Quiet Quitting

7 Totally Common Reasons You Might Stop Breastfeeding

Just do what’s right for you.

by Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman

By now, you’ve most likely heard the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for approximately six months after a baby’s birth and continued breastfeeding — as long as mutually desired by mother and child — for two years or beyond. But let’s get real: Two years of nursing is a laughably heavy lift for many breastfeeding parents, and there are myriad reasons why a parent might need to stop breastfeeding before even that six-month mark.

Breastfeeding is often framed as a choice that people make, but all choices are not equal: “It’s really not a decision that all people have the same likelihood or ease of making,” says Leslie Frankel, Ph.D., associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Houston, who studies the impact of stress on parenting. “Some people can’t [breastfeed], and it’s a much, much harder decision for women to continue breastfeeding or even pumping in a lot of job contexts that make it difficult.” But the pressure to breastfeed can be overwhelming, and the guilt in stopping can make parents feel even worse.

The truth is, breastfeeding parents have all sorts of reasons for weaning, even before their baby hits 6 months. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 60% of breastfeeding parents don’t breastfeed as long as they originally intended to, for reasons including issues with lactation and latching, concerns about infant nutrition and weight, worries about taking medications while breastfeeding, unsupportive work policies and lack of parental leave, cultural norms and lack of family support, and unsupportive hospital practices and policies.

While there are as many reasons that people decide to wean as there are people who do it, here are some of the most common reasons why breastfeeding parents switch to formula — and all of them are equally valid.


You simply want to stop breastfeeding.

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You can stop breastfeeding anytime you want to, and don’t need to have a reason. In fact, many parents decide that breastfeeding is not for them, and they may not have one single reason that’s easy to articulate. Particularly in the thick of caring for a new baby and recovering from birth, it can be difficult to express or pinpoint exactly why you feel how you feel. But, if you feel you want to stop breastfeeding, that in itself is a perfectly OK reason to stop. You may want to seek help from a lactation consultant to assist in the weaning process and make it smoother for both you and your baby, if that’s an option.


You’re going back to work.

“The No. 1 reason why [breastfeeding parents] stop breastfeeding is they go back to work,” says Dr. Mark R. Corkins, M.D., division chief of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “Many workplaces aren’t set up for breastfeeding,” he notes, despite laws that protect most nursing employees’ right to pump on the job. These laws include the brand-new PUMP (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers) Act, which just went into full effect in May 2023, and expands upon the previous Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

When the workplace isn’t set up for pumping, many breastfeeding parents have to make a choice between feeding their baby and keeping their job, says Ayelet Kaznelson, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).

“They are making the choice not because they want to but because they are forced to,” she says. “The laws protecting women’s right to pump at work should be strongly implemented so this isn’t a choice a woman ever has to make.”

Even if you can pump at work, this is often more challenging than it seems, adds Corkins. It’s not just the pumping time: You have to set up and break down the pump, clean the parts, label and store the milk, and transport it home. It’s a lot!


You aren’t producing enough milk.

“Sometimes the baby is not getting enough milk,” says Dr. Lauren Macaluso, M.D., a certified lactation consultant with Allied Physicians Group in New York. “It’s best to make sure that’s actually happening with a thorough mom and baby breastfeeding evaluation.” Reach out to an IBCLC if you think your milk production isn’t adequate for your baby, and you’d like to continue breastfeeding. You should also touch base with your baby’s pediatrician to rule out any health concerns.

Keep in mind, though, that the first weeks of nursing may not be a good indicator of what’s to come. “Babies lose weight after birth; that’s natural and appropriate. They are supposed to regain it by the two-week doctor’s visit,” says Corkins.

If your baby isn’t gaining enough weight, your pediatrician may advise you to supplement with formula, at least temporarily, says Macaluso. Breastfeeding parents who wish to continue breastfeeding in this scenario can always try combo feeding. “We’ll work to improve breastfeeding while making sure the baby is gaining normal weight,” she adds.


You have persistent pain or discomfort.

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There are many reasons why breastfeeding can cause pain and discomfort, including the baby’s latch or suck, positioning, tongue tie, milk overproduction, engorgement, nipple trauma, eczema, and dermatitis, explains Macaluso. While most of these issues can be solved with the help of a lactation physician or consultant, they can be very upsetting in the short term.

Your lactation physician or consultant should know when to offer encouragement and support — and when it’s time to help you wean, says Macaluso. “[Breastfeeding parents] will say, ‘I’ve had recurrent mastitis’ or ‘I’m engorged all the time, and I don’t want to do this any more.’ That’s our time to embrace them and hear them,” she says.


You need to focus on your own well-being.

Perinatal mood or anxiety disorders (PMADs) are the No. 1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth, per the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA). “[After giving birth], your mind, body, and soul are adjusting to a huge new experience,” says Macaluso.

Some studies have shown that there’s an inverse relationship between breastfeeding length and risk of postpartum depression. But in some cases, breastfeeding can exacerbate PMADs, especially if breastfeeding is a struggle, she says. “There’s a huge focus on the baby’s feeding and weight gain during the postpartum period. A mom’s emotions are often related to this experience.”

In fact, some breastfeeding parents even experience dysphoric milk ejection reflex, also known as D-MER, where a mom feels anxiety or a sense of doom just before “let down,” or the release of milk. While the condition can be treatable, it’s another example of a situation where the parent may choose to move on from breastfeeding.


You aren’t getting enough sleep.

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Every new mother feels exhausted, but some are so tired they feel like they simply cannot function. “One of the major things I have found that leads people to feel they cannot breastfeed is lack of adequate sleep,” says Kaznelson.

It may be much easier to get an uninterrupted chunk of sleep if your partner can take over a night feeding without needing you at all, either by giving your baby a bottle of pumped milk or introducing formula.


You or your baby have a medical issue.

While rare, there are scenarios where the breastfeeding parent or baby has a medical condition or takes a certain medication that is contraindicated with breastfeeding, meaning using or ingesting breastmilk is not recommended, according to the CDC.

“They’re very rare, but there are a few cases,” says Corkins. One example is if your infant is diagnosed with classic galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder where they can’t break down lactose.

It’s also rare that a mother’s diet can affect a baby through breastmilk, but if your child does have an allergy, particularly to cow’s milk, your pediatrician may suggest eliminating the known or suspected allergen from your diet, according to the AAP.

Per the CDC, other medical conditions that could affect breastfeeding include:

  • The mother has HIV, is not on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and/or does not have a suppressed viral load during pregnancy (at a minimum throughout the third trimester), delivery, and postpartum.
  • The mother is infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II.
  • The mother is using an illicit drug, such as opioids, PCP, or cocaine.
  • The mother has suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease.
  • The mother is taking certain medications, although substitutes can often be found.

No matter what, if breastfeeding isn’t for you, it’s 100% OK to stop. Breastmilk does have some unique advantages — for example, breastmilk has antibodies from the mother that protect against certain infectious illnesses, as well as ear infections and diarrhea, explains Corkins — but formula will also provide your baby with all the nutrients they need to gain and to grow, he says.

Choosing to formula feed because you have to or want to also doesn’t in any way make you less of a parent, adds Frankel. “It’s often not a choice — it’s often because of circumstances,” she says. “Formula feeding is easier and better for some people in some situations than pumping and breastfeeding.”

Simple as that.


Leslie Frankel, Ph.D., associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Houston

Mark R. Corkins, M.D., division chief of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Ayelet Kaznelson, international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC)

Dr. Lauren Macaluso, M.D., a certified lactation consultant