The thing about lactating is that once you get it started you can almost never “just stop.” Stopping the biological process takes days or weeks. That realization can be really scary. It can feel like you are trapped. It is important for you to know that choosing to stop breastfeeding is always an option.

I know that inherently you know that, yes, you could stop, but perhaps you have not fully allowed the option to be part of your thought process. It may feel like the ultimate failure and therefore it is not an option at all. Try or try harder are the only options left.

But let’s try to shift that mindset. You are not a victim of breastfeeding nor a prisoner of your body; you are in control and you are an active participant.

This victim mindset has been fed to breastfeeding mothers for a very long time, no thanks to breastfeeding advocates.  We don’t talk about choosing to stop (AKA “quitting”). We don’t talk about it in class or support group or online. We say, “Don’t quit!” or “Keep going!” without much regard for what a lactating parent is actually experiencing. 

What we virtually never say is, “How are you feeling about your current circumstances?”

These are points throughout the breastfeeding process when we will ask you to pause and take stock.

Look closely at all the component parts of your life:

Right here, right now…

  • How are you doing physically in general? Are you getting enough sleep? Is your body healing from pregnancy and childbirth?
  • How are your breasts lactating? Are they filling and draining well? Have you developed any infections? Do you get persistent plugged ducts?
  • How are your nipples? Are they healing?
  • How is your baby gaining and growing?
  • How is your mental health?
  • How is your relationship with your partner?
  • We take a step back and look at the whole picture.
  • Are you heading back to work?
  • What goals have you achieved? What goals are you still hoping to achieve?
  • Above all, are you ready to keep going or do you want to explore the option of choosing to stop?

Some re-up for another week or month of breastfeeding during this conversation. Others choose to stop.

If you are at a point where you would like to explore the option of choosing to stop breastfeeding, I really hope you have a kind IBCLC to help you through a gradual and safe weaning process. 

Hopefully your kind IBCLC will sit and talk with you about how strong you are for making such a difficult decision and how breastfeeding needs to blend with your overall life balance, not be the center of all things.

I hope she tells you that you are still a really good parent, even if you fell short of the “ideal” of breastfeeding.

I hope she tells you that this may be the first time but that it is far from the last time that you will need to make a really hard decision that is in the best interest of your child and your entire family.

I hope she tells you that everything is going to be not just okay; everything is going to be great.