Mother breastfeeding her baby at home, in an article about how to stop breastfeeding
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How To Stop Breastfeeding When You’re Ready To Wean

Whether you need to do it quickly, or can take a gradual approach, lactation consultants explain how to wean.

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It can be a big deal to decide that you’re ready to stop breastfeeding. Or, maybe it’s just a gut feeling that your baby is done and you’re ready, too. Maybe weaning your baby is a light at the end of a long tunnel, or maybe just thinking about it makes you tear up. Whatever the catalyst for the decision — and whether you need to stop quickly or can take the time to stop breastfeeding more gradually — lactation consultants can help smooth the transition. That’s why we asked two of the very best we know to help explain all the ins and outs, and dos and don’ts, of how to stop breastfeeding when you’re ready to wean.

Weaning: How do you know when it’s time to stop breastfeeding?

Once you’ve established breastfeeding, how long should you continue? “Ending a breast/chest feeding relationship is always a very personal choice. A person may decide it is time for weaning because of personal physical or health concerns, work or lifestyle considerations, and so much more,” says Melissa Cole, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and owner of Luna Lactation & Wellness. “Breast/chest feeding is not a one-size-fits-all scenario and neither is the timing of cessation.”

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and continued breastfeeding for the first two years, many lactation experts agree that it is also important and valid to consider your own needs and circumstance. “The right time to wean can look different for everyone. Heading back to work can be the reason, for others a new baby on the way, and sometimes it can just feel intuitively like the right time to close the chapter on nursing,” explains Morgan Dixon, a lactation specialist. “Whatever the reasoning, if it feels like the right decision for your family, that is when you should wean.”

Signs your baby is ready to stop breastfeeding

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Before you ask yourself how to stop breastfeeding, you may be wondering how to even know when the time is right. Does your baby not want to nurse, or are there other feeding challenges in the way? If you have access to lactation support services and you’re struggling with breastfeeding — but would like to continue — it may be helpful to book an appointment with a lactation consultant who can help resolve feeding issues.

“Younger babies that are having difficulty with breast/chest feeding may show signs of difficulty or refusal behaviors, but this is different than actual readiness to wean and more indicative of feeding challenges,” explains Cole. Meanwhile, older babies and toddlers may begin to show readiness to wean “when they seem to be taking a well-rounded variety of solid foods or other nutrient-dense beverages and no longer show an interest in nursing when offered,” she adds.

Breastfeeding can be a very personal relationship between you and your child, so the signs will vary a lot, and sometimes the sense that it’s time to wean may simply begin as a “gut” feeling. There are a few classic signs a baby is ready to wean, Dixon explains, such as:

  • A lack of interest when being offered the breast
  • Your child is very distracted while nursing
  • You notice shortening feeds
  • Your child is starting to reject feeds altogether

“From my perspective, these things can typically be remedied,” Dixon adds. “If weaning seems like the healthiest option for everyone, then that is something you can start the process of after these signs become persistent.”

How to stop breastfeeding gradually

If the reason that you need to stop breastfeeding allows you to wean gradually, experts agree that gradual weaning is best for you and for your child’s mental and physical well-being. “Depending on how far into lactation and individual is, gradual weaning can have several benefits,” says Cole. “If the parent has an established milk supply, then we often need to reduce milk production gradually in order to avoid breast health concerns like mastitis. If a baby has been used to breastfeeding, then gradual weaning can help them adjust to a new routine more gently.”

Once you have decided that you’re ready to begin the weaning process, Dixon says that a crucial first step is to come up with a plan for how to stop breastfeeding. “Do it gradually, especially if it is done before 6 months, as you are still producing high volumes of milk and typically experience regular engorgement during that time,” she explains. “I also am a strong believer in taking the time to wean slowly in order to gradually balance your hormones. Similar to giving birth, if you wean suddenly, you could potentially experience a sudden shift in hormones.”

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Gradual weaning can be a gentle, smooth experience for you and your child. To make it as gentle as you can, Dixon shares the following tips for how to stop breastfeeding:

  1. Give yourself a few weeks to stop breastfeeding.
  2. Instead of immediately dropping one feed, start shortening the length of feeds by just a minute or so. Do this for a few days, then you can drop that shortened feed. Wait another few days, and drop that feed.
  3. The best feeding to drop first is usually a mid-afternoon feed, as that is when your prolactin is the lowest.

“Basically, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to weaning your baby. Always check in with yourself, and get comfortable feeling your boobs! You want to constantly be on the lookout for potential clogged ducts,” Dixon advises.

Can I stop breastfeeding quickly?

Sometimes, chest or breastfeeding people need to stop breastfeeding quickly. “There are many reasons someone may need to abruptly wean,” Cole says. “I would advise working with an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) in order to safely implement rapid weaning strategies.”

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If you need to stop breastfeeding quickly, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of side effects and contact your health care provider right away if you experience pain or discomfort after you stop breastfeeding. “If you wean rapidly, you run the risk of developing clogged ducts or mastitis,” Dixon warns. However, she adds that if you do need to wean rapidly, it may help to “try to maintain a feed or two for the first few days.” When you are feeling engorged during chosen dropped feeds, she says you may hand express milk briefly, but try to only express enough milk to relieve pain or pressure. “Things like ice bags or a bag of frozen peas, as well as chilled cabbage leaves, can be placed on the breasts during the period you would normally be nursing to help stop milk production,” adds Dixon.

Common side effects of weaning to prepare for

“Side effects of weaning really depend on the individual and the stage of lactation they are at. If they are still making a copious amount of milk, there may be some days of uncomfortable fullness or transition to be prepared for and supported. If they have already been gradually weaning or have lower milk production, then there may be less of a transitional period.

Preventing mastitis

As your milk supply dials down, it’s a good idea to be aware that clogged milk ducts can happen. Pay attention to your body, and act quickly if you suspect you have a clogged duct — have you tried the vibrator trick? — and call your health care provider if you suspect you may have mastitis.

Managing emotional highs and lows

“As weaning occurs, there are certain hormonal changes, particularly a drop in oxytocin, that can also impact mood,” Cole explains. Once again, if you are able to work with a lactation consultant as you wean, that may be something to look in to. “Having anticipatory guidance around the personalized experience of weaning is something that an IBCLC can help with.”

How long does it take for breast milk to dry up?

How long does it take for breast milk production to stop? Like everything about the weaning process, your experience will varies a lot depending on the age of your child and their needs, as well as your own rate of milk production. “For someone with a well-established milk supply, it can take two to four weeks on average; for some, it will be shorter or longer,” Cole explains. “For individuals that have lactated for a long time, they may continue to see small amounts of milk produced for many months.”

Breast milk will “dry up” at a different rate for everyone, and of course depend also on whether you’re able to wean gradually or need to stop breastfeeding quickly. “Personally speaking, I weaned my 2-year-old five months ago, but still have milk!” Dixon shares, adding that “just to relieve stress from the narrative of milk drying up, re-lactation is possible and milk never dries up overnight.”

Do I need to switch to formula?

If your baby is older than a year, they likely do not need formula. However, it’s a good idea to mention the fact that you are planning to wean to your child’s health care provider and talk about any dietary adjustments that may be needed.

How to support your baby through the transition away from breastfeeding

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You may be the most nervous about how your baby or toddler will handle the end of your breastfeeding journey together. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can support them as you wean. “There are many ways to gently support a baby through this transition. There are many ways to love and feed a child,” reminds Cole. “Implementing other ways to provide healthy attachment, nurturing connection, talking through transitions while supporting their emotions, can all be a part of the gentle weaning process.”

Offering extra cuddles and comfort is a good idea for both of you, Dixon says. And if you are weaning a baby, offering a bottle instead of your breast may be a piece of your weaning puzzle. If your child is older, conversation about the fact that you’re stopping breastfeeding may be a bigger part of the process. “Distractions like playing with a new toy or going on a walk can be helpful,” Dixon suggests. “Just being patient and understanding that babies really just might want the comfort of being close to you more than anything. If your child uses a ‘lovey’ or transitional object, now is a great time to make sure that is always available.”

When you and your child are ready to stop breastfeeding, there are many paths to that finish line, and all are valid. It’s also a great idea to seek support — from friends, family, and a lactation consultant if possible — as you work through this milestone together.


Melissa Cole, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Luna Lactation & Wellness

Morgan Dixon, Lactation Specialist

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