When you’re ready to stop nursing, it can take up to 3 weeks before your body quits producing milk.
Home remedies, supportive clothing, and time limits can help you adjust as your milk dries up.
Lactation consultants can offer emotional support and tips to ease the transition for you and baby.
Whether you’re dealing with returning to work, you have low milk supply, or your breasts are causing too much pain, it’s all right to stop breastfeeding if it no longer works for you or your child, says Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a private practice lactation consultant and childbirth educator.
As you stop breastfeeding, or nursing, you might notice a range of symptoms, from engorgement to depression. And depending on your child’s age, they may also show some sadness, anxiety, or other emotional response as they adjust to this change in your relationship.
Having patience with the process can help, but you can also do a lot to make these changes easier on yourself and your baby — read on for 9 tips to get started.
1. Consider your baby’s age
Always ask your pediatrician about the best feeding plan for your child, but that plan will typically depend on your baby’s age.
Babies 6 months old and younger will need to be fed exclusively formula or breast milk from another source.
Babies 6 months old and up may be ready to start transitioning to baby foods, purees, and solids.
Until your baby reaches 12 months of age, you’ll need to offer milk in some form — whether from your stash, a donor, or formula. After their first birthday, they usually no longer need breast milk or formula to supplement their diet.
Most children are ready to switch to cow’s milk (or an alternative) after their first birthday, Levine says.
2. Drop sessions gradually
Gradually weaning your baby instead of stopping nursing all at once allows your child time to get used to new tastes and routines over the course of multiple weeks.
Ending your nursing relationship will take time — possibly up to a month. Keep in mind that it takes anywhere from 10 to 21 days for milk production to end completely, Levine says.
According to Sethi, factors that affect how long it takes for you to stop producing milk include:
The CDC suggests replacing one daily feeding with formula at a time. Every few days, you can gradually replace another nursing session with formula until you’ve phased out nursing completely.
If you’re switching to formula, you can ease the transition for your baby by slowly changing the milk-to-formula ratio in bottles. “Begin with adding more breast milk and small amounts of formula, then switch the ratios once baby becomes more acclimated to the taste,” Sethi says.
3. Set time limits
Setting a time limit on nursing sessions, especially if your child doesn’t rely solely on breast milk, could make this change easier.
For example, if you typically nurse for 10 minutes, consider stopping after 7 minutes and shaving an additional minute off every couple of days.
If you’re ending your nursing relationship with a toddler who’s old enough to understand, you might count down for them or use a song to keep the nursing session within your time limit.
4. Opt for supportive clothing
To keep comfortable as you end your time nursing, opt for supportive bras and avoid snug and tight-fitting tops.
You can even use your clothing choices to discourage nursing — some parents find that high necklines and extra layers limit the accessibility of their breasts, which may help reduce the frequency of nursing requests from an older baby or toddler.
5. Prepare for shifting moods
Nursing brings on many hormonal changes, and these hormones shift again when your body stops producing milk. In particular, prolactin and oxytocin, the milk-producing hormone and “love” hormone, respectively, decrease as you stop nursing.
It can help to remember these effects are temporary and tend to resolve within a few weeks, but good self-care becomes especially important during this time.
The following strategies could help make the process smoother, Sethi says:
6. Try home remedies for pain and engorgement
It’s common to experience at least some engorgement when you stop breastfeeding, Levine says.
If you’re experiencing pain or engorgement, consider trying:
Cabbage leaves: Cabbage leaves can help soothe the pain that comes from engorgement. Placing a pre-frozen cabbage leaf on each breast for 20 minutes can be especially soothing for extreme engorgement, Levine says.
Hot-and-cold compresses: Using heating pads or hot water bottles could help reduce engorgement pain while ice may help with swelling. Applying a cold compress with ice to any painful areas for 10 to 15 minutes at a time as needed is usually enough to help ease mild engorgement, Levine says.
Expressing milk: Using a pump or hand expressing just enough milk to relieve discomfort can help you adjust, Sethi says. Keep in mind that expressing too much milk can prompt your body to keep making more.
In addition, some doctors might suggest taking a decongestant like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to help your supply dry up. But in most cases, home remedies (without medication) do the trick, Sethi says.
7. Remember anytime can be bonding time
Nursing is a natural way to bond, but “you can still have plenty of snuggle and cuddle time with your child even when you’re not nursing,” Levine says.
It’s normal to feel worried about this big change, Levine says. Just remember there are plenty of other ways to bond and strengthen your relationship with your child:
Use the time you’d spend nursing to cuddle or play a game, instead.
If you have a young baby, remember you can still cuddle while bottle feeding.
Create new routines for nap time, such as reading a story together.
Remember that this transition is likely harder on you than your baby. So if they seem upset, it’s probably temporary. Young kids tend to be adaptable and soon move on to the next thing, Sethi says.
8. Try ‘Don’t offer, don’t refuse’
“Don’t offer, don’t refuse” is a strategy that can help parents transition away from nursing babies and toddlers who aren’t exclusively drinking breast milk or formula. In short, you stop initiating nursing sessions, but feed if your child requests it.
This gradual approach doesn’t work for everyone, especially if you need to stop quickly or want to stop nursing a baby who still requires breast milk as part of their diet.
But if you have an older baby and a bit more time to end the nursing relationship, this strategy could help make the weaning process smoother — for both of you.
9. Talk with a professional
If you’re unsure about any aspect of nursing, you can reach out to your OB-GYN, midwife, or a lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants can help with many nursing-related concerns, including:
If these issues make it harder to nurse but you don’t yet feel ready to stop, lactation consultants can help you troubleshoot them so you can continue.
Certain you’re ready to stop? Lactation consultants can also offer guidance with easing any physical discomfort or emotional distress that surfaces as you stop nursing. They can teach you how to hand express milk to relieve pressure or engorgement, Sethi says.
They can also provide emotional support as you leave the nursing stage behind. It’s not uncommon to need space to reflect on any of the ups and downs you experienced as part of your nursing journey, Levine says.
Many parents hold themselves to high standards or feel strong societal pressure to continue nursing. You might even experience feelings of guilt when you decide to stop, Sethi says.
It’s common to feel doubtful or sad when you decide to stop nursing. You might even wonder “Am I a good enough parent?” or “Am I doing what’s best for my baby?” But at the end of the day, what matters is that baby is fed and growing, Sethi says.
Ending your nursing relationship is a milestone, no matter when — or why — you choose to do it. The progress you and your baby have made is something to celebrate.