It's recommended that you breastfeed your child exclusively for the first six months of their life, as all of the hydration and nutrition that they need is perfectly catered for in your breast milk.
If a mother is unable to breastfeed or chooses not to, you can start bottle feeding at any time, but it's worth noting that health professionals believe that formula does not benefit your baby in the same way and lacks many of the health and strength-building benefits that breast milk has.
Once a mother starts to bottle feed, her breasts will quickly react to the change in supply and demand and stop producing breast milk, so it's important to be sure of your decision once you've made it.
When should I stop breastfeeding?Dr Yiannis Ioannou, a consultant paediatrician, spoke exclusively to GoodtoKnow about his expert opinion on when a mother should stop breastfeeding her child.
'Current recommendations are for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months before commencing weaning. Breastfeeding can then continue as long as mother and baby want, may last to about a year of age or even beyond.
'While the benefits of breastfeeding to mother and baby are well recognised, I should add that there are many factors that affect mothers' decision regarding feeding and if they choose to breastfeed for a shorter period and supplement with formula or indeed mix feed this is absolutely fine. From a year of age cow's milk is all that is needed in terms of milk, in addition to solid food with multivitamin supplements recommended.'
Ultimately every woman is different and her decision is entirely her own. Many women plan to breastfeed for about a year, but plenty go on to breastfeed for two years or more.
Some mothers choose to breastfeed their children until four years or even older, and different cultures around the world set out different norms.
Common reasons for stopping breastfeeding
Sore or painful breastsSome women can suffer from painful breasts whilst breastfeeding which can contribute to them wanting to stop. The most common reasons for feeling pain in your breasts whilst you nurse is because your baby isn't latched on properly. It is important that your child takes a large mouthful of your breast with the entire arelio in their mouth, not just the nipple. Your midwife and health visitor can help you get the right breastfeeding position for your baby to properly attach.
Some women also suffer from cracked or sore nipples when they breastfeed. There are a few things you can do to help this such as letting your nipples dry before you dress, wearing a cotton non-underwired bra that is designed for breastfeeding and covering your nipples in a thin layer of Vaseline to sooth them.
Increasing breast milk supplySome women worry that their breast milk supply is coming to an end, however your breasts will continue to produce breast milk for as long as your child keeps feeding so this is very rarely the case.
If you feel like your milk supply is dwindling it is probably that your baby isn't latched on properly so you need to speak with your health visitor about trying different positions. Ultimately the more you breastfeed the more breast milk you will produce.
Going back to workIf you'd like to continue breastfeeding but you're concerned about how to manage with going back to work, it's still possible to feed your baby breast milk.
Express your breast milk with a pump or by hand and bottle it up for your child minder or family member to feed to your baby when you're not around. This way they will still benefit from al the goodness in your breast milk and you will continue producing.
If you continue to breastfeed outside of work hours your breast milk supply should stay established and you will be fine to express for whilst you are away.
How to stop breastfeedingIt's important to phase out breastfeeding slowly as your body will continue to produce milk and by cutting down the demand your body will react accordingly. If you immediately stop breastfeeding your breasts may become engorged and swollen, which will be very uncomfortable!
Your baby will also rely on your breast milk as a source of comfort so it's important not to take this away from them too drastically. You should start by dropping down by one feed per week and starting with a certain time of the day, for example cutting down on morning feeds first.
You don't need to stop breastfeeding as soon as your baby begins on solids, breastfeeding and first solids can in fact work well together. There is some research that shows breast milk helps aid your baby's digestive system ready for solids.
If your baby is under a year old you will need to replace your breast milk with a formula feed with a bottle, however if they are older than a year they should be fine.