Breastfeeding remains one of the most popular issues that worry most new mothers. At first, you have to unlock and master the mysterious and unique techniques of breastfeeding. Then, once you have learned how to properly do it and breastfeeding becomes just another routine the all important question arises; When is the right time for me to stop breastfeeding? The truth is that you will hear many different answers on the topic.
One popular response you might hear is that since breastfeeding is a healthy practice, the baby should continue to do so as long as possible. Well okay, but then how long is too long? In some cultures, breastfeeding is encouraged up to 4 years of a child’s life. Surely it’s not right to breastfeed your child when he/she is able to ask for it! In all seriousness though, there really is no ‘correct’ answer and the process of weaning varies for each parent depending on these three primary factors:
- When you decide it’s time to stop breastfeeding a baby
- When a child simply outgrows breastfeeding
- When health problems arise
Keep in mind that while these 3 factors are the most common, they are not the only ones out there. But anyway, let’s dig deeper.
The Mother Can Decide When It’s Time To Stop
Breastfeeding definitely has many benefits for both the mom and the baby. It enables them to achieve a strong sense of bonding and it strengthens the child’s immune system significantly. Although breastfeeding is medically recommended to be stopped at around 6-7 months of the child’s life, that number is not set in stone and in some cases it may take a bit longer for you to wean.
That decision is strictly up to you and your tolerance level. Instead, you should stop breastfeeding in these following situations:
- Breastfeeding does not fulfill you emotionally. Some mothers enjoy breastfeeding, but there are those that perceive it as torturous. If this is you and breastfeeding exhausts you both physically and emotionally, it’s time to begin weaning. Breastfeeding should not be an uncomfortable and tedious process, and your baby does not need to have a nervous mother.
- Breastfeeding is physically unbearable. This may be due to sore nipples, the baby’s teeth coming in, overfilled breasts and even just plain exhausting pumping. If breastfeeding causes physical pain and torment, it’s time to stop. This may be a bit harder to easier to detect depending on if you are using a solid breast pump or doing it the traditional way.
- Returning to work. If you believe that you will not be able to synchronize your work duties with breastfeeding, for whatever reason that may be, then it’s time to stop as well.
- A new pregnancy occurs. It is actually possible to become pregnant again while you’re still breastfeeding your previous baby. Although this is a rare situation, it still must be said as this does happen. Furthermore, if you want to increase your chances of getting pregnant, you should probably stop breastfeeding. It directly affects hormonal levels in the body and can interfere with your ovulation process, thus hindering your ability to become pregnant.
When A Child Outgrows Breastfeeding
When the child starts to expand it’s diversity of food, it is a safe time to simply begin the transition. When you notice that breastfeeding is ending faster and faster, and the amount of milk your child drinks is decreasing, it is a sign that weaning is on the horizon. In this case, the child has actually outgrown breastfeeding and decided for you that it is time to move on. Of course, this process should be a gradual one. Here’s an easy way to safely wean:
- First, replace one breastfeeding session with a meal. If your child is accustomed to fall asleep after breastfeeding, replace the first session in the morning. Provide a bottle of formula or milk instead.
- When you see that your child is becoming accustomed to other forms of milk, replace all other breastfeeding meals with the bottle. Keep in mind that children under one year should drink only formula, and that only after a year passes is when you can introduce cow’s milk.
Gradual weaning is best for your baby and for your breasts. In this way, you will reduce milk production naturally and safely. An abrupt ending can lead to other complications such as mastitis and breast tenderness.
Health Problems As A Reason For Weaning
Health problems are the third and final external factor that affects your decision to stop breastfeeding. These problems can include insufficient milk production, frequent inflammation of breasts and mastitis, and more rarely severe illnesses that the mother acquires and require the use of drugs that are not safe for the baby. Among these are drugs for chemotherapy, Lithium against depression, and even Ergotamine for migraines.
Health problems can and sometimes do lead to situations where you have to be separated from your baby and breastfeeding ends prematurely. The best decision to make here is to regularly consult with your physician and ensure that you are perfectly healthy to continue breastfeeding without any complications looming ahead.
If you have been through multiple pregnancies, you will soon learn that there is no written rule on breastfeeding, nor a universal manual on parenting among other things. There are only recommendations; for example the most popular one is by the World Health Organization and it states that breastfeeding should continue until up to 6 months of the babies life. I tend to follow this recommendation and do believe that 6 months is a good indicator of when to stop.
After 6 months, you can start to slowly introduce new food into the diet so the weaning process can begin. Ultimately though, barring any health problems that may arise, the decision to stop breastfeeding is really up to you and your child. Everyone should do it at their own pace as all children are born differently. The best advice I can give you is to do so gradually and to listen to your body’s needs and the needs of your baby.
The answer does not have to be vividly clear. Just go with the flow, but also don’t drag it on for too long. And as always, remember that you should always see a physician if you suspect any problems or the weaning process is taking longer than expected.