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I have decided to write about stopping breastfeeding (after 6 months and once it has become firmly established and part of yours and your baby’s routine), and particularly my own experiences, as this is a little talked about issue. Most of the bump out there is about starting breastfeeding, not stopping, and it isn’t something many of us think about when embarking on the breastfeeding journey.
I started out by thinking that I would try to breastfeed my son until he was 6 months and then move him onto formula and then cow’s milk, after a year. In reality, 6 months came and went and there was no way I (or my son) was ready to stop, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is just so darn convenient! No bottles to make up, no having to go downstairs first thing in the morning to get milk and no sterilisation required. Also, it’s free. I would much rather have an extra piece of cake and know that the calories were going to my son, through me, than buying expensive formula. Lastly, I loved the idea of continuing to provide antibodies to my son, through the milk, and it was a fantastic bonding activity for both of us and very comforting for him (especially if he was upset).
I decided to reassess stopping breastfeeding at a year and as his first birthday approached, I felt we were ready to start thinking about it again. I had heard horror stories of woman who had stopped ‘cold turkey’ and had experienced mastitis or very painful boobs as the milk had nowhere to go. I decided the best course of action was to stop gradually and so I started introducing formula at 9 months and replaced it with cow’s milk at a year. By 13 months, we were down to morning and evening breastfeeds and at 13 ½ months we had dropped down to just morning breastfeeds (as I just couldn’t face jumping out of bed!).
Around this time, Charlie also started getting his first teeth through (quite late) and found it hilarious to clamp down on my nipple. He was quite cunning and waited until he had drank as much as he wanted as he knew I would take him off straight away and squeeze his earlobe (my attempt to teach him that biting me definitely isn’t on). Suddenly breastfeeding wasn’t quite so bonding with the constant threat of being chomped, so this contributed to my decision to stop.
I don’t remember the last feed. I think I decided a couple of feeds before the last one that this would be the last and then I relented a couple of times, when Charlie didn’t want his bottle. He quickly got use to the idea that it was the bottle from now on and didn’t shown any signs that he missed breastfeeding.
From other mums’ stories, I think that there are two other ways it can typically go. The first is that your baby decides before you do that they have had enough of breastfeeding and refuse to feed, or cry when it’s offered and the second is that you have decided to stop feeding but your baby has other ideas. In the first case I would express milk, when your boobs feel full, gradually decreasing the amount, until you are no longer producing milk, or your boobs don’t feel uncomfortable. I think the second scenario is a much more challenging situation as it must be very stressful to have your baby grabbing your top and demanding to be fed when you no longer feel happy to do this. My only advice would be to be consistent with your baby. You might decide to offer feeds in the morning and evening at home, but no longer when out and about or you may be happy to keep feeding your baby on demand, until they choose to stop.
One more thing… I thought I would stop producing milk shortly after stopping feeding my son but I still produce milk (a very small amount as my boobs never get engorged) and Charlie is now 15 months. However, I have other friends who knew they weren’t producing enough milk in the first few months of their baby’s life and so supplemented their milk with formula. As with all things baby, nothing is quite how you expect it to be! I would love to hear your experiences on this subject.
Rosie Wright runs weaning workshops for first time parents in Brighton.