How to stop breastfeeding quickly

There are many reasons and circumstances which have led women to give up breastfeeding.

Some women are prescribed medication and told by a health professional that they had to stop breastfeeding because the drug was not compatible.

Others had to have a specific medical test and stopped breastfeeding for that reason. The list goes on.

The truth is that many of these things are, in fact, compatible with breastfeeding. 

In some situations, it may be necessary to make a few adjustments or even temporarily reduce the amount of breastfeeding.

Still, there is a lot of flexibility, and it’s usually the lack of lactation knowledge (even from professionals) that causes many women to stop breastfeeding unnecessarily.

Many women are left feeling distressed, having given up breastfeeding prematurely.

Hand over a reddened sore breast

Many experience engorgement, coupled with blocked ducts or mastitis, because they abruptly stopped breastfeeding, rather than gradually reducing supply, which is far kinder to your body.

In some circumstances, it may be necessary to stop breastfeeding for a short time completely, e.g., if you are being treated with potent anti-cancer drugs, but even in this situation you could maintain your milk supply with pumping, and orientate your baby back to the breast at the end treatment. 

Milk expressed before the therapy began could be offered to your baby during the treatment, while you keep your supply up with a hospital-grade pump.

After treatment, your baby can be reorientated back to the breast again. 

Babies are hard-wired to breastfeed, and many babies come back to the breast again with no fuss at all, so look at the information on relactation so that you can make an informed choice. 

If you need or want to reduce your supply for any reason, and you have a few weeks to prepare, this gives ample time for you to reduce your supply gradually.

Try cutting out just one feed for two to three days, and then another feed for another two to three days, and you will find this will cause a gradual reduction in milk production.

Once again, it is possible to increase your supply at a later date if you wish.

In the process of reducing milk supply, use hand expression as a means to keep yourself comfortable, because it’s possible to get engorged as your supply and demand goes awry.

Hand expression will also help to prevent a blocked duct and mastitis. 

There are not many circumstances where you would need to stop breastfeeding abruptly

However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a condition where you need treatment as soon as possible, then use a hospital-grade pump to express your milk.

A mum and baby lying in a hospital bed

Pump as often as your baby would have been feeding at the breast, then gradually reduce the pumping time.

Keep yourself comfortable with hand expression in between, to prevent blocked ducts or mastitis.

You may likely be offering a breastmilk substitute to your baby, and your recovery is essential, so get lots of rest, and during feeding and at other times, continue to keep your baby close for extra comfort. 

Utilize lots of practical and emotional help and support from your friends and family.

If you do have to stop abruptly before your baby is 12 months old, seek out support and information from your health professional who can give you impartial information regarding breast milk substitutes.

If your baby is less than six months old, you will likely be offering a bottle, so it’s good to know how you can responsively offer the bottle.

After six months of age, babies can be provided with an open lidded cup.

A mum and baby in the background looking at a breast pump with bottle full of milk

If you are going through the process of trying to stop your milk production entirely, pump your milk as often as your baby would have fed.

Gradually start to reduce one of those pumping sessions for two to three days, but ALWAYS keep yourself comfortable in between. 

If you start to feel uncomfortably full, then use your hand only, get a minimal amount of milk off the breast. You’re doing this is a preventative measure. 

Reduce a further pumping session over two to three days, but ensure that you keep as comfortable as you can. Gradually your body will make less and less milk.

Another strategy is to reduce the pumping time, so you’re taking less milk off the breast in each session. 

Your milk supply is always in a state of flux. If you start to drain the breast again, your body will begin to make milk again.

Women have relactated after days, weeks or sometimes months.

However, if this decision is final, then you are likely to be feeling quite emotional.

Know that keeping your baby close, skin to skin, and feeding your baby responsively via a bottle, will also help to develop your baby’s brain. 

All that lovely responsive feeding and closeness is a beautiful thing, irrespective of the milk. 

Congratulate yourself on your breastfeeding journey, whatever the length, and however much milk your baby received.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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