What to Expect When You Stop Breastfeeding
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Breast milk benefits the health of your baby greatly and minimizes some of your own risks as well. However, just as giving birth culminates in pain during delivery, ceasing breastfeeding comes with difficulties for both mother and child. There’s a range of side effects after stopping breastfeeding, especially if you stop cold turkey. Additionally, the body changes after stopping breastfeeding in numerous ways.
Fortunately, remedies do exist to help ease the discomfort. Knowing what to expect makes the side effects associated with how your body changes after stopping breastfeeding easier to deal with psychologically. Here’s what to expect.
The Side Effects of Stopping Breastfeeding Cold Turkey
Most health experts advise mothers to gradually wean their child off breast milk to minimize the side effects of stopping breastfeeding cold turkey. Women who stop suddenly often experience a host of unpleasant symptoms.
Women who breastfeed produce greater amounts of prolactin. This hormone stimulates the release of oxytocin, the chemical in the brain that people get from cuddling after lovemaking. One of the body changes after stopping breastfeeding is the reduction in prolactin and oxytocin, which can lead to both physical and mental side effects.
When levels of oxytocin drop, women may experience anxiety and depression, sometimes severely. Even women who haven’t suffered postpartum depression in the past can start to develop symptoms as they wean.
Physically, women may experience breast tenderness. This is normal, but pain that does not abate with the use of over-the-counter ibuprofen, other OTC anti-inflammatory medications or natural remedies benefit from a visit to the doctor. In some cases, mothers who cease breastfeeding, especially if they do so abruptly, develop clogged milk ducts. This can lead to a serious condition known as mastitis.
How to Wean Gradually from Breastfeeding
The side effects of stopping breastfeeding cold turkey can be unpleasant. Unless a physician directs a woman to do so — due to taking certain medications, for example — a gradual approach to weaning works best for mother and child. A step-by-step approach not only minimizes the unpleasantness, but it also reduces side effects.
That said, when a woman chooses to wean should remain between her, her baby and her doctor. Despite recent initiatives, some women continue to face the judgment of others when they breastfeed in public, but this does not constitute a reason to cease the practice too early. The physical and psychological health of a child matter far more than the opinions of outsiders.
When the time does come to wean, begin by replacing just one feeding per day, preferably the one baby enjoys least. Wait anywhere from a few days to a week or more before replacing the next meal with other liquids and solids. If the baby resists, wait a bit and try again.
Not only mothers undergo body changes after stopping breastfeeding. Infants, too, must adjust to losing the nutrient and immune-system benefits of switching from their mom’s milk. Plus, the reduction in feeding time may cause baby to feel anxious and grow fussy, as breastfed babies receive mental health benefits along with the mother.
How Your Body Changes After Stopping Breastfeeding
Physiologically, women experience many changes when they wean. Some of them are positive in the long term. Women who choose to breastfeed after giving birth decrease their breast cancer risks significantly, and this added protection doesn’t fade.
Breastfeeding uses up quite a few calories, since a woman’s body must work significantly harder to produce a constant supply of milk. As a result, many women increase their caloric intake while feeding without gaining weight, perhaps even losing a few pounds. If a woman maintains this level of food consumption after she weans, she may find the weight packing back on quickly.
Because ceasing breastfeeding causes significant hormonal changes, some women experience substantial fatigue after weaning. This can reach near-debilitating levels. Women should treat themselves gently and allow themselves to rest as often as possible.
Some women, even if they do not develop mastitis, nevertheless develop illness-like symptoms when they wean. They may experience headaches and nausea similar to those felt when they first became pregnant. Speaking of pregnancy, while the hormone prolactin prevents ovulation in many women, once she stops breastfeeding her chances of becoming pregnant again increase. Those not quite ready for another bundle of joy should use contraception.
A woman may continue to produce milk for months after stopping breastfeeding. While in the early stages of weaning, expressing a bit of milk can alleviate feelings of fullness. However, continuing to do so for extended periods may lengthen the milk production cycle. Women experiencing extreme tenderness can use chilled cabbage leaves, along with a supportive bra, to help reduce the pain.
Weaning the Right Way
Breastfeeding not only provides health benefits, but it also allows valuable bonding time with baby. As her infant moves on to solid food, it’s normal for physical and psychological changes to occur in both mother and child. By following her doctors’ orders and taking a gradual approach, women can reduce the negative aspects of weaning and let them experience the joy of new parenthood.