It is up to you to decide when to stop breastfeeding. Nobody else can make this decision for you. Not me, not your neighbour, not even your child. It is also up to you to decide if you want to breastfeed at all. This is not your doctor's choice, your mother's choice, your partner's choice, or even your baby's choice.
It's your choice if you want to breastfeed or not, and it's your choice how long you choose to do it, and nobody has any right to judge your choices. That may not stop others from judging, but that's about them, not about you.
Where you live will probably affect what cultural baggage you bring to this decision. Where I live, all mothers are expected to breastfeed forever. I would not be surprised to see a valedictorian step down from the stage after delivering a commencement speech and get a little snack. If you want to breastfeed forever, go for it, if it makes youfeel good. But you do not have to breastfeed forever.
I endured social judgment and criticism for weaning my baby starting at one year. But this is nobody's business but my baby's and my own. I wanted to be a good parent to my child, and this meant living on my own timeline instead of enslaving myself to someone else's.
The dark side of the vast banquet of cultural breastfeeding support out there is that there's a lot of cruel condemnation of women who think that eighteen months or twelve months or six months is plenty. But the gift of taking care of your own needs so you can be functional and happy and human is a greater gift to your child than breast milk, especially after the first six months.
It's none of my business whether you choose to breastfeed for zero minutes or for six years. What I care about is that you're doing so from a place of self-investment, not from a place of self-sacrifice. Do it because it's worth it to you. And once it's not worth it to you, stop.
And in case you could use a few milestones to help codify your decision, here are seven ideas to help you decide if it's time to stop breastfeeding.
7 The First Birthday
There are manifold medical advantages to exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, which you have probably heard about. Then between six months and one year, you can slowly introduce solid foods. By the time one year old rolls around, breastfeeding is less medically important, and your child is more mature and independent than he was as a tiny baby.
Weaning can take months. If you rush the process your breasts may rebel, as I found out when I tried to hurry them along. You might even end up with mastitis. It took us about six months to completely stop nursing, and I felt like we were progressing at a hearty clip.
One weekend I tried leaving the city and having my husband take care of the baby for two days, and yes, it was uncomfortable for my engorged breasts, but the real issue was that my body freaked out at the unexpected stress of sudden change, covered me with head-to-toe hives, and I got an additional vacation—in the hospital. So...don't freak out your nervous system. Go slowly.
6 Teeth And Solid Foods
My mother used to say, teeth are God's way of telling you it's time to stop breastfeeding. As soon as I felt my son's first one land on me, I understood. Teeth conveniently arrive right about when it's time to move on to a full-time diet of solid foods anyway, so they're like a preprogrammed alarm clock. By the time teeth show up, your child has gotten plenty of the antibodies and nutrients and magic in your milk.
Their immune system has been fortified. They have established a behaviour pattern of knowing when they're full. They are at a lower risk for getting fat. And yes, they are bonded to you. All the wonders you wanted to achieve have been achieved, and solid foods are a wonderland of adventure and discovery just waiting to be explored and smeared all over the kitchen.
If you're going to phase the breast out and the solid foods in, you can play with how you do it. You can make nursing sessions shorter and more infrequent. You can feed your baby solid foods first at mealtimes and nurse afterwards. You can confine nursing to a certain time of day. Or you can follow your baby's lead—some lose interest on their own and are ready to move on to more challenging culinary experiences.
5 Medical Issues That Interfere With Breastfeeding
I was lucky to have a choice about breastfeeding, and even though I griped about sore nipples, I wanted to breastfeed. Not all women have that choice. There are medical reasons why a mother-baby dyad cannot breastfeed. Some babies are born with diseases that prevent them from digesting breast milk.
Some mothers have medical issues that prevent them from making milk that is safe for their babies. If you have a medical issue that does not allow you to nurse, and you would otherwise have wanted to, please seek out whatever emotional support network you need to get you through this.
Here are some medical issues that prevent you from breastfeeding: HIV or AIDS. Hypothyroidism, pituitary dysfunction, or excessive postpartum bleeding. Hepatitis B, unless your baby got a Hep B shot within two days of their birth; check with your doctor. Hepatitis C, if you have a cracked or bleeding nipple—so keep an eye on your nipples.
Tuberculosis, unless you're currently under treatment for it. Active herpes sores on your breasts—but once they're healed, you can nurse. ….
A more common medical issue that enters more women's lives is medicine itself: there are numerousmedications out there that can cross into the milk and be bad for your baby, including some sedatives, anti-seizure drugs, cancer medications, and medicines that affect your immune system. So read your labels, talk with your pharmacist, and make sure you understand what you're taking.
4 Nonmedical Issues That Interfere With Breastfeeding
You may recall that there was a list five thousand miles long of things you weren't allowed to eat or drink while you were pregnant. Now that you're a lactating mother, there are still things you can't ingest if you want to breastfeed. Basically, anything your parents wouldn't want you consuming as a child is not ok.
Pot is right out, whether or not it's legal where you live. Alcohol of any kind. Cigarettes. Anything you would classify as an illegal drug is also verboten, although if we're discussing whether or not it's ok to snort cocaine while you're nursing, we have much bigger issues at stake than just “should I stop breastfeeding or not.”
Women were built to produce enough milk for their children; it's one of those clever plans of Nature. Very rarely you'll run into a woman with a congenital lack of glandular tissue, but the vast majority of women are made to be able to make all the milk their babies need, even if they have triplets.
However, we run afoul of this clever plan when we overrule Nature's design opinions with our own. If nonpregnant, pre-baby you thinks you want smaller breasts, please discuss the risks of plastic surgery with your plastic surgeon, in case you want to have the possibility of nursing at some point in the future.
Breast reduction surgery is invasive and interferes with / can prevent being able to breastfeed. So think twice before going under the scalpel. You have a beautiful body. Enjoy it.
3 You Just Don't Want To Do It Any More
Nobody ever presented this as a valid reason to me for stopping. But if you feel resentment, anger, depression, entrapment, bitterness, or mourning, how well can you perform your parenting job?
I lived in a world of other people, including all my doctors, who hammered home the notion that I, as a living being with an identity, had ceased to exist, and all I would ever be from here on in was a slave to someone else's needs. And no matter what, I did not have a choice about nursing. I had to do it, all the time. Forever.
I wish I could turn back the clock and give my younger self the faith of my own convictions, and tell the rest of the world to just pootle off. I wish I could have arrived earlier at my conviction that a happy parent is a good parent.
Sacrifice in personal relationships is not inherently noble, it's just sacrifice. Real nobility lies in healthily addressing actual, not perceived, needs. What the other person really needs may not be what you assume you're supposed to give them. Antibodies are a fantastic gift, but so is the gift of a parent who can smile.
2 When It's Not Time To Stop Breastfeeding — Because Of Your Baby
Breastfeeding is your choice, but it's also a group effort between you and your baby. And there are some temporary and some permanent situations where breastfeeding will help your baby above and beyond its usual scope. So before you decide to stop, give some special consideration to the possibility of extenuating circumstances.
One transient situation ameliorated by nursing is nuisance diarrhea. Babies with prolonged diarrhea (caused by antibiotics, intestinal illnesses, too much juice, or sensitivity to solid foods) need to keep breastfeeding to treat their condition.
There are also some permanent medical conditions that babies can have that are improved by the health benefits and bonding time that nursing provides. Babies with cleft lip or palate, Down's Syndrome, neural tube defects such as spina bifida, hydrocephalus, hypoglycemia, jaundice, congenital heart defects, reflux, cystic fibrosis, hypothyroidism, celiac disease, and allergies are all babies with good reasons to keep breastfeeding.
1 When It's Not Time To Stop Breastfeeding — Because Of You
If you have a plugged duct, which you'll recognize by a tender or red bump on your breast, do not stop breastfeeding, because that can clog up the duct more with extra milk and even lead to infection. Deal with plugged ducts by making sure your plugged breast gets emptied first at every session, either by baby or by pump.
If you have mastitis, a painful breast infection generally caused by bacteria entering through the baby's mouth, breastfeeding helps clear it up. Emptying the breasts is part of the mastitis healing procedure, along with medication.
Delaying nursing or not fully emptying the breasts can exacerbate mastitis. Mastitis can also give you a fever or flu-like symptoms, so if you were thinking of weaning, wait until you're done with your mastitis.