How to Stop Breastfeeding

So you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding? But how best to stop? Especially as many children refuse to stop and demand that you continue nursing. There are many techniques, one of which should best suit you and your child.

Ask for advice as to how to go about weaning and you’ll receive a variety of answers. Some responses range from just plain silly to potentially dangerous. Some people will recommend that you just change to bottle feeding whilst others will even recommend taking some form of ‘drying-up’ meditation; please avoid medication and there are better ways than switching to bottle feeding.

One school of thought – one that was quite common in our grandparents’ day and is still common in some cultures – is for mother to take a vacation away from her child. The idea being that mother is far enough away not to hear her baby’s cries and that when the mother returns after a week, the baby will no longer want to be nursed. There are some serious drawbacks to this method. The first being, that many children will not have forgotten about breastfeeding and will demand it upon mother’s return. Secondly, and most importantly, is the emotional impact on the child when separated from mother. Adults may refer to the time spent away as ‘separation’, but the child will see it as desertion. There is nothing an adult can do to explain a mother’s absence from a child less than 3 years of age. Each child has a threshold when it can endure a mother’s absence; after this time a child will begin to mourn for the loss of its mother. The emotionally and psychological damage on a child shouldn’t be underestimated. The damage can be life long. Many institutions and organisations now realise the harm done when a mother and child are separated; one only has to look at how many hospitals provide bedding for a child should the mother spend time in hospital. Weaning by separation is a risky strategy: avoid it.

Another ‘quick and easy’ method is to sabotage the sweat tasting breast milk. Mothers can purchase a foul-tasting liquid which is painted on thumb or nipple. In other cultures, mothers use various herbs and spices to bring about weaning. Igorot mothers in the Philippines have used ginger or chilli-pepper sauce. In the Eighteenth century is was quite common for mothers in European countries to apply mixtures containing alum, mustard or wormwood. Applying this type of quick-and-easy method of weaning is risky. For one thing, applying such mixtures must be painful for mother as well as child. Breastfeeding is as much about giving your child comfort as it is about giving nutrition. Breastfeeding is teaching your child to trust you, its mother. By suddenly, offering a bitter, foul-tasting liquid instead of the usual sweet, delicious milk will seem like a betrayal to some children. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Greek physician Soranus expressed disapproval of the practice, citing the injurious effect of the sudden change, and that the bitter or evil-smelling substance could injure the child’s stomach. Of interest is that the taste of breast milk changes when the mother becomes pregnant; many older children who were breastfeeding at the time have told how the once delicious milk changed to something less tasty. Although we don’t know for sure, it may be Nature’s way of weaning one child in preparation for the next. Anyhow, it doesn’t always work as many children continue to happily suckle during pregnancy.

Ignoring a child’s crying is hard for a mother. Nature has programmed children to cry when in discomfort or in need of something, and for parents to respond when their children cry. But ignoring a child’s crying can be a good thing. This isn’t to say we completely ignore our child’s tears, rather, by occasionally not giving in, we are teaching our children a valuable lesson: we don’t always get everything we want in life. We teach this lesson often to our children; by refusing to buy candy and the supermarket checkout, or by not letting them watch television past their bedtime. The secret is patience. You make the call; when to ignore a child’s crying and when to respond. At first you can ignore the crying for a set time before soothing your child by nursing. Eventually you can allow your child to cry itself out, but to offer your breast the next time he cries. Given time, your child will come to terms with the diminishing amount of nursing she receives, and if you provide other stimuli and rewards the needs for mother’s breast will fade out completely.