How to stop breastfeeding: when, how and a few tips for weaning the right way

Deciding to end your breastfeeding journey can be difficult for both mum and bub. Here you can find some tips on how to best approach weaning baby so you can better prepare for the task.

how to stop breastfeeding

There is no right or wrong time to stop breastfeeding and it can be a highly personal and often emotional decision, for both mother and baby.

While we all know about the benefits of breast milk and have read about various health organisations recommending breastfeeding until baby is one, two or even older, this doesn’t factor in considerations such as other health concerns (whether it be for mum or baby), including mental health, and other life commitments such as returning to work.

So while the guidelines may be what is ideal in a perfect world, we all know that reality often dictates something completely different, especially when raising young children!

Some families know from the beginning when they want to stop breastfeeding, while others adopt more of a “wait and see” approach. And sometimes, it’s just out of our control, with circumstances dictating when we must stop breastfeeding.

Remember that breastfeeding is a two-way relationship, and it must continue to work and be beneficial for both mum and bub for it to be successful. There can be a lot of external pressure from well-meaning friends and family members, and even healthcare professionals, to either continue or stop breastfeeding, but remember the ultimate decision is up to you and your baby.

Important: this article does not constitute medical or health advice, and should not be treated as such. Please consult with your health professional about your specific needs and circumstances.

Different types of weaning

All breastfed babies eventually wean, but the way they wean and how it is initiated can be different for all.

Baby-led weaning

Sometimes babies just decide for themselves when it’s time to stop or reduce breastfeeding. Baby-led weaning is more likely to be a gradual process than mother-led or mutual weaning, and normally occurs after twelve months of age when he’s already enjoying a variety of different foods and drinks for nutrition.

This can be a welcome event for some mums, while for others, it can bring up a range of emotions including disappointment or even rejection. This is particularly common when your baby is on the younger side when he decides to wean himself, or if you were hoping to breastfeed for a longer period of time.

Mother-led weaning

This is when you decide when to stop, and it can be for lots of different reasons. A common reason is that you are thinking about getting pregnant again, and breastfeeding could be delaying this by preventing ovulation.

It could be for medical reasons, practical reasons such as returning to work, or simply just that you’ve had enough and are satisfied with your breastfeeding journey.

Mutual weaning (part baby-led, part mother-led)

A combination of the two, sometimes it isn’t really obvious who initiated the weaning process and it occurs organically over time. After baby has been introduced to solid food at around six months of age, his appetite for breast milk will likely go down as he fills his tummy with other foods.

Stop breastfeeding: the ideal way

It’s most ideal to plan to stop breastfeeding gradually, over several weeks, one feed at a time, to allow your milk supply to decrease slowly.

You should generally aim to drop no more than one feed every three to four days to protect your breasts from engorgement and also to avoid unnecessary anxiety in your baby. There’s not really any such thing as going too slowly, except that it can be quite a drawn out process that you might prefer to be done with earlier rather than later.

Start with dropping the breastfeed that seems to be the least important or the one your child is least interested in. Often this is one during the day, not the first in the morning nor the last at night. Once you and your baby are both comfortable with having one fewer feed, then you can go ahead and drop a second feed, and so on.

Especially in the early days of weaning, it can be helpful to wear a soft, supportive bra that’s comfortable without putting too much pressure on your breasts, as well as clean breast pads to catch any leaks.

Take good care of your breasts by keeping them clean and hygienic, particularly if you have any open wounds that bacteria can get into which can potentially lead to infection and mastitis.

And if you ever experience any symptoms of mastitis, which commonly include fever, general malaise, pain or burning when breastfeeding, skin redness or thickening breast tissue, seek medical advice immediately.

Stopping breastfeeding immediately and fast

While you may wish to stop breastfeeding cold turkey all in one go, be aware that this can cause emotional distress to both you and your child, as well as causing uncomfortable or painful breasts and nipples, engorged breasts, and even clogged ducts and mastitis. However, if there’s no avoiding this, it’s not impossible to do if you’re well prepared.

To know how to stop breastfeeding fast, it’s firstly important to understand that when you suddenly stop breastfeeding, your body will still, at first, produce the same amount of milk as if you never stopped. This is probably going to result in engorgement, pain and tenderness in the breasts as you continue to produce milk that isn’t taken.

You can help to alleviate this discomfort by either hand expressing or pumping a small amount of milk. As breastfeeding works on supply and demand, your goal will be to reduce the demand and your milk supply will drop accordingly. 

Because of this, you should only express enough to feel comfortable, and not drain the breast completely, as this will only send the message to produce even more milk, the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. While hand expressing is certainly doable, most women find using a breast pump to express milk easier and faster. The resulting pumped milk can be discarded or donated. If you don’t already own one, check out our selection of recommended breast pumps to get you started. You can also try the old trick of chilled cabbage leaves or a cold compress in your bra for quick relief.

If it’s vital you dry up your supply very quickly, talk to your doctor who may be able to offer you medication to help the process. Lactation consultants and breastfeeding specialists can also provide you with support and specialised knowledge.

Night weaning and how to stop breastfeeding at night

Developmentally speaking, babies are capable of sleeping through the night from around four or five months of age, so you shouldn’t attempt night weaning before this age.

Night weaning is a kind of partial weaning where you transition your baby away from waking up in the night to breastfeed, and it’s often the first step towards full weaning.

It’s super common for new mums to worry about how to stop breastfeeding to sleep, but understand that it’s perfectly natural for babies to breastfeed to sleep and it isn’t a problem if you don’t mind.

Eventually, all children will learn to sleep without breastfeeding, however perhaps you want to speed this process along a little, whether it be you want more autonomy, or you feel touched out, or you just want a full night’s sleep!

Some practical ideas

If your child associates bed or naptime with breastfeeding and finds it hard to fall asleep without it, one idea is to have your partner take over the bedtime and settling routine so he begins to make new, equally pleasant, associations.

  • Offering a bedtime story is also another great alternative, and changing bedtime routine is also ideal if you are looking to stop breastfeeding a toddler at night. 
  • You can also try lying down with your child when he is sleepy and stay until he is asleep so he still feels secure and comforted by your physical presence, or offer him his favourite toy or blanket.
  • Try to make bedtime a positive, calm and happy experience and not one that is stressful. You’d be amazed by how much of our stress our children can pick up on and as we all know, stress is not conducive to sleep. 

Weaning at different ages

The age of your baby makes a huge difference in how to best approach the weaning process. Based on our experience, here are some tips on weaning newborns all the way to toddlers.

How to stop breastfeeding a baby under 6 months 

For babies younger than six months, you will need to replace all breastfeeds with bottle feeds. Sounds easy in theory, but unless your baby is used to taking bottles, it can be difficult to get him to accept a bottle, particularly in babies older than two or three months.

The ideal situation is that you have already gotten baby used to bottle-feeding by giving him bottles of either formula or expressed breast milk as part of your feeding routine, but this isn’t always the case, especially if you had planned on exclusively breastfeeding.

You might need to try a few different bottles and teats to find one that baby accepts, and it can also be helpful to have your partner give baby his bottle while you are in a different room if you can (out of sight, out of mind). 

Our article on the best baby bottles can tell you everything you need to know and help you choose this important piece of baby gear, and in case you haven’t already settled on one, here are the best formulas for newborns.

At this age, it can be useful to offer your baby a dummy to suck on to satisfy the suckling instinct. You can also use your clean pinky finger if you’d rather avoid dummies, and keep up with all those delicious kisses, cuddles and special bonding time.

How to stop breastfeeding a baby under 12 months

Babies under 12 months of age should be weaned onto formula to ensure their nutritional needs continue to be met.

It’s definitely advisable to introduce formula to your baby, if you haven’t already, before you begin cutting back on breastfeeds, not only to make sure he takes to the formula to ensure adequate nutrition, but also because this gives him time to get used to not breastfeeding as often.

For this age group, it can be easier to begin weaning at night, as babies now feed much less, if at all, overnight.

It can be helpful to know that babies of this age are very busy and constantly on the go as they become more mobile, aware and curious of their surroundings, so you can use distraction as a tool if necessary.

Sometimes baby will be so busy he will forget about the breast, and because he has begun eating solid food, his need for your milk is already lower than it was before.

Especially if baby is getting close to his first birthday, it can be worth skipping bottle-feeding altogether and going straight to formula in a sippy, straw, or even open cup, to avoid having to transition again in a few months.

How to stop breastfeeding a 1-year-old, or older

Babies who have passed their first birthday can skip the formula and be weaned straight onto cow’s milk or non-dairy alternative. Whole milk, rather than skim or lite milk, should be given until baby is at least two years of age as he still benefits from the extra fat to boost his growth and development. Always offer solid food before breastfeeding so your child fills up and is not hungry.

Breastfeeding is still beneficial to older babies and toddlers, providing both nutrition and emotional security. However, all good things must come to an end, and while lots of parents feel that toddlerhood is the right time to wean, it’s all too common to find that your toddler does not share the same enthusiasm! It can take weeks or even months to wean a toddler, with the best approach being gentle and gradual.

Toddlers are full of big feelings, and if he doesn’t feel ready to give up his special relationship with you, you might notice he becomes irritable, anxious and extra demanding. If the reason you’re weaning your toddler is because you have a new baby, he might resent the baby, and his tantrums can be very tempting to give in to, particularly with a newborn to care for.

One of the benefits of weaning an older toddler is that you can reason with him and explain what’s going to happen, so he is more prepared and it doesn’t come as a big shock. You can communicate to him any boundaries - for example, no breastfeeding when not in the house, or no breastfeeding in the living room.

Try to keep feeding sessions short. You can finish up a session by distracting your toddler with something fun or interesting, such as “let’s go read your new book now!”

Set aside lots of time to spoil your child with plenty of attention and cuddles so he doesn’t miss the intimacy of breastfeeding so much. This is also a good tip for you!