When is the right time to stop breastfeeding?

To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, we ask breastfeeding expert, Clare Byam-Cook, about when you should stop breastfeeding and if you or baby should make the decision…

The decision about when to stop breastfeeding should be a combination of what is best for you and what is best for your baby – not necessarily in that order!

When should you stop breastfeeding?

If your baby is thriving and enjoying breastfeeding, it makes sense to continue for as long as that proves to be the case and let her decide when is the right time to stop. But in the reality of the modern world, this may not be an option, particularly if you have to go back to work.

You might be able to continue to give your baby breast milk if you are able to express during the working day so your baby can be given this milk by bottle.

If breastfeeding is going well, it would be great if you can reach the government’s recommendation of a minimum of six months, and anything longer is a bonus.

Breastfeeding not going well?

If breastfeeding is going really badly and no health professional has been able to resolve your issues (for example, these may include sore nipples, low milk supply, poor weight gain, baby feeding badly from the breast even though you have plenty of milk, baby is frequently unsettled or sleeping badly) you should not feel bad or a failure if you decide to stop breastfeeding.

Introducing a bottle after breastfeeding…

I think it’s important to introduce your baby to a bottle (hopefully containing expressed milk rather than formula) fairly early on – I suggest by six weeks – to ensure that she will be happy to be bottle-fed when the time comes to stop breastfeeding.

It is also a useful thing to do just to give you a little more flexibility. For example, perhaps you need to take medication that isn’t compatible with breastfeeding, or you want to build up your milk supply, or maybe let your partner help with the night feeds. Or even have a night out without worrying about breastfeeding that evening!

If you don’t introduce a bottle at this stage, it may come as a shock when you need to stop (because you are going back to work, for example) and you then find your baby refuses point blank to take anything at all from a bottle. This can be incredibly stressful for both you and your baby, and is best avoided at all costs.

READ MORE: 10 foods to eat while breastfeeding 

Tips for feeding a breastfed baby from a bottle…

If you find yourself in a situation where baby won’t take a bottle, there are things you can do to help…

• Set aside a 24-hour period to tackle the problem.

• Don’t give her anything to eat or drink for three to four hours – she must be hungry enough to want to feed.

• Have a variety of bottles and teats available to see which suits her best.

• Try using a fast-flow teat – MAM 6+ teats are my choice.

• Sit her upright on your lap so she doesn’t choke if the milk flows too fast.

• Get someone to distract her with a rattle or toy so she focuses on them, rather than the bottle.

• Have confidence that she will eventually learn.

Note that if you are willing and able to carry on breastfeeding until she is a year old, she will be old enough to bypass bottles altogether and have all her feeds from a sippy cup.

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