Physicians and experts advise mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least 2 years, and even past that for the baby’s comfort and security. However, not all mothers have the luxury of breastfeeding their babies for that long, or even for the recommended year before babies can take solid foods exclusively.
The mother might need to return to work, or might need to leave the baby with a relative or a babysitter. When there is a need, the mother should learn how to stop breastfeeding at the least harm to baby and herself.
The Case for Full-Term Breastfeeding and Natural Weaning
Breastfeeding is one of the few activities a mother can do together with her baby. It is also the first activity a mother will ever do with her baby. Because of this, it is one of the best ways for mother and baby to bond in the baby’s first days (or weeks, or months).
The Psychological Benefits of Breastfeeding
According to Dr Linda Folden Palmer, breastfeeding is not simply a way to put food into your newborn baby’s mouth. It builds bonds psychologically because the baby is able to identify your unique scent. Baby’s brain programs his or her body to relax and grow well in this kind of safe environment.
For some reason, breastfeeding is also associated with pain reduction in newborns. Some medical procedures can be done on babies while they are sucking, and they seem to feel less or no pain. Baby will also heal faster compared to non-breastfed infants.
Breastfeeding is also responsible for high oxytocin levels in both mother and infant. Oxytocin is the hormone that enhances emotions of trust, relaxation, and psychological stability. This contributes to the bonding between mother and baby, and even to his lifelong physical health. Because of the high oxytocin levels, early childhood stress is reduced.
Once early childhood stress is lowered, Dr Palmer suggests, the baby will have less of a tendency to become stressed throughout his life. Because of this, the baby will suffer less from stress-related problems, such as high blood pressure, later on.
The Physical Benefits of Breastfeeding
According to Dr Palmer, breastfeeding promotes the newborn’s brain development by activating the parts of the brain dealing with attention, alertness, waking, and sleeping. Bottle-feeding has smaller, although similar, changes.
Breastfeeding also supports baby’s health. Breastfed babies have only ⅕ the rate of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) as babies who are bottle-fed and not given pacifiers for comfort nursing. Even bottle-fed babies with pacifiers for comfort have only ⅓ the rate of SIDS as those not given pacifiers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports breastfeeding because of the number of problems it reduces for both mother and child. First, a mother’s milk is equipped with all the vitamins and nutrients the baby needs. As long as the mother is on a balanced diet and hydrates regularly, no supplements need to be added.
Second, breastfeeding lowers the baby’s risk of more common infections. Breast milk has natural immunities it gives to the baby to protect him or her from bacterial infections, diarrhea, ear infections, and infections of the lungs and respiratory system such as bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and wheezing.
For mothers, breastfeeding burns calories quickly, reducing their pregnancy weight. It even strengthens bones against osteoporosis, and reduces breast and ovarian cancer risks. Not only the baby, but the mother as well benefits from full-term breastfeeding.
How Not to Stop Breastfeeding
It is accepted that there are some unavoidable challenges that will leave mothers unable to breastfeed. This does not in the least reduce the care they can give their babies. Dr Palmers states that bottle-fed infants held close during feeding times will have the same sensations as breast-fed infants. Also, with the advent of breast pumps and the pumping sites in workplaces mandated in the Affordable Care Act, mothers can now take breast milk home to their babies.
The first thing a mother should know is how not to stop breastfeeding. You should not simply stop breastfeeding altogether, going “cold turkey” without accustoming either your body or your baby to the event. Not only is that stressful for both of you, it will be very painful as your breasts still think they should produce for your baby.
What You Need to Know About When to Stop Breastfeeding
First, your baby needs to be at least 6 months old to be able to transition to solid foods. A mother should try and feed her baby exclusively on breastmilk until the baby is 6 months old, to give the baby a headstart in physical and psychological health.
However, if you are a working mother, you will need to plan for breast pumping. You can also plan for a transition to bottled formula-feeding if you do not think you will be able to sustain regular breast-pumping sessions at the workplace. Whatever you plan, spend as much time as possible in those first days, weeks, or months exclusively breastfeeding.
How to Stop Breastfeeding
The key to knowing how to stop breastfeeding is paying attention to the timing. For the first month or so, if you are breastfeeding on demand, your newborn should be feeding at least 8 to 12 times every day. By 2 months, the feeding should be down to around 7 to 9 times a day, and more predictable. The feeding times will become less and less as your baby grows older.
Regardless, when you need to start weaning, drop one breast feeding at a time. If your baby is feeding 5 times a day, feed your baby at your breast for 4 of those times, and shift the baby to the bottle for one of those. This is partly to get your baby accustomed to alternative feeding methods, and partly for your breasts to reduce their milk supply.
Wait after dropping the feed for your breasts to respond to the reduced demand. They will be full and painful during the skipped feeding, but do not pump them or the milk supply will continue. Ease the pain with cold cloths or cold crushed cabbage leaves (yes, no typo there), loose clothes and a supporting bra.
When your milk supply has adjusted to the reduced demand, drop another breast feeding so that the baby is breastfed 3 times and bottle-fed 2 times in the day. Wait once more for the milk supply to stabilize before dropping another breast feeding. You can simply quit after your milk supply has steadied at 2 feeds. However, it will still be easier for you to go slowly.
What If You Have to Stop Cold Turkey?
If you have to stop cold turkey, if the need to wean is urgent, follow the basic weaning process–but all at once. Introduce your baby to the bottle, and simply stop feeding. Your breasts will be unused to the lack of demand, and will continue to supply for the first week or so (at a reduced rate per day).
To keep yourself as comfortable as possible during this process, use supporting bras (not too tight!) and loose clothes. Keep cold cabbage leaves that have been crushed slightly directly on your breasts–enzymes they secrete will naturally lower your milk supply. Cold compresses and cloths will ease the pain.
Try not to express milk at all at this time, except very gently with your hand if the pressure feels too hard. Avoid warmth on your breasts at all, to avoid signalling your breasts to produce (this includes being careful in the warm shower).
Natural Ways to Help Stop Breastfeeding
Besides the cold crushed cabbage leaves, there are some natural herbal remedies that will automatically reduce your milk supply. One is peppermint taken strong and in large amounts. To reduce the amount of sugar that usually comes with peppermint candies, make strong peppermint teas to drink.
Sage leaves (not teas or tinctures) can be effective in lowering milk supply. The leaves themselves may be turned into tea, or sprinkled into food. Concentrated sage may be dangerous, so consult your doctor or IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) first.
Another way to lower milk supply is to cut down on salty foods or lower the level of salt in your foods. Salt helps the body retain water, which is needed for milk supply. While you should still hydrate on demand, cutting down on salt will help lower the amount of water the milk can be created from.
Dangers of Improper Weaning
Some mothers bind their breasts or wear tight bras and clothes to force their breasts to stop producing milk. We cannot emphasize enough: do not use that method of weaning. It may result in mastitis or blocked ducts, neither of which you want in addition to the stress of weaning.
Milk ducts are the “pipes” that bring milk from their production in the tissues to your nipple. They become blocked when the outlets are forcibly stopped up. Like in the drains, the milk becomes backed-up in the breast. Hard, swollen lumps will be felt in the breast, and it will feel engorged and painful. If milk finds its way into the bloodstream, the body will fight it and you may run a temperature. This is already mastitis.
Natural Weaning: Still the Best Choice
You and your baby naturally decide together when to wean. However, if you need to stop breastfeeding earlier, there does not need to be harm to your child. Spend the same quality time with baby, hold him or her during bottle-feeding, and your bond should continue to grow and strengthen just as well.