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
- 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.
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.
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.
Read more about Saggy Boobs and Breastfeeding.
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.