How to Stop Breastfeeding Quickly and Without Pain

July 7, 2021
Did you decide to stop breastfeeding? Sadly, the transition may be difficult for both babies and moms. Check out this expert advice to help you do it quickly and without pain.

The time has come. You’ve made the decision to stop breastfeeding, and now you’re experiencing all the feels. Maybe you’re beyond ready to get rid of your nipple shields, breast pump, and breast pads. Perhaps you aren’t personally ready to stop breastfeeding, although it’s become evident that you shouldn’t continue. Maybe you never breastfed but need to dry up your milk supply after being pregnant.

After all, breastfeeding is hard. There are many reasons why women stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is often promoted as a beautiful mother-infant experience, even though most women don’t nurse their babies for more than a few months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, 67 percent of infants born in America were breastfeeding at birth. However, only 30 percent were still breastfeeding at six months of age.

Whatever your reason and regardless of how you’re feeling about this decision, you need to know that it’s okay. Whether your baby is three days old or three years old, it’s hard for you as a mother. We know that you’ve probably put a lot of thought into this decision — and we’ve got your back.

In this article, we share the information you need to know to be able to stop breastfeeding as comfortably as possible, even though there isn’t a precise formula for determining how long it’ll take your milk supply to dry up. We hope that following some of the suggestions below can make it an easier process.

When to stop breastfeeding

There’s an official guideline for how long to breastfeed: “as long as possible”. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively until the baby is at least six months old. Then, gradually adding solid foods while continuing to breastfeed until the baby is one year or older. That’s the ideal. Nonetheless, some mothers have medical reasons for weaning off breastfeeding sooner than six months or a year. 

They might have had an extremely tough time getting the baby to latch on correctly. They’ve probably been experiencing excessive pain when breastfeeding or an insufficient breast milk supply. Likewise, they may need medication. This medication would otherwise be passed on to the child through breast milk if they didn’t start weaning. For other moms, external influences hamper breastfeeding.

They feel it’s close to impossible to pump at their workplace or they need to depend on a caregiver. Sometimes, it’s a simple lack of desire to continue breastfeeding and that’s okay as well. Just remember that, if you’re weaning before your baby is one year old, you’ll need to feed them baby formula. This will ensure they receive proper nutrition. After age one, you can switch to cow’s milk.

How to do it quickly

Ideally, you stop breastfeeding over a period of weeks or even months. This allows your milk supply to gradually decrease as milk is removed less often. Depending on the age of your beloved child, this extra time gives you the opportunity to introduce other foods. For example, solids and liquids besides breastmilk. Giving yourself time to slowly wean off breastfeeding will be more comfortable and less stressful. 

Slow and steady always wins any race. Sometimes, it may not be possible to stretch out the weaning process. If you need to stop breastfeeding quickly, here are some suggestions to help you out with the process:

  • Begin by dropping the breastfeeding session your child seems the least interested in. Many people maintain the early morning or bedtime breastfeeding sessions for last. There’s no need to give up those sleepy snuggles right away.
  • Wear a supportive bra that doesn’t put pressure on your breasts or cut into them. Yes, we just offered you an excuse to go shopping.
  • If you really need to dry up your milk supply quickly, talk to your doctor. They’ll advise you between using Sudafed, birth control, or herbs to try to reduce milk production.
  • Talk to your doctor about offering your child formula or another age-appropriate food item before the breast. If you do this at feeding session times, it’ll quickly decrease their interest in breastfeeding.
  • Offer your child only one breast per feed and try to stick to a fixed feeding routine. This will minimize breastfeeding “snacking”.
  • Hand express or use a hand pump until you feel more comfortable if your breasts become engorged and painful. Try not to empty your breasts. You don’t want to trigger an increase in supply.

The side effects of stopping too fast

You may have experienced physical changes, and emotional ups and downs, as your milk supply increased. Now, as your body stops producing milk, many of those same side effects may appear again. For some women, they appear for the first time if they didn’t experience them when their milk came in. For example, you may find yourself with engorged breasts from milk not being drained out regularly. 

Clogged ducts or mastitis may come along with this. You may also find that your breasts leak some of the excess milk. Furthermore, you may find that you feel a great amount of sadness, anxiety, anger, or even happiness. Are you wondering how you can minimize some of the unpleasantness or deep emotions? The answer, though perhaps not what you want to hear, probably comes as no surprise. 

You may have fewer (or less severe) side effects to deal with if you prolong the weaning process. By giving your body more time to adjust and decrease milk production, engorgement may be reduced. This generally means less breast swelling and pain. If you do experience side effects, treat your symptoms with some of our tips below sooner rather than later.

Weaning in a way that minimizes discomfort

Are you ready to stop breastfeeding and dry up your milk supply? A good rule of thumb is to plan to drop one feeding session every three to five days. This sounds simple and straightforward enough. Even so, let’s talk about minimizing some of the common issues that come with this proven method.

Preventing mastitis

No matter how long your supply lasts, one method not to use to reduce milk production is breast binding. This may cause clogged ducts and mastitis. Mastitis, or inflammation caused by infection, can cause a great deal of pain. In addition to not binding your breasts, consider the following tips to help avoid mastitis as you stop breastfeeding:

  • We can’t say this enough: give yourself time to slowly discontinue your feeding and pumping sessions. One of the major causes of mastitis is milk buildup in the breast tissue. Slowly tapering off feeding sessions gives the body more time to gradually decrease the milk supply. Thus, the milk buildup won’t be as great.
  • Make sure to continue taking good care of your breast tissue. Bacteria can enter through any sores or cuts, leading to infection and mastitis.
  • Only use pumps that fit properly.

Should any signs of mastitis develop during weaning, immediately notify your doctor. For example, fever and hard red bumps. If this is your case, you’ll probably need antibiotics or other medical treatments.

Dealing with the emotional ups and downs

Even with slow and steady weaning, your hormones are changing. We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Many moms aren’t fans of breastfeeding (which is totally okay, by the way). It can still be emotionally tough to stop for you. In fact, it may even feel like you’re losing some closeness with your sweet baby. Don’t worry, though, as the bond you have with your child will only deepen as the years go by.

There are many emotional twists and turns when you stop breastfeeding, especially at the end when weaning is completed. Thus, expect bittersweet emotions. When you lead the weaning process, your baby might experience frustration, irritation, or anger towards you. When the baby leads the process, it isn’t uncommon for mothers to feel lonely and rejected. It’s okay to feel excitement, sadness, anxiety, or depression over this big change. 

Furthermore, it’s also very common for many moms to experience guilt. Remember that weaning from breastfeeding is completely natural. You provided your child with the beautiful gift of breastfeeding

Are you and your baby having a hard time? Feel free to extend out the weaning process as long as you feel it’s necessary. There’s no wrong timetable here. Check out these clever expert tips for dealing with this roller coaster:

  • Make sure that you’re getting enough rest and eating a healthy diet. This will help regulate your hormones and make you feel your best!
  • Find a support group or friend who understands what you’re going through.
  • Spend time doing your favorite activities and hobbies.
  • Get those endorphins flowing with some exercise.
  • Practice yoga for some relaxation and mindfulness. 

Helping your baby and yourself through the overwhelming process

Let’s be honest. Weaning can be hard on both mom and baby. How can you better cope with the transition? If you find yourself with an enraged child, take a deep breath and relax. Try connecting with your child in other special ways with extra snuggles and kisses along the way. If your child is willing, you could even offer a bottle or sippy cup. Do this while snuggling in the rocking chair to feel close and connected. 

Additionally, aim for some quality one-on-one playtime with your child that’s separate from other family members. This will help you and your child connect on another level. You can also gently suggest other activities at a typical nursing time. This will surely keep both your minds off breastfeeding. Offer a meal, snack, or a drink of water. Go outside to blow bubbles or walk with the stroller. Discover a crayon that needs some paper. Become a horsey who needs a rider. Resort to any activity that may provide a healthy distraction for you and your child.

Try these ideas to help your child even further:

  • Offer a pacifier for your child to suck on in place of your breast.
  • Offer your child plenty of liquids and solid foods if age-appropriate. Make sure to check with your child’s doctor to ensure that all of their nutritional needs are being met.
  • Continue to spend plenty of time cuddling with your child and bonding.
  • If your baby associates bedtime (or other activities) with breastfeeding, have your partner take over these duties during weaning.

Last thoughts

During the first few months of your baby’s life, starting to breastfeed is much harder than moms ever anticipated. At least it was that way for me. Besides, stopping breastfeeding isn’t met with any fewer challenges.

Take as much time as you need to decide exactly when and how to wean. If needed, weaning over the course of several months allows both you and your child to more easily transition. Expect mixed feelings during the transition: it’s completely normal. Remember to seek out support from other moms if you need it. 

In short, there are many reasons why women move on from breastfeeding. Whatever your reason, you deserve to be as pain-free as possible, physically and emotionally. It’s important to be kind to yourself and your body. Remember that this isn’t the end, rather the beginning of a new stage with your child.

If you have to stop breastfeeding quickly, talk to your doctor about methods that can help. It’s crucial to keep a watchful eye on your symptoms. Otherwise, try dropping a feeding every three to five days. Always remember that, no matter the emotional ups and downs of the process, you’re doing a wonderful job.

Padró, A. (2017). Somos la leche: Dudas, consejos y falsos mitos sobre la lactancia (Embarazo, bebé y niño). Barcelona: Grijalbo Ilustrados.