had the benefit of breastfeeding for 2 years or more, so they didn't do too badly really!!

Abi’s Experience

cuddling baby

I started (and stopped!) breastfeeding three times over, and each was different and unique in its own way.

My first child I breastfed until he was about 15 months old, at which point I fell pregnant and chose to stop feeding in order to let my body put all of its energy into building the new baby inside me. My son was eating well and very happy to swap over to a cup of milk.

With my second child, I fed her for months happily, and when she was nine months old I took my older child away for a special overnight trip with just the two of us. When I was away, she drank from a bottle... and when I returned, she had become a full convert! I put her to my breast and she cried and pushed away! It was quite heartbreaking as I was hoping to continue to feed her, but as I have a very slow let-down and have never felt abundantly 'milky', I understood her.

My third (and last!) baby was another beautiful feeder. After about a year and a half I was complaining to my husband about how both of my nipples had been chewed so much that they ached and had scabs on them! He commented, "why don't you stop breastfeeding him then, he will be fine." And he was. I stopped on that very day, it worked, and he is a happy little chappy.

The right time to stop feeding is the right time for you, your child, your family and your circumstances. Nobody else can tell you when this is, or what is right for your family. It is your body, your baby is your child. Letting go of breastfeeding is hard, but it brings with it a whole new sense of freedom for your baby... not to mention you.

Kirsten’s Experience

I found breastfeeding difficult with my first born. Not the actual act of breastfeeding - I was lucky in that respect - but just  the ...well…. constant ‘demandingness’ of it all. I wasn’t used to be constantly on call or ‘on tap’ and combined with a baby that simply did NOT want to sleep (at night anyway!) I found the process challenging. Well meaning friends and family would talk to me about getting Fenn into a routine to make the whole process easier but I was exhausted and routines take work! However round the clock feeding was also a struggle and I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. I desperately wanted my partner to be able to help out with the night time feeds so I expressed milk and got Fenn on to the bottle early - which thankfully he took to pretty easily - and from there on things got a little easier. But as a new mum I still struggled with the changing role of my boobs, the general exhaustion and the self consciousness of  breastfeeding out in public (I wasn’t lucky enough to own a Bshirt then!). I can’t say that I really relished my breastfeeding journey with Fenn and I made a decision that once I felt he was getting all the nutrients that he needed from the food he ate, then I would give up. After a year the boy was eating as much as we were and coincidentally around the same time I noticed that he was much less interested in the boob. As our own diet was pretty healthy I felt confident enough to stop breastfeeding and just make sure he had a healthy and varied diet. He was used to drinking water in-between feeds so when we did stop we didn’t even find the need to replace the bottle with a milk substitute. One night, rather than offer the breast we filled his bottle with water, and after a bit of grumbling off he went to sleep. Result! As is often the case with contrary children the bits you think are going to be easy are hard, and the things you think are going to be hard can be easy!

With my second boy, Albi, life was much easier. He was a much better sleeper and we were already in a routine with Fenn which meant that he fitted into life much more easily. Similarly around the 8 month mark once he was on a good diet I noticed he was just less interested in the boob but this time around I was really enjoying breastfeeding and wasn’t ready to give up so easily! I carried on for a year until basically he made the decision he’d had enough and refused to take anymore. This time round I actually felt quite sad about it - I missed that connection that I had with my baby - but the independence it gave me was AMAZING and slowly…. ever so slowly… I began to feel like a walking, talking, functioning, non milk making human being again. For all the mixed emotions you can experience around breastfeeding….. getting your boobs back is always nice.

Alice’s Experience

Alice's newborn

My first was a 'natural born feeder’, he took to it like a duck to water and I fed him on demand, day and night for over two years. We bedshared from birth, so I was always there for him. I fed him to sleep for naps and at night, for wakes up and going back to sleep. We fed for food, drink, comfort, owchies, cuddles, everything. It worked, because it's supposed too. In the end, he naturally decreased himself,and I followed the 'dont offer, don't refuse’ route. At just gone age two I followed the Dr Jay Gordon method of night weaning, which worked brilliantly for us. It was a very gentle process, there was no crying, just cuddles and singing to sleep. We eventually stopped feeding during the day at about two years four months due to pregnancy aversion. I probably would have tandem fed, but I felt so touched out and unwell at the time. Again, he took to it brilliantly with very little upset. I'd say we co-weaned, I took his cues and we met a natural end together.

I'm now feeding a four month old, with absolutely no plans to stop anytime soon. My first doesn't remember feeding, which surprised me as it wasn't that long ago we stopped, but he's incredibly close to his brother and tells me he needs 'milkies’ at the first whimper!

Natasha’s Experience

Natasha with baby

My mother always reminds me how I breastfed continually (minus a month or so) for 6 years! She always says it in a way that makes me feel a bit weird, but hey, some people just don’t get breastfeeding.

I fed my son from birth until about six weeks before my daughter was born three years later. I managed to feed him whilst I was pregnant, in fact, it was a good job, because he found it such a comfort. However, I was aware that I had to think about stopping feeding him before my daughter was born but didn’t really have much of a plan. But about two months before she was born, I suddenly started feeling like I didn’t want to feed anymore, I didn’t want my breasts used in that way, I was feeling almost repulsed by it. As you can imagine, I felt awful, guilty and a terrible mother. This was something that my son and I had enjoyed for years and suddenly I wanted to stop and stop every time he latched on. In fact, I couldn’t wait for him to finish.

I remember speaking to someone from the Le Leche League and they had mentioned and lent me a book that explained what it could be. There were a number of different titles for it, but essentially, it was a physiological response and I have no doubt that my body was preparing me for the imminent birth of my second child. For two weeks, I barely sat on the sofa when my son was awake as this became a sign that he could feed. I remember it being very distressing for him, but it was momentarily and he soon got used to the fact that he just didn’t have breast milk anymore. Of course, it wasn’t a sudden shock, over a period of time we had gone from feeding whenever to specific times of the day and by age 2.5, he was only feeding once mid morning.

As for my daughter, it was pretty straight forward by age 3.5 as she understood by then that we only fed at bedtime and it was easy for her to accept that instead of feeding, we would just cuddle.

What’s really interesting in all of this, is that my children's personalities really mirror the way they fed and the way they stopped! One being complex and the other straightforward!

As for my boobs… well, because of the length of time I breastfed for and obviously there wouldn’t be engorgement after 3.5 years, I didn’t have any problems, not much leakage and no mastitis, just much smaller boobs!!

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