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Home > Learn > Postpartum > >How and When to Wean from Breastfeeding

How and When to Wean from Breastfeeding

May 08, 23 7 min

By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton, OBGYN

Eventually the time will come for you to stop breastfeeding your child. This transition isn’t always simple, but there are ways to make weaning a little bit easier on yourself and your child. Keep reading to learn when and how to stop breastfeeding. 

When can I stop breastfeeding?

Deciding when to stop breastfeeding is a personal decision and can vary from person to person. Sometimes your child will start this process for you and begin to show more interest in solid foods than breastmilk. Perhaps you’re just ready to quit nursing and would like to transition to formula, milk, or more solid foods. [1] It’s recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that women attempt to exclusively breastfeed the first six months of their child’s life, and continue to nurse for at least a year postpartum as other foods are introduced. [2] This isn’t always possible or wanted by mom or baby, which is completely fine as long as the child is still getting all the necessary nutrients.

At the end of the day, it is a personal decision that can be made whenever you or your child feel ready. 

Is it okay to wean early?

Some people may have the desire to wean earlier than is recommended. It’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider, as they may be able to help or provide you with resources to manage potential causes for early weaning, including cracked or sore nipples, breast engorgement, pain, etc. If you’re hoping or needing to wean for reasons that can’t be solved, that’s okay! There are official recommendations in place, but deciding if, when, and for how long to breastfeed is up to you. Just ensure you’re using a formula that has all the necessary nutrients your child needs. 

Find out if you need to take postnatal vitamins when you aren’t breastfeeding→ 

How do I stop breastfeeding

Depending on when you stop breastfeeding, you’ll want to introduce your child to either infant formula, whole cow’s milk, or a fortified unsweetened soy milk. [1] If your child is younger than a year old, you should stick to infant formula. If your child is older than a year, you can introduce them to whole cow’s milk or a fortified soy milk.  

Weaning gradually is usually the recommended route, as it can make the process easier on yourself and your child. When you begin to breastfeed less often, your body will react accordingly and should produce less milk. [3] Weaning gradually can also help your child become more familiar with the taste of milk or formula and can help them adjust to drinking from a bottle or cup. To wean gradually, you may want to start by cutting back on one feeding a day every two to five days and giving your child either formula or milk as a replacement. [3]

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Do I have to stop breastfeeding gradually?

While it may seem like the easier (or more appealing) option, it’s not recommended to stop breastfeeding all at once. If you don’t gradually wean, your breasts can become engorged and painful. This may also put you at a higher risk of clogged milk ducts or mastitis. [3] If you do need to stop breastfeeding quickly, it may be helpful to hand express or pump a few times a day to manage any pain or fullness. Try not to empty your breasts completely, as this will encourage milk production. [3]

Cups or bottles?

Depending on how old your child is, they may need to transition to a bottle before a cup, or they may go directly to a cup. Typically children over a year old can use a cup, children under six months can use a bottle, and those in between can use either. [3] To help your child transition, you may want to start by filling their bottle or cup with breastmilk. There are also training cups with handles and spill proof lids for the kiddos that are in between bottles and cups. 

When to introduce other foods

It’s important to introduce your child to different foods when the time comes. Formula or milk may no longer be enough to help them reach all of their nutritional needs. Most agencies in the United States suggest solid foods be introduced around six months of age. [4] Some potential foods you can introduce your child to include mashed, pureed, or strained cereals, vegetables, fruits, cheese, etc. Any foods you’re giving to your child must be cut into very small pieces and easily mashed or pureed. Be aware of potential allergens, including milk products, eggs, fish, nuts, wheat, soy, sesame, etc. [5] Talk with your healthcare provider for more information. 

When can I expect my milk to dry up?

Think of milk production as a supply and demand system. When you begin to wean your child, the demand for milk decreases, and milk production will soon follow. Milk production is likely to keep happening, even in small amounts, as long as you are expressing milk. [3] Once you have stopped breastfeeding altogether, you should notice a substantial decrease in milk production. Production is likely to stop within a few weeks, however, there may be milk in the breasts for months after production stops. [3] If you’re hoping to decrease milk production quickly, try out these tips for drying up breast milk, or speak to your healthcare provider about other options for lactation suppression. 

Things to keep in mind

Nutrition

Your nutritional needs change a lot during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It’s recommended by ACOG that you avoid or limit drinking alcohol and caffeine, or at least monitor how and when you drink while you’re breastfeeding. [2] ACOG also recommends you consume an additional 400-500 calories while breastfeeding and potentially take a postnatal supplement to keep up with the nutritional demands. [2] Once you’ve stopped producing milk you no longer need these additional calories. This is something you may want to keep in mind when adjusting your own lifestyle choices. 

Ovulation return

Another important factor to consider is that ovulation will likely return soon after you begin weaning, if it hasn’t already. The hormones released while breastfeeding can sometimes prevent ovulation from returning for up to six months, if you are breastfeeding exclusively. [6] If you are having heterosexual sex and aren’t already using a backup method of contraception, you should consider speaking to your healthcare provider about your options. 

Key takeaways

  • Deciding when to stop breastfeeding is a personal decision, but the CDC and ACOG recommend attempting to breastfeed for at least six months to a year. 
  • When you do decide to stop breastfeeding, it’s best to attempt to gradually wean your child. 
  • If your child is over a year old, they can have cow’s milk or a fortified soy milk. Children under a year old should stick to infant formula. 
  • To gradually wean your child, begin replacing one feed a day with milk or formula. Every two to three days, you can replace another feed until your child is rarely nursing. 
  • Attempting to stop breastfeeding all at once can lead to painful breasts and may increase your risk of mastitis or clogged ducts. 
  • Your milk production will slow as you gradually wean your child and should eventually stop altogether after a few weeks of your child being weaned. 
  • Keep in mind that ovulation will return after you stop breastfeeding exclusively, and your nutritional needs will change. 

 

References:

  1. Weaning. CDC. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. July 9 2021. URL.
  2.  Breastfeeding Your Baby. FAQ029. ACOG. May 2021. URL
  3. Enger L, Duryea T, Hoppin A. Patient education: Weaning from breastfeeding. UpToDate. April 7 2023. URL.
  4. Borowitz SM. First Bites-Why, When, and What Solid Foods to Feed Infants. Front Pediatr. 2021;9:654171. Published 2021 Mar 26. doi:10.3389/fped.2021.654171
  5. When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods. CDC. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. August 24 2021. URL.
  6. Postpartum Birth Control. ACOG. Last updated April 2023. URL.  

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