During pregnancy and new parenthood, there is a lot of talk around starting breastfeeding. The challenges and obstacles you can face when you begin to breastfeed your baby are well documented. But what about stopping breastfeeding? What are the challenges that can come from weaning off the breast and how can we prepare ourselves?
The lack of open discussion around stopping breastfeeding almost makes it feel like a taboo subject – which of course it shouldn’t be. The most important thing is that you do not feel pressurised into ending your breastfeeding journey before you are truly ready. The World Health Organisation recommends continuing to breastfeed for up to two years of age or beyond. However, despite these recommendations, many parents still come under pressure from family, friends and society to stop breastfeeding earlier.
The mother and child relationship is what is most important and you should continue breastfeeding for however long you both want to. You should also be free to bring breastfeeding to a close when the time is right for you and your child.
Whether you decide to give up breastfeeding, or our child is ready to wean on their own terms, it’s helpful to understand what to expect when the nursing relationship ends. With that in mind let’s look at some of the emotional and physical changes to be mindful of when you begin to wean your baby or child from the breast.
You could experience breast issues
If you stop breastfeeding quickly, then the build-up of milk may cause swelling and inflammation in the breast. This can lead to breast engorgement, putting you as risk of blocked ducts and mastitis.
Bare in mind that if you have decided it’s time to stop breastfeeding then it’s important that – wherever possible – you reduce the amount of feeds gradually. Ideally you will want to drop one breastfeed at a time. This will help to gradually reduce your milk supply and avoid any issues that may come from engorgement.
It’s also worth noting, that once you finish breastfeeding, you may still find your produce breast milk for a while. Some women find this goes on for a matter of weeks, and in some cases even longer.
Bare in mind that if you have decided it’s time to stop breastfeeding then it’s important that – wherever possible – you reduce the amount of feeds gradually.
You may see visual changes to your breasts
Once you finish breastfeeding, and your milk has dried up, you may notice your breasts are smaller in size and perhaps different in shape also. Some breastfeeding parents report having saggier breasts / less plump looking breasts, whilst some say their breasts went back to what there were like before pregnancy.
Visual changes to your breasts are often down to a number of factors – including age, genetics, weight changes and general lifestyle.
Your menstrual cycle will likely return
Many women who exclusively breastfeed do not get their period until they stop breastfeeding – or reduce their feeds considerably. Other people get their period again quite quickly after giving birth and whilst breastfeeding. When your period does return you may experience irregular periods for a while until your cycle settles down and becomes more regular.
While it is difficult to ascertain when your period will return as you wean off the breast / stop breastfeeding the chance of ovulation will definitely increase. It’s important to remember that you can get pregnant while breastfeeding and weaning. Therefore, if you’re not already using a form of birth control (and aren’t prepared for another pregnancy), be sure to speak with your provider about birth control options.
You may feel a range of mixed emotions
Whether you adopt a parent led or child led approach to weaning from the breast, you may find yourself feeling a range of emotions. One minute you could feel happiness and relief and then this could turn to sadness and guilt. This is normal and completely appropriate responses.
One minute you could feel happiness and relief and then this could turn to sadness and guilt.
Breastfeeding a child may bring fond memories that are difficult to let go off. It can be difficult to envision parenting without breastfeeding as a valuable ‘tool’ to offer comfort and reassurance. Allowing those emotions to be felt and acknowledging them is a part of the weaning process.
Hormonal changes could lead to mood changes
Hormonal changes that occur during the weaning process can lead to changes in your mood. Breastfeeding releases ‘feel good’ hormones oxytocin and prolactin, and as your feeds get fewer and fewer and then stop, then so does the release of these hormones. This may leave you feeling a little ‘flat’ and despondent.
Some parents report feeling very low in mood after they finish breastfeeding and it can take days, weeks or even months to feel like themselves again. For this reason it’s important to monitor your mood changes. If you are struggling, you should seek support from a health professional.
Some parents report feeling very low in mood after they stop breastfeeding
You may notice changes in your child’s behaviour
Older toddlers and children can be attached to breastfeeding, seeking comfort and warmth from the breast. Children may utilise breastfeeding as a way of ‘checking in’ when exploring their environment or after being separated from their parent, in the same way that a child who is not breastfeeding may opt for a cuddle.
By adopting a gentle approach to weaning, taking it at a slow pace, it can give your older child the time to get used to other forms of gaining comfort. This in turn is likely to support their emotional well-being too.
A weaning book you may be interested in
Boobingit contributor Emily Hardwick has written a picture book to help you and your child through the weaning stage. Entitled: A big change for Seb: a breastfed toddler’s weaning story. You can purchase the book here – https://amzn.to/4b249fo