Stopping breastfeeding

All mothers and babies are different. There are no rules on when the right time is to finish breastfeeding. Aim to finish when you feel good about it.

Do not stop breastfeeding suddenly. This will make your breasts feel uncomfortably full. This can also lead to complications such as blocked ducts and mastitis.

Stop breastfeeding slowly. You can also choose to combination feed. This is when you feed your baby both breast milk and formula milk.

If your baby is less than 6 months

To stop breastfeeding a baby under 6 months, gradually reduce the number of times you breastfeed each day.

  1. Phase out one breastfeed every 2 to 3 days for the first few weeks. Begin with the feeds during the day.
  2. Give your baby a formula feed from a bottle during the times you do not breastfeed.
  3. After your child gets used to this new routine, stop another of the daily breastfeeds.
  4. Keep doing this feed by feed, until your supply of breast milk has stopped completely.

Leave your morning breastfeed as the last to phase out as this is when you have the most milk.

If your breasts feel overly full when dropping a feed express until you are comfortable.

If your baby is 6 months to one year

Introducing solid foods

Weaning is when you introduce your baby to solid foods. This happens when they are around 6 months old. Continuing to breastfeed at the beginning of weaning can help your baby adapt to eating solid foods.

Your milk supply will adjust to this change. Milk feeds continue to be essential until your baby is one year old. If you stop breastfeeding before they are one year old, give them formula milk instead.

Watch a video on introducing family foods to breastfed babies:

Dr Anne Marie Brennan talks about weaning breastfed babies

Toddlers and older children

Stopping breastfeeding can take a little effort. You'll need to offer substitutes and distractions such as food and attention.

Change your routine by not sitting in your usual nursing chair.

Introduce a bedtime routine that includes a sleep cue. This could be a song or story that can continue when breastfeeding has stopped.

Don't offer, don't refuse

This is a simple technique to help when weaning from the breast. This does not apply to younger babies.

Sharing food

Offer your child a snack just before you expect them to breastfeed. This is to increase the length of time between feeds or shorten a feed.

Sit with your child and have a drink and a snack yourself. This can show the pleasure of sharing food. It is also a way of giving attention to compensate for the closeness of breastfeeding.

Suggest an interesting activity

An interesting activity will distract your child from nursing.

For example:

  • visit the park or a friend
  • cook together
  • involve them in helping you with your work

Give your child your full attention.

If stopping breastfeeding isn't going well

Ending breastfeeding may not go well at first. They may also be unwell or teething.

Signs that weaning is moving too quickly include:

  • increased tantrums
  • crying
  • regressive behaviour
  • anxiety
  • thumb sucking
  • increased night waking
  • new fears of separation and being clingy

Take a break

You may find that having a break from stopping breastfeeding for a few days, or even a week or so makes a difference. Taking this time to recharge gives you more energy to continue. Ending breastfeeding may become easier after a short break.

Emotional support

Babies and children need more emotional security at times of developmental change. Reduce outside commitments if possible. Limit housework to essentials if you are trying to stop breastfeeding. You can then give your child the focused attention they will need. Giving extra physical comfort like hugs is important too.

Getting support

It's common to feel sad at the end of the breastfeeding relationship as your child is moving onto a new stage. Get support if you're worried about stopping breastfeeding.

Find your local breastfeeding support group for information and support.

You can also get advice from your public health nurse or GP.

Related topic

Breastfeeding and work

Page last reviewed: 22 October 2019
Next review due: 22 October 2022