When Should I Stop Breastfeeding?

The decision to stop breastfeeding or start weaning from breastfeeding is up to you and your baby, and it’s very different for every mother.

The current recommendations from the World Health Organization are to exclusively breastfed for six months, then to continue to breastfeed, or offer breast milk for two years while offering complementary foods. While it is great to achieve this recommendation, remember it is a recommendation. Mothers’ experience varies greatly: some women breastfeed from a few weeks, to a few years. Milk supply varies from mother to mother and the ability to maintain supply when you have periods of separation from your baby, such as going back to work, is a considerable factor. Having a plan to pump when going back to work can help, and we offer consulting on this very topic.  

Our motto at Boston NAPS is "Fed is Best" and we support our mothers and babies in how they choose to feed for what works best for their family, whether it be breastfeeding, pumping, and/or using formula or donor breast milk.

What does “Fed is Best” mean in our approach to helping mothers? No matter how you choose to feed your baby, we will support you. There is a huge stigma with not breastfeeding or not breastfeeding exclusively (such as never giving baby any amount of formula). We want mothers to know that as long as their babies are happy, healthy, and growing, we don't judge mothers for how they choose to feed their babies.

Our philosophy on breastfeeding--that you need to do what’s feels right for you--echoes our overall approach to working with new parents: you’ll get a sea of advice on how to care for your baby from well-meaning friends, family, or even strangers in the grocery store. You create your parenting style by doing what feels right for you, and Boston NAPS is here to help you develop your confidence in making parenting decisions that uniquely fit your family.

Any breastfeeding or breast milk, for any amount of time is a wonderful gift you can give to your baby. At some point, though, you’ll start to see and feel cues that it may be time to stop breastfeeding...

The baby might subtly tell you when she’s ready to wean.

You might sense that your baby is losing interest in breastfeeding. Consider these signs of your baby starting to self-wean are:
1. Your baby has become more interested in solid foods rather than breastmilk, 
2. Your baby is fussy or impatient during breastfeeding sessions, 
3. Your baby seems distracted during feeding sessions. 

Most babies start to self-wean around 12 months. If your baby is demonstrating these cues, but is younger than 12 months, consider other factors as to why your baby may not be as interested in breastfeeding. Is your baby teething, sick, or experiencing a life change, like mom going back to work or a new caregiver? Are there any changes in your hormone levels that could be affecting the taste of your breastmilk or the overall supply (i.e. do you have your period or are you pregnant?). This is called a “nursing strike” and usually it’s temporary. If you aren’t ready to give up breastfeeding, give it a few days and see if your baby resumes interest. If you are still struggling to breastfeed your baby after a few days but you want to continue, you can contact Boston NAPS for a consultation.

You personally may feel ready to wean your baby.

Perhaps you are returning to work soon or you have a time where you’ll have a period of long separation from your baby, such as work travel. Or, it may just feel like the right time for you to stop breastfeeding. Consider your daily schedule and work/life balance and decide what makes the most sense for you and your baby. This is a personal decision for you and your family, and does not require the approval of any family members (besides input from your partner), friends, and healthcare professionals. Go with your gut. Make this decision based on what is right for you and your family, not what you think other people think is "right,"  Again, our position on this can be traced back to the Boston NAPS philosophy: new parents get so much input and advice from their friends, family, community, and society--most of it well-meaning--but you should feel empowered to make decisions about your baby’s care based on what feels right for you and your family.

Sometimes for Mom and baby, it’s mutual.

Often, over time, mothers and babies begin scaling back. You will notice that without much thought or planning, you are naturally scaling back by having a gradual decrease in the length and frequency of your breastfeeding sessions. This often happens when your child is eating solid meals during the day, and drinking regularly from a cup. This transition starts to occur around 6 months, and is usually in full force at about 12 months as your child is then able to obtain their nutritional needs from other sources, thus requiring less breastmilk or nursing sessions. At 12 months, your child can start to drink milk from other sources (think, cow’s milk) in addition to, or in place of, breastmilk or formula.

Do you have further questions about when to stop breastfeeding or how to wean, but you’re hesitant to fall into the blackhole of online message boards and mommy blogs? (Smart woman). Schedule an in-home lactation consultation with Boston NAPS.