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What Happens After You Stop Breastfeeding? 5 Things To Know

Updated: Feb 27, 2023


What Happens After You Stop Breastfeeding? 5 Things To Know


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.


If you think you might be coming to the end of the breastfeeding journey for you and your little one, you might be curious to know what happens when you stop.


The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby’s life, then continued breastfeeding, with the addition of complementary foods, until 2 years and beyond.


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


Regardless of when weaning occurs, many mothers experience changes they didn’t expect.


Lots of mothers are unaware that these changes are actually completely normal.


Let’s look at exactly what happens when you stop breastfeeding your baby.


What happens when you stop breastfeeding cold turkey?


When it comes to weaning your baby from breastfeeding, the best approach is to do it gradually.


Stopping abruptly can have adverse effects.


Some of these are:


Breast engorgement

Blocked ducts

Mastitis

Breast abscess

Emotional changes

Unsettled baby.

In some cases, a mother might need to stop breastfeeding suddenly due to a serious illness or hospitalization, or because she is taking medication that is not compatible with breastfeeding.


If you need to stop breastfeeding suddenly, there are steps you can take to help make the weaning process easier:


Hand express or pump a small amount of milk to relieve engorgement when needed. Do not aim to drain your breasts of milk; your body will replace whatever milk is removed

Wear a firm fitting bra. Do not attempt to ‘bind’ your breast as this can lead to blocked ducts; gentle pressure and adequate support can help if you are feeling engorged

Use cabbage leaves or cold compresses to relieve engorgement and help to decrease milk production

Comfort your baby. Children breastfeed for comfort as well as to relieve hunger, so make sure there are still plenty of opportunities for cuddles or give them attention in other ways.


Sage tea might help you wean more comfortably


Some mothers find consuming sage (e.g. in the form of a tea) helps their milk to dry up.


You can find sage tea at any health food store.


It’s important to remember that herbs can act like medications, so speak with a healthcare provider before taking any herbs.


Pink Stork No Flow is Amazon’s Top Choice for sage tea, and it has lots of rave reviews:


‘I used this tea to help reduce my milk supply for weaning my 3-year-old. He struggled with constant ear infections and was unable to wean earlier.


‘Thankfully he is finally well, but he was really struggling to let nursing go. I decided to try this tea to reduce my milk supply and maybe help him begin the process of weaning. This tea helped tremendously! I could tell a huge difference after just 2 servings.


‘My son is finally starting to accept weaning since he is getting less milk, along with our constant encouragement. This has been a Godsend for me. It is tasty too!’


How long after you stop breastfeeding does your milk dry up?


It’s common for mothers who have weaned to find that they are still able to hand express a little milk.


For some mothers this can be for a couple of weeks after their child has stopped breastfeeding; for others, it might be years!


In this fascinating case, a woman was still able to express breastmilk 11 years after her last baby.


How long it takes for your breastmilk to dry up completely after weaning varies from mother to mother.


For mothers who have breastfed frequently over a long period of time, it could take a little longer for their bodies to adjust to no longer needing to make milk.


If breastfeeding stops when your breasts are making plenty of milk – that is, when your baby is feeding often – it can take a long time for your breasts to reduce supply, and eventually stop producing milk.


If breastfeeding ends when your breasts aren’t producing much milk – for example, for an older baby or toddler – your supply is likely to adjust more quickly.


Exactly when your breasts stop making milk completely varies greatly between individual mothers.


Breastmilk production works on a supply and demand basis. The more (or less) frequently milk is removed from your breasts, the more (or less) milk your breasts will make.


How can I dry up milk supply without getting mastitis?

When you first stop breastfeeding, your breasts will want to keep producing the amount of milk they are used to producing.


Stopping breastfeeding gradually allows your breastmilk supply to reduce gradually over time. This helps minimize the risk of engorgement, blocked milk ducts or mastitis.


On the other hand, if weaning occurs suddenly, you are much more likely to experience engorgement, blocked ducts or mastitis.


When you are trying to stop your breasts from making milk, removing as little milk as possible is important.


Gently massage and hand express a small amount of milk to relieve engorgement. You can use a breast pump if you need to.


The key is to not drain your breasts until they are empty.


The emptier your breasts are, the faster your hormones will work to start filling them with milk again.


If you remove just enough milk to make you feel comfortable, your breasts will not signal your body to keep producing large amounts of milk.


Read more about How To Dry Up Breast Milk.


If you develop a blocked duct, temporarily removing milk (e.g. with hand expressing) to clear the blockage is important. This will help to reduce the risk of developing mastitis.


Likewise, if you develop mastitis, temporarily removing milk is important to reduce the risk of an abscess.


Once the blocked duct or mastitis has cleared, you can stop removing milk and just monitor your breasts.


Over time, your supply will reduce and eventually your milk production will cease.


How long after stopping breastfeeding do hormones return to normal?

When your breastfeeding journey ends, you might feel upset and teary.


Some mothers might not experience these emotions, but instead, find they are more irritable or anxious than usual.


These mood changes are the result of hormonal changes from weaning.


When you stop breastfeeding, there is a drop in the levels of prolactin and oxytocin in your body.


Oxytocin is the famous ‘love’ hormone involved in birth, breastfeeding, and even orgasm.


It’s not surprising that a sudden drop in oxytocin can cause a sudden drop in your mood, too.


Breastfeeding also creates a physical and emotional bond between a mother and her child. So when breastfeeding ends, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of sadness as a very special time in your life with your child has ended.


It’s important to remember the bond you have with your child.


Physical and emotional closeness can continue, despite weaning – for example, with hugs, skin-to-skin contact or babywearing.


Usually, the feelings that are related to hormonal changes settle after a few weeks.


If these feelings are severe or continue beyond a few weeks, seek advice from your health care professional.


You might like to read BellyBelly’s article about Post Weaning Depression.


Your menstrual cycle could return


Along with the emotional changes weaning might bring, changing hormones will also affect your menstrual cycle.


For many mothers, their period doesn’t return while they’re exclusively breastfeeding.


If this was the case for you, it’s likely your menstrual cycles will gradually return to normal once you stop breastfeeding.


This does not mean you cannot fall pregnant while breastfeeding. You can still get pregnant.


Read more in Belly Belly’s article: Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?


There’s a well-accepted form of birth control known as the Lactational Amenorrhoea Method (LAM).


LAM is only effective under the following conditions:


Your baby is 6 months old, or younger

Your baby is exclusively breastfed, with no supplementary fluids or foods

Your periods have not returned.

Do nipples go back to normal after breastfeeding?

Your breasts and nipples go through an enormous amount of change throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. You might be wondering, ‘Will my breasts ever look the same again?’


Once breastfeeding stops, the milk-making cells in your breasts will gradually shrink, making them smaller in size.


Some women say their breasts look or feel empty at this stage.


As time passes, fat cells will be laid down again in place of milk-making cells, and you might find your breasts regain some fullness.


Many women find their breasts usually return to their pre-pregnancy size, or thereabouts.


And, if you worried about saggy breasts, don’t be.



While breastfeeding, you probably noticed changes in your nipples, too.


As your pregnancy progressed, your nipples darkened and your areola might have increased in size.


You might have also noticed little bumps that weren’t there before, called Montgomery glands.


Many women find these bumps decrease and their nipples lighten a little in color after they stop breastfeeding.


Any cracks or bleeding associated with breastfeeding will completely go away.


Like all changes related to having a baby, it’s easier to accept a ‘new normal’ than to try to ‘get your body back’.


Besides, your body didn’t go anywhere; your body made you a beautiful baby!


So instead of beating yourself up because your body looks different, congratulate yourself for the amazing things your body has achieved.


Carrying, birthing and breastfeeding a baby is no easy feat!


The end of breastfeeding


The end of breastfeeding can bring about a multitude of physical and emotional changes.


Some changes can be surprising, but knowing what to expect can help make them seem less daunting.


For some mothers, the end of their breastfeeding relationship with their babies can be a time of sadness.


It’s just like any other major milestone in your child’s life. You welcome the future but, at the same time, a part of you grieves the loss of your child’s dependence on you.


Although it can be really hard, this is a normal part of motherhood.


Whenever possible, gradual weaning can help minimize any physical and emotional changes you might experience.


This is because gradual weaning allows hormonal changes to occur more slowly over time and gives your body a chance to get used to them.


No matter what your breastfeeding journey entailed, or how much breastmilk your baby received, be proud you were able to provide your baby with an optimal start to lifelong health.For some mothers, the end of their breastfeeding relationship with their babies can be a time of sadness.


It’s just like any other major milestone in your child’s life. You welcome the future but, at the same time, a part of you grieves the loss of your child’s dependence on you.


Although it can be really hard, this is a normal part of motherhood.


Whenever possible, gradual weaning can help minimize any physical and emotional changes you might experience.


This is because gradual weaning allows hormonal changes to occur more slowly over time and gives your body a chance to get used to them.


No matter what your breastfeeding journey entailed, or how much breastmilk your baby received, be proud you were able to provide your baby with an optimal start to lifelong health.


There are a multitude of reasons why you might want to wean your child from breastfeeding or bottle feeding from pumping and you really don’t have to justify that to anyone! Common reasons are: age, subsequent pregnancy, self-weaning, need for a medication that isn’t safe while breastfeeding/pumping, and the list goes on.


In this blog, we will cover A LOT of weaning topics like:


What to expect when you are weaning from breastfeeding


What happens after weaning breastfeeding


Can weaning from breastfeeding cause headaches (depression/anxiety/make you sick/acne)


How to start weaning from breastfeeding


How to start weaning from breastfeeding to formula


How long do breastfeeding weaning symptoms last


Weaning from breastfeeding to whole milk


Weaning from breastfeeding at night


Weaning from breastfeeding at 12 months


Weaning from breastfeeding to bottle


Weaning breastfeeding guilt


Gentle weaning from breastfeeding


What to expect when you are weaning from breastfeeding


This will obviously be different for every person and also when they are actually weaning from breastfeeding. If you’ve only breastfed for a few weeks/months, then the hormonal changes may be less significant than those who have been nursing for longer.


It may also be different if it’s a slow wean vs a more sudden wean.


The circumstances do matter to most parents when they’re weaning for what may happen during/after the weaning process, but some parents may breeze through (and others may have ALL the symptoms).


I’ve found it can vary from child to child too.


So in a nutshell…. Your favorite answer is: it depends!


What happens after weaning breastfeeding


Here are some possible things that can happen after weaning breastfeeding:


Emotional changes


Hormonal changes


Engorgement


Menstrual cycle returns if it hasn’t yet


Some babies have a more difficult time with the transition than others; be patient with your little one and yourself! Offer lots of snuggles/comfort if they’ve been used to soothing with nursing as you introduce other forms of soothing.


Can weaning from breastfeeding cause headaches (depression/anxiety/make you sick/acne)

Because of the hormonal changes that may occur when weaning breastfeeding (whether it’s suddenly or a slow wean), your body may experience headaches, weaning depression/anxiety, nausea, acne, insomnia, night sweats…. And really anything else involved with hormone changes.


If you feel like it’s excessive, it never hurts to get some blood work done, especially a thyroid panel as a check in!


How to start weaning from breastfeeding


You do want to be mindful of engorgement as the risk of mastitis from clogged ducts can go up if you drop feedings too suddenly.


Sometimes you have to stop breastfeeding suddenly because baby needs to be transitioned to formula for whatever reason– in those cases, it can be helpful to replace breastfeeding with pumping in order to slowly reduce feedings. That isn’t always an option either!


If it isn’t, hand expressing for relief can keep engorgement and mastitis/clogged ducts at bay.


A popular option for weaning from breastfeeding in a more gradual way is the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” option.


With that, you’d simply not offer breastfeeding consistently throughout the day and allow your child to cue you/ask for nursing.


If you’re not already offering meals and snacks (and they’re old enough for solids), once they’re over 12 months, you can replace nursing sessions with meals or snacks. Instead of nursing right when they get up, you can offer breakfast. And so forth.


How to start weaning from breastfeeding to formula


In some cases, you may need to supplement formula in addition to breastfeeding and/or you may need to wean completely to formula before your child is 12 months old.


It can be risky to add formula and breastmilk to the same bottle because breastmilk may be hard to come by and it would be a bummer if they refused the bottle from the mixture (and thus wasting formula AND breastmilk).


It usually works best to offer separate feedings either by breastfeeding from the source or giving a little breastmilk then a bottle. You can also slowly replace nursing with a formula bottle by alternating feedings until you’ve transitioned solely to formula bottles.


This is all about finding a system that feels sustainable and manageable to you.


How long do breastfeeding weaning symptoms last


The general consensus seems to be that weaning symptoms, if you’ll have them, lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks!


If it persists longer than that, it’s always good to check in with a doctor for some bloodwork.


Weaning from breastfeeding to whole milk


Whole milk isn’t a required/mandatory switch for most kids. I tried EVERY kind of milk with Noah after he turned one and there wasn’t a single kind of milk he would take more than a few sips of (if that). We wasted so.much.money. 🤪


I finally talked to my pediatrician because it was so frustrating and he was casually like, “oh, you don’t need to force regular milk on him.”


Great, cool, thanks.


As long as they’re getting the nutrition they may miss from whole milk (like calcium, vitamin D, protein, etc), then you’re good to not force it.


If your child actually likes milk (lol), then offering milk with foods in replacement of nursing sessions is a fine switch!


Generally, you’d replace one nursing session with a cup of milk. So if you’re nursing 3x a day at a year old, then you’d give milk with a meal instead of nursing.


#1 Weaning from breastfeeding at night


While sleep training is not synonymous with night weaning, some sleep training is generally needed in order to night wean when you’re ready.


If you’re still nursing to sleep and that’s their preferred way to get back to sleep in the middle of the night, you can replace the earliest feeding with rocking back to sleep (or any other way to get them back to sleep without feeding).


You can send in a non-breastfeeding partner to do this as it can sometimes help if feeding isn’t even an option!


If you’re not feeding to sleep, and they fall asleep independently without any props, you can use a sleep training method to encourage them to go back to sleep without feeding.


#2 Weaning from breastfeeding at 12 months


Lots of people make 12 months their goal of breastfeeding and then they are DONE. I totally get it. You certainly can continue nursing for as long as you’d like, or you can transition to whole milk/water with meals and full time solids after 12 months if that’s your desire as well.


This doesn’t have to be a quick switch- it can take as much time as you’d like to transition away from nursing.


#3 Weaning from breastfeeding to bottle


If you’re weaning from breastfeeding before a year, where that is still their primary source of nutrition, then they’ll need to replace breastfeeding with formula before whole milk.


If you’re wanting to do that slowly, then replacing one feeding every few days with a bottle is an option.


You can also breastfeeding for shorter periods of time and add supplemental bottles after, increasing the amount as you decrease how long you’re breastfeeding for until you’re down to just a couple of minutes. When you’re there, you can just give a full bottle instead of offering to nurse.


#4 Weaning breastfeeding guilt


It’s common to have different feelings when weaning. Because of the hormonal changes, that can affect emotions as well!


Some guilt may be felt if your journey didn’t look quite like you thought- in fact, research has found that there are negative impacts to mental health from breastfeeding when our experience doesn’t match our expectations.


Other guilt can come from not being able to soothe your child as easily if you’re used to using the breast for that. (Also why we suggest layering in a lot of other soothing options so that this feeling doesn’t creep in)!


#5 Gentle weaning from breastfeeding


This is a process that can take YEARS to get through, if you choose to! You don't have to do anything suddenly if you don’t want to/have to. Breastfeeding through toddlerhood is common, especially in other countries.


The don’t offer, don’t refuse option would be considered gentle. Setting some boundaries around feeding/when you will feed is also gentle.


Reducing how many times you nurse throughout the night by replacing with rocking, etc is another gentle option.


Just remember than using gradual is more accurate than gentle because what is gentle for one child wouldn’t be considered gentle for another!


And if you’re struggling with weaning AND sleep, as a certified breastfeeding counselor, that’s something I help families with every day! Check out the 1:1 options for getting support.




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