When Breastfeeding Ends – by Jenna

Breastfeeding is recommended for as long as possible during your child’s first two years of life. No matter how long one has been breastfeeding, you are eventually going to want to stop.

Remember that it is okay to grieve a little when this time comes. Many moms, regardless of  how long their breastfeeding journey has lasted, will be sad during this process. For those moms who have not managed to breastfeed for as long as they would have liked, we urge you to speak to someone you trust about how you are feeling, this can be a very emotional process to follow. If you are choosing to stop because of breastfeeding difficulties, we encourage you to contact a lactation consultant who can help you to get things back on track.

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For some moms, generally for medical reasons, breastfeeding must stop very suddenly, while others have the luxury of gradually weaning their babies off the breast. 

Ideally weaning should take place over a couple of weeks by slowly cutting out feeds and replacing those feeds if necessary. If your baby is still relying on milk as his primary form of nutrition then these feeds must be replaced by a baby-specific milk substitute.

When weaning gradually we advise that you cut down by one feed every 3-7 days depending on how quickly you need to / want to wean. This will give both your body and your baby ample time to adjust. There is no limit as to how long you take to wean from breastfeeding and some moms continue to give just one breastfeed p/day or even every second day for many months.

By weaning gradually, you will drastically lower your chances of becoming engorged or infected. 

It is normal to have some pain and swelling during weaning – this does not mean that you are engorged or that you have got mastitis. In a day or two, your body will have adjusted and things will feel more normal.

Should your breasts feel hot to the touch, turn pink in colour, if you are unable to extract milk and you have got an elevated temperature with body aches or pains, it is important that you seek medical advice as these are all signs of true engorgement or infection.

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When weaning very quickly, it is important that you give your breasts a little bit of extra care.

  • Even when weaning quickly, it may take up to 3 weeks to get to the point where you no longer have to remove milk to be comfortable
  • Remember that milk removal will stimulate milk production. If you are expressing for comfort, we suggest that you express (by hand or pump) about 30ml per breast only when necessary.
  • At first you will most likely have to remove milk every few hours. As time passes, your body will adjust and you will begin to produce less milk. Once your breasts have been soft and comfortable for about 24 hours you should be able to stop expressing.
  • Any milk that is removed can be fed to your baby unless your doctor has said otherwise (this may be due to an allergy or due to medication that you have started taking)
  • Large doses of Vitamin B6 have been known to help reduce milk production, for this reason many moms will have vitamin B injections during a quick weaning phase.
  • Use cold rather than hot compress on your breasts or refrigerated cabbage leaves. DO NOT bind your breasts, this is an old fashioned practice which can increase pain with little effect on reducing your milk supply. Binding will also increase your risk of developing mastitis.
  • Arnica oil can decrease inflammation and pain. Rub breasts with arnica oil as and when necessary.
  • Drink to thirst. Restricting fluids will not help dry up your supply.
  • Wear a comfortable, well supporting bra during weaning.

Remember that even though you have stopped breastfeeding, you can still bond with your baby. Be sure to give your baby plenty of love and cuddles during this time as his little love tank needs to be filled too.

Should you change your mind, it is fairly easy to build up your supply again within 6 weeks after stopping. Contact a lactation consultant to help you with this process.

You may notice that your milk lingers for many months after stopping, though you will not be sore or uncomfortable. This is completely normal, breast milk can take up to 12 months to disappear completely.

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