Many nursing mothers become very anxious about when and how best to stop breastfeeding. The decision to stop breastfeeding should be part of a natural process of raising a child and should be of no concern to anyone but mother and baby.
If a woman is anxious about when to cease breastfeeding, the best advice is to put the whole subject out of her thoughts. However, this is isn’t always easy to do. Many external factors contribute to the anxiety and stress a mother feels about breastfeeding and, all too sadly, these external factors can persuade many women to stop breastfeeding their baby. Breastfeeding in public is something that many mothers find difficult, and with good reason. Our modern society makes breastfeeding your child in public as difficult as possible: a lack of private places for breastfeeding; many mothers being thrown out of shops, restaurants and public transport when they feed their child; women’s breasts being seen as sex objects rather than as a source of nutrition and comfort for a child; the list goes on.
Another reason mothers feel pressurized into stopping breastfeeding is when a baby becomes a small infant. Feeding older children – especially children who can articulate their love of mother’s breast milk – is very much a taboo subject. Our society encourages women to wean their child off breast milk at an early age. However, other societies find it perfectly acceptable for a mother to breastfeed her child into early infancy – the World Health Organization recommends that all mothers breastfeed for at least 2 years.
Some mothers feel they should cease nursing their child when the child becomes sick. Unless a medical expert says otherwise a mother should always continue to breastfeed during the child’s sickness; the benefits of mother’s antibodies – not forgetting the emotional support a child gets – are just what a sick child needs.
Perhaps the main reason women decide to stop breastfeeding is because of pregnancy. There is evidence that breastfeeding does decrease a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant; breastfeeding is Nature’s contraceptive pill. It certainly makes sense to avoid having another baby when the first child is still very much dependent on getting it’s nutrition from mother. Being pregnant also stops many women from breastfeeding. Western culture does seem to frown upon breastfeeding during pregnancy although there are no valid reasons to stop breastfeeding during pregnancy.
When to stop breastfeeding is a decision made by both mother and child. Ignoring all external advice and opinions will alleviate the pressure to stop breastfeeding, leaving the mother and child to get on with breastfeeding until such as time as both decide to stop.
Eventually a decision is made to stop breastfeeding. But stopping breastfeeding isn’t always straightforward. A child may have spent years suckling and will find it hard to stop. The most important thing to remember when stopping breastfeeding is, never stop nursing suddenly if you can avoid it. The sudden loss of mother’s breast can be very emotionally upsetting for a child. Instead, a gradually weaning off the breast is the best approach. Start by replacing one feed with a bottle – the bottle can contain either formula or expressed breast milk. Over time, the baby can be introduced to being fed by bottle or cup rather than by breast.
Many nursing mothers find it hardest to stop breastfeeding when their child wakes up at night. Many babies cry when the wake and breastfeeding is a very effective way of soothing them back to sleep. A good approach to take is to let the mother’s partner take care of baby’s bedtime. Try letting your partner put the baby to bed, and when baby wakes during the night, let your partner put the baby back to sleep. The mother can express her milk earlier in the day; the partner can then feed the baby her mother’s milk during the night. Many babies aren’t happy about having mother replaced by her partner, however persistence is the key. Your baby will get used to it.
It is also important to take care of yourself during this time. Stopping nursing can also be a very emotional experience for mothers. And you mustn’t forget about the physical effects of stopping breastfeeding. Some mother can experience painful engorgement when the stop nursing their child. A gradual weaning off breastfeeding will ease the discomfort; your breasts will become used to producing less breast milk. Some mothers find the application of cabbage leaves, placed on the nipple, help reduce engorgement.
Finally, it is vital that a mother get the support she needs – at all stages of raising a child. Therefore, talk to friends and family and especially your partner about your decision to stop breastfeeding; the more informed they are, the better they will be able to help.