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The best and safe way to wean your baby off breast milk is to do it gradually. But sometimes, a  mother may find herself in a situation where she needs to stop breastfeeding cold turkey. 

So to answer the question often asked by moms: Can I stop breastfeeding cold turkey? The simple answer is, Yes! But you should know that doing so can have adverse effects on you and your baby.

What is weaning?

Baby looking at his mom with no expression on his face

Even though breast milk is the primary source of feeding for most babies and meets all of the nutritional requirements for up to six months of their life. There comes a time when it is no longer sufficient for a growing child and needs supplementation with other solid foods.

Here is where weaning comes in.

Weaning your baby from the breast is a natural and inevitable stage of its growth and development. It starts when you introduce your child to foods other than breast milk.

Some babies make weaning a breeze and self-wean on their own. But most babies become so irritable, and it becomes difficult for the mom to maintain her resolve to stop breastfeeding.

However, lactation experts and health professionals advise mothers to continue breastfeeding for as long as is convenient for both them and their children- whether that’s months or years.

RELATED READ: TIPS ABOUT BREASTFEEDING: A FULL GUIDE

When is the right time to start weaning your baby?

Mother breastfeeding her baby

There is no strict time to begin weaning your baby from breast milk. When to stop breastfeeding is your choice.

Ideally, the first step towards weaning your baby is introducing complementary foods alongside your breast milk around the age of six months. 

Sometimes your baby may give you cues signaling they are ready for the weaning process. At other times, it may appear like you are both fighting a cold war. 🙂

Weaning your baby should continue until breast milk is replaced by other foods and drinks.

Solid food should only complement breastfeeding your baby. Breast milk still remains her only source of nutrients for months to come.

RELATED READ: BABY-LED WEANING VS PUREES: WHICH IS BETTER?

Stopping breastfeeding cold turkey

Ideally, weaning your baby should be a gradual process. Doing so allows you and your baby to ease into it gently. But some situations call for weaning abruptly or stopping breastfeeding.

For example, a severe medical condition such as cancer requires treatment with medicines that can harm a baby if excreted in breast milk. Or, if you need surgery, you may have to stop breastfeeding abruptly.

Whatever the case, have at the back of your mind that if you stop breastfeeding suddenly, you and your baby may experience side effects.

How does stopping breastfeeding cold turkey affect you

mother looking sad while stopping breastfeeding cold turkey

Breastfeeding is not just a physical activity. It also involves your hormones and emotions. 

If you wean gradually, your body has time to acclimatize to the changes it will experience. But if you have to stop abruptly, you should be aware of its effects on you and your baby.

Engorgement

One thing you will most likely experience if you stop breastfeeding is breast engorgement.

This happens when your breasts are filled with milk because your baby is no longer breastfeeding. It can be painful and uncomfortable.

Also, because you are trying to stop your milk supply, you will have to limit using a pump. Regular pumping will be counterproductive. 

You should pump or express just enough to relieve the pains you feel. But not enough to encourage your body to continue producing more milk and hinder your weaning efforts.

RELATED READ: BREASTFEEDING TIPS: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

Mastitis

Stopping breastfeeding cold turkey can lead to mastitis, a breast infection that occurs if a milk duct gets blocked.

Fever and sore and tender breasts are telltale signs of mastitis. Your doctor would probably prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

Leaky breasts

Since you are trying to wean your baby, you can expect your breasts to leak more when they are filled up.

Always carry extra breast pads and a bra when you are out and about to avoid embarrassing breast milk stains on your shirt. Your milk supply will take some time before it stops completely.

Mood changes

moody mother lying with her sleeping baby while stopping breastfeeding cold turkey

Breastfeeding is not just a physical activity but also an emotional one because your hormones are involved.

Two critical hormones are involved in the breastfeeding process, prolactin and oxytocin.

They keep you calm, relaxed, and happy while you are breastfeeding. As you start to wean, prolactin levels drop, stopping the production of oxytocin also. 

This drop also causes progesterone and estrogen levels to rise, and your ovulation and menstrual cycle resume. 

When you gradually wean your baby, you have an opportunity to slowly adjust to the decreasing levels of the hormones and their effect on your mood. But if you stop breastfeeding cold turkey, you may experience mood swings because of all the hormonal fluctuations making it difficult to handle.

Even though weaning is a positive experience for both of you, letting go can still feel emotional.

So if you are sad or feel like your mood changes are not improving, you should talk to a professional.

Different bra size

When you decide to wean your baby off breast milk, you can expect your breasts to slowly get back to their pre-pregnancy size as your milk supply dries up.

For some women, you might be able to start wearing your old bras again! Whatever your size is, stick to comfortable bras that are not tight and constricting.

Wearing a bra that is too tight can cause milk ducts to get plugged.

And unless you are planning on having another baby, you can pack up those nursing bras for good.

How stopping breastfeeding cold turkey can affect babies

Breastfeeding does not just supply nourishment to babies. It is also a source of comfort and security. 

The best way to wean them is to do so gradually and not suddenly.

If you wean your little one abruptly, you can expect it will affect them in many ways.

Fussy babies

fussy baby crying because mother stopped breastfeeding cold turkey

Babies may become fussy and refuse to take a bottle when you feed them.

If your child refuses to take a bottle from you, let someone else try to give it to them, especially if they have never had a bottle feeding before. 

When your baby is six months old and above, you can skip the bottle and transition straight to a cup instead.

Babies may get sick often

Breastfeeding helps to prevent some common childhood illnesses, and children who are weaned abruptly are more likely to get sick.

Sudden weaning of a newborn or young infant can put them at greater risk of illnesses such as ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

Are you feeling stressed about weaning? Speak to a lactation consultant

lactation consultant helping mother who is weaning her baby

There are just some things you need someone to hold your hands with, and weaning is one of them. A lactation consultant’s role is to support and inform you about everything to do with the weaning process while ensuring your baby gets adequate nutrition.

It is necessary for the lactation consultant to explore a mother’s reasons for weaning and to guide her so that she can make an educated decision about the process and timing of gradual weaning.

Below is a summary of tips to cope when you stop breastfeeding cold turkey

If you have no other option but to stop breastfeeding suddenly, below is a summary of the tips that can help you get through it. 

  • You can express or pump just enough milk to relieve the pain to ease the pain and discomfort often associated with engorgement. But not enough to make your body produce more milk.
  • Wear a bra that supports your breasts but is not too tight to prevent plugged milk ducts.
  • It may sound crazy, but cold green cabbage leaves can be placed inside your bra to help reduce the milk supply. Also, applying cold compresses or ice packs can relieve the inflammation and pain of engorged breasts.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medication such as Motrin or Tylenol to help relieve the pain.
  • Milk-reducing herbs, such as sage, parsley, and peppermint, may help decrease your breast milk supply.
  • A breast massage helps to relieve discomfort.
  • If your baby refuses to take the bottle, get someone else to feed him or try using a cup and spoon.
  • Continue to spend time cuddling your baby and maintaining close physical contact. So the weaning process is less psychologically traumatic for both of you.

To wrap things up

Mother cuddling her baby who is weaning

Stopping breastfeeding cold turkey can be tough on moms and their little ones, from engorged and leaking breasts to sudden mood changes, crying fits, and temper tantrums.

A solid support system can ease the process. Also, seek help from a lactation consultant if you feel like you are particularly struggling during this time.

Whenever and however you stop breastfeeding, be gentle with yourself and your baby. It is a tremendous shift physically, hormonally, and emotionally for you both, so do it with thought and care.

Are you in the process of weaning your baby? Do you have any tips? Anything we missed? We’d love to hear below!