How to stop breastfed baby comfort feeding
Breastfeeding to Sleep and Other Comfort Nursing • KellyMom.com
Many mothers feel guilty for breastfeeding their baby for comfort or as they drift off to sleep. Breastfeeding your child to sleep and for comfort is not a bad thing to do– in fact, it’s normal, healthy, and developmentally appropriate. Most babies nurse to sleep and wake 1-3 times during the night for the first year or so. Some babies don’t do this, but they are the exception, not the rule. Many children, if given the choice, prefer to nurse to sleep through the second year and beyond. I’ve never seen a convincing reason why mothers shouldn’t use this wonderful tool that we’ve been given.
Breastfeeding is obviously designed to comfort and help a child sleep. Breastfeeding calms a child and can even help your child handle stress better when not breastfeeding (Beijers et al, 2013). Sucking releases the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) in both mother and baby, which results in a sleepy feeling (Uvnäs-Moberg et al, 1993). In addition, breastmilk also contains sleep-inducing hormones, amino acids, and nucleotides, whose concentrations are higher during the night and may actually help babies establish their own circadian rhythms (Sánchez et al, 2009, Cohen et al, 2012).
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If breastfeeding your child to sleep and/or nursing your child for comfort is working for YOU and your family, that’s all that really matters! Breastfeeding is not only nourishing; it’s also nurturing. Your breast is a wonderful place of comfort and security to your child, not just a “feeding trough”. The time spent breastfeeding your child is a very short period in the total life of your child, but the memories of your love and availability will last him a lifetime. Trust that your child will fall asleep on his own in time, and enjoy every sleepy moment while it lasts. f
Following are some Frequently Asked Questions…
- My child sometimes nurses for comfort, when he’s obviously not hungry. Is this a problem?
- Am I creating a bad habit by allowing baby to breastfeed to sleep?
- What about letting baby “cry it out?”
- I’ve been told that my child will NEVER learn to go to sleep on his own if we don’t teach him…
- How will my child go to sleep when I’m not there to breastfeed him, or after he weans?
- How can I gently encourage my child to fall asleep without breastfeeding (and without crying)?
- My child wants to comfort nurse the entire time he’s napping! How can I slip away without waking him?
- My toddler wants to comfort nurse forever when he’s trying to fall asleep.
- Additional resources
My child sometimes nurses for comfort, when he’s obviously not hungry. Is this a problem?
Comfort nursing is normal. If baby were not comfort nursing he would need to be sucking on his hands or on a pacifier. The breast was the first pacifier and the one that all others are modeled after, so don’t be afraid to allow baby to use it in this way. There are studies that show that comfort nursing is healthy for your child, too. All babies need to suck – some more than others. It ensures that they survive. If your baby seems to be comfort nursing all the time and this is more than you can handle, keep in mind that this will probably ease some as time goes by. In the meantime, you may find that carrying baby in a sling or a carrier on your body will lessen his need to comfort nurse so much. He may just need to be close to you at times and seeks out nursing as a way to do that.
Comfort nursing serves a purpose, too. Studies seem to indicate that this type of sucking overall decreases a baby’s heart rate and lets him relax. It seems to have a very positive effect on his whole physical and emotional well-being. Don’t be afraid to allow this type of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is more than just imparting fluids and nourishment. It’s a way to nurture your child as well.
Am I creating a bad habit by allowing baby to breastfeed to sleep?
Your child’s desire to nurse to sleep is very normal and not a bad habit you’ve fostered. Don’t be afraid to nurse your baby to sleep or fear that you are perpetuating a bad habit. Baby often will seek the breast when sleepy or over-stimulated because it’s a comforting and familiar place to him. To associate the breast with wanting to relax enough to go to sleep makes perfect sense. As adults, we also do things to relax ourselves so we can go to sleep: we read, watch TV, get something warm to drink or a snack, deep breathe, get all snug under the covers, etc. Breastfeeding does the same thing for your baby.
For many babies at the height of exploration or distractibility, nighttime or naptime can often be the ONLY time the baby will nurse well. Allowing him to nurse at these times when he is more focused on nursing and less intent on other things helps ensures that he gets enough milk, that your supply is maintained, and that the nursing relationship goes on. Don’t be afraid to nurse at these times or fear that you are perpetuating a bad habit. Instead, take advantage of these times for better nursing.
The sleep issue is not merely a matter of good versus bad habits. It is much more an issue of culture and lifestyle and expectations. Here are three approaches to parenting issues:
- Forcing baby to change to fit the parent’s lifestyle is one approach. Our American culture tends not to be very baby friendly, and rarely makes accommodations for breastfeeding babies. The current trend, seen in many popular books and parenting magazines, is to force baby to do all of the accommodating so that we experience as little change in our pre-baby lifestyle as possible; for example, baby MUST sleep through the night so that we get unbroken sleep and a “good” baby is seen as one who makes as few demands on his parents as possible.
- Another approach is to try to approximate the mothering style of traditional societies and let the parents do all the accommodating. This approach can be very difficult to pull off without lots of support and changes of expectations in the people around us.
- A third approach is to do as much accommodating on the parental side as possible, and then to “ask” baby to accommodate the last part of the gap. This is an approach that can work for many families. With this approach, parents do all they can to be sensitive to their baby’s needs, and only ask baby to accommodate when nothing else truly works.
What about letting baby “cry it out?”
There are two schools of thought about getting babies to sleep. One is a rather rigid method of “sleep training” where a baby is put down awake in a crib and left to cry himself to sleep so that he learns to “self-soothe” and doesn’t develop sleep associations that require someone else to put him to sleep. This method has been around since the 1890’s and was dreamed up by male university sleep laboratory researchers. Many of the popular “sleep training” methods of today are modified versions of this (allowing baby to cry for progressively longer periods without comforting him, instead of just leaving him to cry until he gives up and stops).
I can’t, with good conscience, recommend the cry-it-out method for getting baby to sleep. Anyone who advises you to let your baby cry until he gives up and falls asleep is focusing on the baby’s behavior (going to sleep by himself) and not on how the baby feels in the process. In my opinion, this “sleep training” often creates an unhealthy attitude about sleep: after going through this training, baby tends to view sleep as a fearful state to enter into and to remain in. Parents often need to “retrain” baby if there is any break in the usual routine. In addition, it can condition parents to ignore baby’s cries, and break down the relationship of trust between parent and child.
Younger babies, in particular, do not have that sense of “object permanence” and if mom leaves them to cry, they are developmentally unable to realize that she is just in the next room. All baby knows is that he has been abandoned and that mom is not there. A young baby can only express his needs through crying. A baby who is left to cry alone will eventually stop crying because he has abandoned all hope that help will come: as far as he can tell, no one cares enough to listen, or come and provide comfort. In the book Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, anthropology professor Meredith Small writes, “When signals are missed, babies stop signalling; they withdraw; they suck their thumbs; they turn away; they try to right the system themselves by not sending out any more signals.” The baby protects himself by shutting down, and “accepts” the situation because he has learned that a response is not forthcoming. Crying is also hard, physically, on baby: it can lead to hoarseness that can last for days; the digestive system is upset; stress hormones rise; heart rates can climb to levels over 200 beats per minute; and oxygen levels in the blood are diminished.
Another school of thought, which I subscribe to, discourages viewing sleep as a state you can force a baby into. Instead, it’s best to create a sleep-inducing environment that allows sleep to overtake the baby. The process of breastfeeding itself regulates baby’s temperature and heart rate and lowers his blood pressure, and puts him to sleep. This helps your baby develop a healthy attitude about sleep, where baby views sleep as a safe, comforting, natural state.
I’ve been told that my child will NEVER learn to go to sleep on his own if we don’t teach him…
Never? It is normal, natural and healthy for your child to fall asleep nursing. Breastfeeding children fall asleep so quickly – how can anything so perfectly designed be worrisome? I’ve read a lot about babies’ sleep patterns, and I’ve talked to many moms about this. Both my reading, my personal experience, and the experiences of other moms has convinced me that falling asleep without breastfeeding is a developmental milestone that your child will reach when he is ready. The first step often comes when your baby starts to nurse to sleep then stops nursing, rolls away and goes to sleep on his own. Or perhaps he will fall asleep in Daddy’s arms when he’s walking with him. These incidents may not happen very often at first, but they are the first step and do make you realize that it IS possible for your child to fall asleep by himself.
There are countless numbers of children who have been nursed to sleep and nursed during the night from birth who eventually learn to fall asleep on their own without the breast. You don’t have to teach them to do this. They reach this as a milestone – when they’re physically, developmentally, and emotionally ready. You can try to speed this process along by putting baby to bed before he’s asleep, but always nursing him to sleep will not keep him from learning this on his own.
My daughter started to occasionally fall asleep on her own (or with her Dad) when she was around 11-12 months. Knowing that she could go to sleep without me right there really helped, even though she didn’t do it too often. As time passes, she’s fallen asleep without nursing more and more. We did not “teach” her to do this, or even particularly encourage it. It has simply been a natural developmental progression that came about as she was ready for it.
How will my child go to sleep when I’m not there to breastfeed him, or after he weans?
Many moms are worried about how their child will go to sleep when he enters daycare or weans, and feel that they must teach him to sleep independently before this time. This is really not necessary, and can add lots of stress to something that is already a big transition for your child. Children are very adaptable and will find new ways to go to sleep when mom is not there. Your child and his other caregiver(s) will work things out just fine, and they will find new ways to comfort that work great for both of them. The same will happen when your child weans.
How can I gently encourage my child to fall asleep without breastfeeding (and without crying)?
First, remember that if breastfeeding to sleep is not a problem for you, your child will discontinue it on his own without help from you. If you’d like to try to accelerate the process, read on…
Try transitioning from breastfeeding your child totally to sleep, to breastfeeding him almost asleep; then to just really relaxed, and then eventually to no breastfeeding at all to go to sleep. The process may take a long time, or it may not. If you’ll start out taking it as gradually as you possibly can, it will probably work better and you’ll avoid possible problems and frustrations for both you and your baby.
You might start by lying down with him in the bed he will sleep in for naps, or on the floor, etc. – wherever he will be sleeping. Don’t insist that he sleep in the crib if he doesn’t want to. Your goal at this point it to get him comfortable enough and secure enough to go to sleep on his own. You don’t want that made more difficult by any fears of being alone in his crib.
After he is okay with breastfeeding to sleep in this way, you might try nursing him till he’s almost asleep; eyes closed, heavy breathing but not completely out. Then transition to nursing just till he is relaxed and settled from all the activity prior to the nursing session. When he has done well with you leaving after only nursing this long, then you can try to transition him to going to sleep entirely on his own. You might offer him a favorite toy, book, etc. Give him a kiss and a hug and tell him “night night” in a way that is upbeat and positive. Try to have naptime and bedtime at the same time every day with a routine that he can begin to recognize and expect. For example, have naptime every day after lunchtime or have bedtime every night after snack or bathtime. That way he knows what to expect. You might even remind him that naptime or bedtime are coming and talk excitedly about it. For an older baby or toddler, ask him what he would like to take to bed with him; talk about the place he will sleep, how nice it is, etc. Allow him to have the light on if he wishes or the door open or whatever he wants in the bed with him – don’t fight him on the little things.
Again, your goal is to get him to a comfortable enough place that he feels secure enough to go to sleep without nursing and by himself.
My child wants to comfort nurse the entire time he’s napping! How can I slip away without waking him?
It’s really not unusual for children to wish to breastfeed while napping. They do grow out of it eventually. There are a couple of things that you could try to help you to slip away.
Depending upon how big he is, you might let him continue to sleep latched on, but have him in a carrier (sling, wrap, etc.) so you can get up and do things while he sleeps.
You can also work on slipping away after your child goes to sleep. Make sure he is deeply asleep and no longer swallowing before you try this (you may have to wait a while). He’ll then be doing what we sometimes call “flutter sucking” or comfort sucking, a really light suck. When a baby is in a light sleep, you’ll see facial grimaces, partially clenched fists, muscle twitches, fluttering eyelids, and overall tense muscle tone. You can recognize deep sleep by an almost motionless face, regular breathing, still eyelids, and especially the limp-limb sign — arms dangling weightlessly at baby’s sides, hands open and muscles relaxed.
Once your child is in a deep sleep, try and slip away very slowly. One thing that sometimes helps is to slip a finger in his mouth near the nipple, then ease the nipple out so he is just sucking your finger. Then you can ease your finger out of his mouth – it helps to put a little pressure on baby’s bottom lip as you do this. By doing this, you can often keep baby from waking. Putting something right up next to him that has mom’s scent (a t-shirt, pillow, or an animal he sleeps with) also helps.
My children often seem to detect the loss of body contact and warmth when I get up. As I’m getting up, I keep my hand(s) on baby for a few moments, then *gradually* take them away so the transition isn’t so sudden. Baby will usually stir when I get up, but often goes back to sleep if I keep my hands on him till he gets still again. If your baby is older, it can also be helpful to put a hard pillow (preferably a warm one that you’ve been sleeping near) beside him in the spot where you were sleeping so that he doesn’t feel empty space if he reaches out in his sleep. If baby was resting his feet on me (common with mine), then I’ll sometimes even put a pillow under his feet. With an older baby/toddler, I lay him down on top of my pillow if I’m trying to put him down on the bed when he’s already asleep. (Keep in mind that it’s not safe to use pillows with young babies due to SIDS risk.)
It’s often easier to slip away during a nap when you’re both lying down. If you’re nursing sitting up, the position change may be waking him – you might try nursing him on a pillow in your lap so you can just transfer him to a bed or the floor without moving him around as much (again, younger babies should not be sleeping on or near pillows). If baby wakes when you put him in his crib, you might try moving him to a baby-safe bed or pallet on the floor, instead of his crib – he might nap better in a different place.
This article has additional tips for helping baby stay asleep: Let Sleeping Babies Lie – please…
My toddler wants to comfort nurseforever when he’s trying to fall asleep.
Sometimes we start to question ourselves (again, perhaps) when we have a breastfeeding toddler who wants to hang out at the breast for hours at bedtime, without ever quite falling asleep. Have you ever had one of those nights when you keep trying to slip away, thinking your toddler is asleep, to be interrupted by a sleepy protest every time you try to unlatch? The later at night it is, the more you can start to doubt yourself and wonder if “they” might have been right about that “bad habit.”
Both of my kids have gone through stages of time (often teething or illness related) when they wanted to stay latched forever, but remember that these are usually just stages that come and go. If you are willing to let your toddler continue to nurse to sleep, rest assured that he will learn to fall asleep on his own, in his own time.
What if the comfort nursing is becoming uncomfortable for you, or if you just feel that you’d like to move away from it? If you’re experiencing discomfort, pull your child closer in and check on latch and positioning – remember that even constant comfort nursing should not be uncomfortable if latch and positioning are as they should be (assuming you’re not pregnant). If you feel the need to gently ease away from nursing to sleep, then go ahead and do so (see above for tips) – nursing is a two-way street and there is no reason not to have some basic age-appropriate “nursing rules” for toddlers. But don’t feel that you need to change things just because someone wants to “guilt” you into it — it’s only a problem if it’s adversely affecting your family.
- Sleeping Through the Night
- Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings
- Frequent Nursing
- Safe Co-sleeping and bed-sharing
- Night Weaning
- Read excerpts from Good Nights by Jay Gordon, M. D. and Maria Goodavage (including “Any ideas on how I can have a little time to myself while my baby naps?”)
- Are you worried that you will spoil your baby?
- What should I know about giving my breastfed baby a pacifier?
@ other websites
Comfort Nursing and Nursing to Sleep
- 5 Cool Things No One Ever Told You About Nighttime Breastfeeding from Breastfeeding Chicago
- When They Need You to Fall Asleep: Self-Soothing and Other Myths by Wendy Wisner
- The Human Pacifier by Lu Hanessian, from New Beginnings Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, p. 14
- Nursing for Comfort by Teresa Pitman
- Comfort versus nutrition by Kathryn Orlinsky
- Normal Infant Sleep: Night Nursing’s Importance My child only goes to sleep nursing by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.
- 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know from AskDrSears.com
- Position Paper on Controlled Crying (Sleep Training) from the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health
- Baby Sleep Training: Mistakes “Experts” and Parents Make: Advice to ignore the needs of babies by Darcia Narvaez, Ph. D.
- Controlled crying… oops sorry controlled comforting by Sue Cox RN, RM, IBCLC, ABA breastfeeding counsellor
- Stress in Infancy by Linda Folden Palmer, D.C.
- Letting Baby “Cry-It-Out” Yes, No! from AskDrSears.com
- The Con of Controlled Crying by Pinky McKay
- Cry It Out: The Potential Dangers of Leaving Your Baby to Cry by Margaret Chuong-Kim
- Mistaken Approaches to Night Waking by Paul M. Fleiss, MD, MPH, FAAP, fromSweet Dreams: A Pediatrician’s Secrets for Baby’s Good Night’s Sleep
- Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say, from the Harvard Gazette
How to Stop Comfort Nursing at Night
Does your baby want to stay latched on all night, or only stops crying when he’s breastfeeding? Learn how to stop comfort nursing at night!
Comfort nursing can come with a bag of mixed emotions.
You’re quickly realizing that, while comfort nursing works for other moms, you’re eager to do away with it once and for all. Nursing sessions are frequent and long, since your baby relies on them to sleep. And while he can likely sleep through the night, he won’t go back to sleep without nursing.
In fact, if it were up to him, he’d probably want to latch on all night (you even suspect he comfort nurses more than he actually eats out of hunger). He’ll only stop crying when he’s finally breastfeeding. Yet as much as he falls asleep while nursing, he wakes up right when you put him down in the crib.
It’s not easy when comfort nursing seems to be the only thing that can calm him down. He’s always attached to you, to the point that your partner can’t even soothe him back to sleep and give you a break. Giving him solids or using a pacifier don’t always work. How can you help him stop associating nursing with sleeping?
How to stop comfort nursing at night
If you’ve felt frustrated for wanting to know how to stop comfort nursing at night, you’re not alone. It’s okay to want a full night of sleep without feeling guilty for not wanting to breastfeed all night.
I hear you, friend.
At this point in your parenting journey, it’s hard not to crave a bit more sleep now that he’s an older baby. You’re past the early days of the newborn stage, yet still find yourself dealing with a night waking multiple times.
Don’t worry—with consistent and compassionate sleep training, you can help your little one fall asleep. As always, check with your baby’s pediatrician to see if he’s ready to sleep through the night. Then, take a look at these tips to help you stop comfort nursing:
1. Don’t let your baby fall asleep nursing
The first step in helping your baby stop comfort nursing at night is to break sleep associations between nursing and sleeping. Right now, he has a habit of needing to nurse to fall asleep, but that doesn’t mean he can’t sleep any other way. He simply has to experience what it’s like to fall asleep on his own.
If he starts to drift off and he still has more to eat, try to keep him awake. You can tickle him, change positions, talk to him, anything to keep him awake while he eats. You might even want to move nursing to the beginning of the bedtime routine—before you give him a bath, for instance.
Free resource: You can teach him to self soothe and sleep on his own. Whether you’ve tried to teach him in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at these 5 key mistakes to avoid. Join my newsletter and grab this important resource below—at no cost to you:
2. Nurse after wake ups
Another way to stop comfort nursing is to breastfeed your baby after he wakes up, not before falling asleep. As easy it is to put him to sleep by nursing, this also encourages the habit of nursing to snooze.
Instead, feed him after he wakes up.
His first feed could be right when he gets up for the day after nighttime sleep. Then, instead of feeding him before naptime, feed him after he wakes up from these naps. The only exception would be the bedtime feed, but as mentioned above, try to prevent him from falling asleep while nursing.
An added benefit to nursing after waking up is that he’ll be awake while his body digests what he consumed. No longer will he have fitful sleep and gas issues from lying down after eating. Now he can be alert and upright after a feed.
3. Check in at set times
So, you didn’t nurse your baby to sleep—in fact, you set him down completely awake. What do you do when he starts to cry?
Set a timer for five minutes after you close the door. If he’s still crying when the timer goes off, go into his room and reassure him that he’s doing a good job falling asleep and that you’re right in the next room. Keep this brief—30 seconds at most.
Then, set your timer again, but this time for 10 minutes. Should he still be crying at this point, check in on him again, repeating what you had done earlier. And finally, set your timer for 15 minutes if he’s still crying. Check in on him in 15-minute intervals moving forward if needed, until he falls asleep.
Do the same check-in process any time he wakes up when he’s not supposed to, from middle of the night to early morning wake ups. You’re giving him the chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own while still reassuring him that you’re right here, cheering him on.
Tip: Make his room conducive for sleep by adding white noise and hanging darkening curtains. Both can help lengthen his sleep.
4. Gradually wean from nighttime feedings
What do you do if he still relies on nighttime feedings for milk, and not just comfort? After all, he could be drinking breast milk in the beginning before he tapers off to comfort nursing. Cutting feedings cold turkey would mean one hungry baby.
The first change is to wake him up for feedings, instead of waiting for him to cry for them. Right now, he associates crying with getting fed, but you can beat him to the punch by waking him up to feed. As strange as it is to wake him up when he hardly sleeps, this helps him break that association.
Set your alarm to about 30 minutes before he typically wakes up for a feed. If he tends to wake up at 10pm and 2am, set your alarm for 9:30pm and 1:30am. You’re feeding him before he tends to wake up crying.
What do you do if he doesn’t have a particular pattern or regular times that he cries? Take the average of the times he has woken up the past few nights and stick to those times.
The next change is to gradually decrease the amount of milk he consumes at night, and adding that amount the following day.
Let’s say you feed him twice a night for 20 minutes each. On the first night, feed him like you usually do. Then the next night, decrease the amount by two minutes each nursing session (in this example, feed him for 18 minutes each breastfeeding session). On the third night, feed him for 16 minutes each, and so forth.
And finally, you’ll want to make up for that “lost” milk by giving him what you had decreased the following day. Since you fed him twice for 18 minutes each, you can increase two of his daytime feeds by two minutes. That way, he can adjust to taking in his calories during the day (and sleeping through the night).
Want more details? Get more tips on dropping night feeds.
5. Comfort in other ways
I don’t know about you, but I felt compelled to stop my baby’s crying the minute I’d hear it. I almost felt like it was my duty to make him stop crying, that this was what moms are supposed to do.
But I realized that we tend to stifle their tears more than we show compassion for them. We get frustrated when they won’t stop crying, allowing our own negative feelings to affect them.
Nursing isn’t the only way we can provide comfort. We can do so by holding them and showing empathy for how they feel. By helping them learn to self soothe and sleep on their own. By being more patient and present, not angry or disappointed.
Comfort nursing works for many moms and their infants, but not for all, so don’t feel bad if you want to stop it. In fact, you might realize that you enjoy motherhood and have a stronger bond with your baby once you do.
The first step is to avoid letting your baby fall asleep while nursing, as this only reinforces the habits you’re trying to break. Instead, nurse him after waking up so that he doesn’t rely on feeding to fall asleep.
After putting him down awake, check in at set intervals until he falls asleep. Gradually wean him from night feedings so that he can take in his nourishment during the day and sleep all night. And finally, comfort him in other ways like showing compassion and empathy.
You can help your baby fall asleep—all without the constant comfort nursing he has grown used to.
Get more tips:
- 6 Month Old Waking Every 2 Hours? Here’s What to Do
- 4 Reasons Your Baby Never Seems Satisfied After Breastfeeding
- How to Stop Your Baby from Snacking on the Breast
- 5 Tips to Stop the Pain After Breastfeeding
- 6 Ways Dads Can Support Breastfeeding Moms
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab this resource below—at no cost to you:
Termination of breastfeeding | Stopping breastfeeding
When is it time to stop breastfeeding and what is the best way to do it? Read our article for useful practical tips on weaning.
Share this information
How long should breastfeeding continue? Three months? Six? Year? Or maybe a few years?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other authorities recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and then continue to be breastfed along with other foods (complementary foods) for at least two years. 1
The fact is that breast milk is not just food. It is a natural sedative if the child is anxious or tired. In addition, milk contains immune-boosting components, the amount of which increases dramatically when the baby gets sick. 2
According to anthropologists, the natural age of a person to stop breastfeeding is even more than two years. Given factors such as tooth development, body weight, comparison with other primates, and historical evidence, some scientists believe that breastfeeding may last up to two to four years. A number of researchers even believe that our ancestors breastfed children up to six or seven years of age. 3
Today, more than 60% of mothers in developed countries start giving their babies formula or complementary foods before six months of age, 4 although WHO does not recommend this.
When is it time to stop breastfeeding?
Weaning means that you gradually stop breastfeeding your baby. Ideally, the first step in this process is the gradual introduction of complementary foods, starting at about six months of age. In this case, breastfeeding continues. The weaning process continues until the mother's milk has been completely replaced by other foods and drinks.
“After six months, the baby needs higher doses of certain nutrients, such as iron, zinc, vitamins B and D, that he cannot get from breast milk or from his own reserves,” says Sarah Beeson, health visitor from Great Britain.
“But solid food should at first only supplement the main diet with breast milk and gradually replace it. Mother's milk remains the main source of nutrition for the baby for many months to come. ”
On average, a seven-month-old baby gets 93% of its calories from breast milk. And even between the 11th and 16th months, milk provides him with about half of the daily calorie intake. 5
“Sometimes moms think that breastmilk isn't that important once a baby has started solid foods, but the truth is, no matter how many months old a baby is, there's nothing better than your milk,” continues Sarah.
In fact, the process of finishing breastfeeding can take as long as mother and baby want. “When to stop breastfeeding is up to you,” says Sarah. The only thing that matters is what you think is right for you and your child.”
How to wean
Whenever you decide to start weaning your baby, it's best to do it gradually. An abrupt cessation of breastfeeding can lead to lactostasis, blockage of the milk ducts and mastitis, and in a child such a sudden change can adversely affect the state of the digestive and immune systems. In addition, it will be difficult for both of you psychologically.
When should I stop breastfeeding?
Sometimes mothers mistakenly believe that it is time to stop breastfeeding, when in fact there is no reason to. If you're returning to work, breastfeeding can be a great way to stay close to your baby during this difficult time for both of you. You can express milk at work, and morning and evening feeding sessions will give you the opportunity to spend time alone with your baby. If you need to leave without your baby, you can also express milk and bring or send it home.
If you get sick, this is not always a reason to stop breastfeeding. Read our advice in the article on breastfeeding when sick and consult with your healthcare professional.
Weaning up to six months
If you cannot continue breastfeeding until six months and want to try weaning your baby, start by replacing one feeding a day with a bottle of formula.
“It's best to start with midday feedings. Babies are very alert and able to smell breast milk nearby, so ask your partner or relative to give your baby a bottle when you're in the other room,” Sarah advises.
“Be hygienic when preparing food. Be prepared for the fact that the baby will take fewer servings of expressed milk per day than if he was fed directly from the breast. Don't make him eat more milk than he wants."
You will probably feel that your breasts are fuller and more tender. This is due to the fact that your body is rebuilding to produce less milk. If this creates discomfort, try expressing some milk—just enough to relieve the discomfort without stimulating extra production.
When your body adjusts to the new volume - usually after a few days - replace with formula for one more meal a day. Continue this until you have changed all feedings and your baby is completely weaned.
“I had complications after my first birth, as a result I lost a lot of weight very quickly, and besides, I developed mastitis. Lactation was very weak, and at three months I was forced to stop breastfeeding,” recalls Jennifer, a mother of two from the UK, “I gradually replaced one feeding, so physically it was easy, but mentally it was hard for me. ”
If you want to maintain closeness with your baby and all the health benefits of breastfeeding, but still need to cut down on breastfeeding, try partial weaning, replacing only a few feeds a day with formula.
Weaning after six months
Once your baby starts eating solid foods (about six months old), you will notice that breastfeeding naturally occurs less and less. For a year, it can be reduced to just a couple of times a day, and feedings will be replaced by full meals and healthy snacks.
Anyway, if you intend to continue to reduce breastfeeding, do it gradually, replacing one feeding at a time. Use formula milk if your baby is under 12 months old. With cow's milk, you should wait at least up to a year.
“When I decided to wean my son, I breastfed him three times a day and gave him other foods three times plus light snacks. Gradually, I replaced all breastfeedings with formula. By 11 months, we only had one nighttime breastfeed left,” says Ruth, a UK mom.
There are various ways to distract a child from changes in his diet. Some mothers suggest that instead of breastfeeding something to drink and eat together to maintain a sense of closeness. You can also change your daily routine, play your favorite game, or replace feeding with caresses - from you or from your partner. Some children take longer to get used to the new food, but in the end everything falls into place. If you are having difficulty weaning, ask your healthcare provider for advice.
Ending breastfeeding naturally
Ending breastfeeding can be guided by the baby's wishes. This is called baby-initiated weaning, or the natural termination of breastfeeding. Such a process is likely to be long and gradual. Month after month, feeding sessions will become shorter and less frequent, until one day the child completely loses interest in the breast.
“My daughter stopped breastfeeding on her own when she was four years old,” says Sarah, a mother from the UK. And once, when we were on vacation, she seemed to just forget about her breasts. Now, six months later, she sometimes still asks for breasts, but she already knows that there is no milk there.
You will have a huge amount of time for the body to adapt, so there should be no discomfort or swelling of the breast. However, you may find it difficult emotionally, so spend more time petting and bonding with your baby.
“Child-initiated termination of breastfeeding was right for me because I never gave my son formula or a bottle. I didn’t want to abruptly stop feeding and refuse him,” recalls Kelly, a mother from the UK, “He himself lost interest in breasts at the age of two and a half years. For us, it was the best scenario, although emotionally it was not very easy for me.”
What if you need to stop breastfeeding quickly?
It is best not to stop breastfeeding abruptly, but sometimes it is necessary for medical reasons or because you cannot be near the baby.
If you have been breastfeeding your baby up to this point, you will most likely have to express your milk to avoid breast swelling. Some mothers prefer to use a breast pump for this, others find it easier to express milk manually. You only need to pump a little, just to eliminate the discomfort, otherwise your body will take it as a signal to produce more milk.
At first, the breasts may swell and become tender, but this will pass. Breast milk contains a so-called feedback lactation inhibitor. When breastfeeding is stopped, this inhibitor tells your body to slow down milk production, but it can take days or even weeks for your breasts to rebuild.
Certain medications can relieve pain and should be discussed with your doctor. Always follow your pharmacist's instructions or directions, and consult your healthcare professional before taking any medication.
“I had to abruptly stop breastfeeding when my daughter was eight months old because she had to take strong painkillers,” says Peggy, a mother from Switzerland. “It was very difficult because the baby was constantly looking for a breast and crying. I held her tightly to me as I gave her a bottle. This calmed her, and after a month everything was all right.
Can I continue breastfeeding if I want to get pregnant again?
Breastfeeding is a natural contraceptive. However, this method is not the most reliable, especially after six months or if you are not exclusively breastfeeding. This means that you can get pregnant even while you are breastfeeding.
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers sometimes receive conflicting advice about whether to stop breastfeeding. Consistent feeding of two children of different ages is of course possible, and with the advent of the second baby, your body will produce the kind of milk that both of them need.
It is not uncommon for an older child to refuse to breastfeed or skip feedings if the mother is pregnant. This may be due to changes in the composition of milk that occur during pregnancy. Milk can change the taste and become less sweet. 6 If your baby is under one year of age when he starts to stop breastfeeding, make sure he continues to gain weight.
Talk to your doctor if you want to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy, but have had a preterm birth or miscarriage, or have any bleeding in the past.
If you need medical help to conceive, certain drugs and procedures may not be suitable while you are breastfeeding. Discuss all possible options before deciding to stop breastfeeding.
Whenever you decide to end breastfeeding, and whatever method you choose to do so, be kind to yourself and your baby. This is a huge change for both of you physically, hormonally, and emotionally, so proceed thoughtfully and carefully.
“Although my body responded normally to stopping breastfeeding, it was psychologically difficult for me. The thing that united us for so long is over, - Jane, a mother of two children from the USA, shares her impressions, - I worked long hours, five days a week, and breastfeeding made me feel that I occupy a special place in the lives of children. But when it stopped, we soon found other ways to be together.”
1 World Health Organization. [Internet] Health Topics: Breastfeeding: 2018 [Accessed: 02/08/2018]. Available from : http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en - World Health Organization. "Health Issues: Breastfeeding" [Internet]. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2018 [Visit 02/08/2018]. Article linked: http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/e
2 Hassiotou et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4): e 3. - Hassiot F. et al., "Infectious diseases of the mother and child stimulate a rapid leukocyte reaction in breast milk." Clean Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3.
3 Dettwyler KA. When to wean: biological versus cultural perspectives. Clin Obstet Gynecol . 2004; 47(3)712-723. - Dettwiler KA, "Time to wean: weaning from a biological and cultural point of view". Klin Obstet Ginekol (Clinical obstetrics and gynecology). 2004; 47(3):712-723.
4 Victora CG Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-490. - Victor S.J. et al., "Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms and long-term effects". Lancet 2016;387(10017):475-490.
5 Dewey KG et al. Breast milk volume and composition during late lactation (7-20 months). J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr . 1984;3(5):713-720. — Dewey C.G. et al., "Amount and composition of breast milk in late lactation (7-20 months)". F Pediatrician Gastroenterol Nutr. 1984;3(5):713-720.
6 Prosser CG et al. Mammary gland function during gradual weaning and early gestation in women. Aust J Exp Biol Med 9021 9029 Sci. 1984;62( Pt 2):215-228. - Prosser S.G. et al., "Breast Function During Gradual Weaning and Early Gestation." Aust J Exp Biol Med Sai. 1984;62( Pt 2):215-228.
QUESTION TO THE BREASTFEEDING EXPERT: What is the right way to stop breastfeeding?QUESTION TO THE BREASTFEEDING EXPERT: What is the right way to stop breastfeeding? | "Rinat Akhmetov Foundation"
Question: I want to stop breastfeeding, but I'm afraid because I'm the first child. How can I do it better? The child is 1 year 1 month old, I apply it to the chest 4-5 times during the day, and 2-3 times at night, when I wake up.
Ksenia Solovei , head of the National Movement in Support of Breastfeeding "Milk Rivers of Ukraine", UNICEF partner in the Breastfeeding Support Program in Crisis Situations:
Good afternoon, Maria! Breastfeeding for a year and a little longer is already a solid feeding experience, you have something to be proud of! In your question I read - the word "quit". I understand it as a one-time, quick, abrupt action. In relation to breastfeeding, I guess you want to stop feeding quickly.
However, it is very important to take your time so that the process of finishing breastfeeding goes smoothly, both for the baby and for your body.
From your description, you can guess that milk production is in full swing thanks to breastfeeding 6-8 times a day, that is, your body is actively producing a lot of milk. Your lactation can now be compared to a steam locomotive that follows from city to city at full speed, it will not be possible to stop it abruptly without consequences. No consequences for your health. The sudden cessation of breastfeeding, most often, leads to breast fullness, fever and, as a result, lactostasis or mastitis may occur.
Therefore, it is necessary to act gradually, to begin with, reducing breastfeeding by 1-2 (leaving 6 applications), to allow milk production to decrease, the body to adapt (so that there is no pain in the chest, heaviness), it usually takes 3-4 weeks . Only after that, remove the other 1-2 feedings again (4 attachments to the breast will remain). So gradually remove all feeding.
Benefits of gradually reducing lactation for a child's health:
- Not all feedings are taken away from a child's usual life under the breast, but 1-2 (this is important!). This allows the child to gradually adapt to the changes, while still being a baby. The breast is a very important object for a child, it is a place of calm, relaxation, comfort and love.
- Mom stays next to the child, does not leave the baby anywhere, does not take him to his grandmother (grandfather, girlfriend, aunt, etc.). Thus, the child avoids the stress of parting with the most important and most beloved person in his life - his mother.
- Even if a child cries when his mother refuses to breastfeed, it is easier for him to cope with this in his mother's arms, together with her. Mom is the hope and support of the child, a person who helps to go through difficult life lessons together.
- Breast milk after a year also has a protective value for the health of the child - milk protects against bacteria, diseases, even helminths! There are advantages of breastfeeding after a year even when the baby is applied to the breast 1-2 times a day!
What not to do when you stop breastfeeding:
- You do not need to take hormonal drugs to stop lactation. A child at this age is applied to the breast not only to get milk, but more for communication, calming, falling asleep. And even if there is no milk in the chest, he will still ask for it. Therefore, "magic" pills will not help. Ending breastfeeding is a process that you must go through with your baby.
- You don't need to tighten your breasts with elastic bandages, this procedure does not reduce milk production in any way, but exposes the breasts to unbearable loads with negative consequences.
- Do not shame a child who asks for a breast or cries with a request for a breast (“you are already big”, “only tiny children ask for boobs”, “shame on you”, etc.