How to discontinue breastfeeding in an easy, painless way

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022 04:41 | By
Naomi Kago bonds with her three children. PHOTO/Courtesy

For any mother, the beginning of your breastfeeding journey can be a hard one — what with dealing with cracked nipples, breast engorgement and the likes? However, it turns out the end can be just as confusing. 

No matter how long you breastfeed your baby, and regardless of whether your breastfeeding journey was easy or challenging, there comes a time when breastfeeding stops. The World Health Organisation (WHO)recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, then continued breastfeeding, with the addition of complementary foods, until two years and beyond.

However, the decision about when to stop breastfeeding is a personal one, based on the unique needs of each mother and baby.

Naomi Kago, a mother of three children aged six, five, and three years shares her breastfeeding journey and says it worked differently for each of her little one. “With the first born, it was a bit easy. I remember tricking him that the breasts had salt on them hence they were bitter. He easily fell for it and adapted to the new norm,” says Naomi.

“I used to take the salt and sprinkle it around the nipple area on my breast and that was it. However, for the second born, things were a bit tough. She just wanted to nurse and continue nursing. I had to take her to our rural home where she stayed for about two weeks and when she came back home, she came back tougher than she went. She would cry the whole night and I had to breastfeed her because she got to the point where she declined to eat any food,” narrates Naomi.

Three babies, different experience

For the third born, she terms the whole experience as a mystery. She offers: “When he hit six months, he started refusing to breastfeed and I found it weird. I would even force him to latch. Sometimes he would cry. When he was eight months old, he completely refused to breastfeed. I had no choice, but to close that chapter. As a mother, I have this principle that when my child turns one year, on their first birthday that very night is the last day for them to breastfeed. This worked well for the first born, but for the second born I had to extend for two more months.”

According to Naomi, it worked well with her first born because by the time he hit one year, he was feeding well. “My second born was a poor feeder and that is why she wasn’t ready to let go of breastmilk.  The third born was also a good feeder. He is also unique in that he not only refused to breastfeed, but also refused to take tea with milk until just recently. He has never taken milk. He says it tastes bad,” she explains.

Rebecca Hinnicks, a mother of four children aged five, three, one year and 10 months and a three-month-old says her babies stop breastfeeding when she gets pregnant again.

“It may sound like a joke, but for me it has been automatic. Once I conceive, the older baby just stops breastfeeding. I don’t know if there is some science behind it,” she says. “Perhaps my last born will breast feed longer than the first three and it may be a challenge stopping her,” she adds.

Wangeci Kihara, a lactation counsellor and nutritionist says mothers struggle with weaning baby completely from breast milk because of the bond that they have formed.

“Mums sometimes struggle emotionally with letting the baby go, and the baby has also formed such a great bond with the mother, hence it really becomes hard. Breastfeeding does not only give the babies the nutrients required for their bodies to be strong, but also offers them a lot of love and bonding with their mother,” says Wangeci.

Also, the the breasts really get painful and full, hence the mum becomes uncomfortable when she is trying to stop breastfeeding, which makes it hard, especially when the mum is trying to stop abruptly. By giving your body more time to adjust and decrease milk production, engorgement may be less — which generally means less breast swelling and less boob pain. If you do experience side effects, you can see your doctor

“I usually suggest that a mum takes a few weeks to a few months to prepare the baby and themselves to completely stop breastfeeding. It can be two to three months. If you know you want to stop breastfeeding your baby, start today and start slowly. If the baby was breastfeeding five times a day, drop one session and go to four. Breastfeed the baby four times a day for about two weeks then go to three times. After a week, drop to two times a day. That way, the baby does not get shocked with the abrupt sudden change,” she explains.               . 

“As a human being, you are probably used to doing something or are stuck to a certain routine and when it is interrupted, you get affected emotionally. That is the same thing with a baby. It’s really unkind to take your child to your rural home in the name of trying to make them stop breastfeeding,” she shares.

Gradual process

The expert says some methods a mum can use to stop breastfeeding their child include; don’t ask and don’t give. “Usually, when mothers find time to rest say on a couch they usually call the baby to breastfeed. However, in this case, if the baby doesn’t ask for breast milk, don’t offer it. Secondly, by the time a baby is a toddler, they are more understanding. At this time, you can tell them that they can only breastfeed if you are sitting on a particular chair, and if you are sitting on another chair, they can’t breastfeed,” she adds.

If the baby breastfeeds only at night, cuddle them more rather than breastfeeding.

“The biggest tip and trick is time. Don’t wake up and say, this is the day I am going to stop breastfeeding my child.  Your body needs to adjust because stopping abruptly will lead to other problems such as mastitis and other challenges  brought about by hormonal changes. Be gracious with yourself. Also, expect tantrums because this child was used to a routine. But if you do it gradually and slowly, the tantrums will be less,” Wangeci says.

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