When to Stop Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a hugely emotive subject, and there’s lots of advice and opinions about the best way to do it.

How do you get baby to latch? How can you tell if they’re getting enough milk? Is breastfeeding even the right option for you? And if it is, how do you know when to stop breastfeeding

Whether you’re a new mum breastfeeding your little one, or an expectant parent planning to breastfeed, read our helpful guide to find out everything you need to know about weaning – and pick up a few handy breastfeeding tips along the way!

What’s the average age to stop breastfeeding?

Parents shouldn’t feel pressured to fit in with averages. Only you and your little one can decide when to finish breastfeeding, so try not to worry about what other parents are doing.

That said, it’s only natural to wonder about what is “normal” breastfeeding behaviour. But given the differences that exist in societies and cultures around the world, this is actually an extremely difficult question to answer!

What’s more, the concept of an “average” isn’t necessarily that helpful. Some parents choose not to breastfeed, while others do so for a short period, which significantly skews the data.

Throw in the fact that the term “weaning” only refers to moving your little one from a diet of just milk to solid food too, rather than the point at which breastfeeding stops completely, and the question becomes even more complex!

Despite this, some interesting studies have been carried out on the subject. For instance, in her book Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives, the anthropologist Katherine A Dettwyler calculates that parents should stick to an average weaning age of between 2.8 and 3.7 years old.

What do the experts recommend?

Again, outside advice should only ever be part of the story when it comes to deciding on when to stop breastfeeding. It’s more important to consider what’s best for you and baby.

The World Health Organization recommends initiating breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, as colostrum – the breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy – is the perfect food for a newborn.

Exclusively breastfeeding your little one – that is, feeding them on breast milk only – is recommended up to the age of six months, followed by a period of continued breastfeeding combined with complementary foods up to the age of two or above.

What if...

What if I want to breastfeed for longer?

Mums who breastfeed shouldn’t feel under any pressure to stop after two years. It’s not unusual for children up to the age of four to be breastfed.

In some instances, the mother may enjoy breastfeeding and want to continue doing it. From ongoing health benefits to helping your little one feel comfortable and secure, there can be many reasons to keep nursing, and parents shouldn’t feel that they have to quit sooner than they are ready.
Alternatively, mum may wish to stop breastfeeding, but the child may not be ready. In this case, your tot can talk and understand you clearly, it can be worthwhile to explain the reasons for stopping nursing. Additionally, try introducing other activities that allow the two of you to enjoy spending time close together.

Are there any side effects to stopping breastfeeding

Whatever the reason for weaning your little one off of breast milk and on to solid food, you may experience some side effects. After all, breastfeeding can be a demanding experience for your body, so stopping can impact how you feel – both physically and emotionally
Many mothers don’t face any side effects at all. However, others can experience a range of issues. Some of the most common include:

Feeling full up

It takes a while for milk to subside once you’ve stopped breastfeeding, so it’s not unusual to experience feelings of fullness – particularly if weaning only lasts a short period of time. Try expressing just enough milk to eradicate the full feeling without stimulating further milk production.

Nausea, mood swings and headaches

Hormonal fluctuations during weaning can cause physical symptoms that may mimic the way you felt at the start of your pregnancy.
Be sure to discuss this with your doctor before you begin the weaning process.

Depression and low mood

Prolactin, the hormone largely responsible for lactation, can give you feelings of calmness and happiness. In turn, this can lead to sadness when the hormone level drops. Additionally, the sense that your little one is growing up and that a key part of the mother-baby relationship is over can sometimes provoke low mood.

The important thing to remember here is that all of these symptoms are manageable. If you start to experience any of them, or you’re worried that they might be an issue, consult your doctor before you start weaning (or before your little one starts to self-wean).

What to wear when breastfeeding

Choosing the right clothing can make your breastfeeding experience much simpler, whether you’re at home or out and about with your little one. Here are some of our favourite clothes to help make breastfeeding that little bit easier without sacrificing on style.

Are you expecting a new arrival? Feel stylish and comfortable throughout your pregnancy in our fantastic collection of maternity clothes. And don’t forget to check out our ultimate guide to breastfeeding in public for more helpful tips and advice.