Why do mothers stop breastfeeding?

I make milk - superpowerLast week I joined a group of moms and their little ones for a morning of social gathering and playing. I didn’t know any of the moms and it happens that most were first-time moms with babies under the age of one.

For a couple of hours I got to hear stories I once told others regarding my little babies, who now are little men. The feeding on demand, the short and sleepless nights, the first rollover, the first solid food, the first crawl… Some of my babies’ past is becoming blurry. Sometimes I confuse which baby did what. But I also remember some moments in great detail, including the little suckling noises they made as I nursed them in the stillness of the night, their super cute smiles and giggles, their unique ways to crawl, their reactions to first foods, their first steps… It seems it all happened so long ago and yet, it’s just been a few years. Time really flies when you’re having fun. And even when it’s not all fun sometimes.

One of the inevitable new-mom subjects is breastfeeding. Here in California, where people are more obsessed concerned with their health, it seems most moms give it a try. California laws support breastfeeding, allowing it in all public places and requiring employers to provide a private place to pump (restroom stalls not included). Many moms I’ve talked to (working and not-working) have managed to nurse their babies for a year or more, just as I did.

I'm still breastfeeding T-shirtSo I was surprised to hear the mom of a seven-month-old baby tell another mom she had breastfed her baby since birth, but she stopped at six months, even though she was still producing milk. The most interesting thing is when the other mom asked her why she’d stopped, she didn’t have an answer. She said she just stopped. This left me perplexed.

Everyone who’s ever tried to breastfeed will tell you the first few months are the hardest. Baby and mom need to become acquainted and often taught how to nurse. Mom is exhausted, nursing on demand, and doesn’t get much of a break. After a few months though, the feedings space out and baby becomes a suckling pro. If a mom nurses for the first six months, she’s gone through the hardest part of it all.

So why would a mom who embraces breastfeeding for the first six months of her baby’s life suddenly decide to stop? This mom stays at home and doesn’t experience any pressures from outside work, has no older siblings taking her attention and breasts away from the baby, and still produces plenty of milk. Why make the switch to expensive and non-natural formula, deal with making bottles, and not want to maintain this special bond for a few more months?

I just don’t get it. If all is going well, why stop it? I can’t think of any good reason why. And clearly, this mom couldn’t either but still did it. Would someone please enlighten me?

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16 responses to “Why do mothers stop breastfeeding?

  1. You don’t want to see the debates going on on some pregnancy forums about nursing your baby. It’s disturbing if you ask me. I nursed my daughter for 26 months … just 2 months longer than WHO recommended but some moms think 1) boobs are a sexual thing & refuse to nurse their babies, 2) refuse to nurse once the baby gets teeth, no matter how young they are 3) think nursing past the first year is gross & unnatural & very disturbing.
    I understand not everyone is able to nurse for long or at all but I don’t get why you’d deny your baby this natural privilege there’s nothing else hindering you.

    • I think the opposition to breastfeeding is very cultural and prominent in the USA. I can’t imagine any other country opposing breastfeeding so much as calling nursing supporters “breastfeeding nazis” “spreading breastfeeding propaganda”. It’s shameful we have reached this point about something we were meant to do by nature. We’re not called mammals for nothing. I miss reading your blog posts, Momma Iz…

  2. I stopped mine at ten and eleven months. It seemed the right time to do it. They wanted it for comfort only, at that stage; not nourishment. They set the pace.

    I miss it. I still get the let-down sensation from time to time, when I hear a hungry baby crying.

  3. I was a ‘keen to breast feed’ mother and did so for as long as each child wanted to carry on. For my first (who struggled at first being quite difficult to feed for his first few weeks) it was about 11 months, then he was more interested in solids and juice/ water. He never did have a bottle teat… completely refused – so went straight onto a teacher beaker. He also refused to have cows milk or any other milk except on cereal or in cooking, so it wasn’t a case of either /or.

    The second child took a similar course, but gave up at 9 months (ish). I think every child is different as if every mother

    • I agree that most babies will wean themselves by the age of one. My first stopped being interested around 10 months (too busy with the outside world) and my second couldn’t stop biting at 9 months so I was done. Since I was working and pumping, I still shared my milk until they were over a year old. That’s one of the things I miss the most about my babies. Feeding them from my own body to help them grow. What a cool thing!

      • That’s where I failed – I found I never could get a let down when pumping! 15ml was the most I ever managed. hahaha. not enough for even a mouse.

      • I had the opposite problem, where I was a heavy producer. During my two separate nursing periods, I actually shared my milk with other babies than mine, rather than dump it down the drain.

  4. I know! I miss writing too & hope to resume with much gusto soon :0) Working on a nine month project ;0) that had me basically incapacitated for 3 months but energy levels slowly creeping back. Got lots & lotsvto yap about, just need to find the time. Thanks for the support though. I keep reading yours although I don’t comment as often.

  5. I am a mom of 3 and an OB/GYN doctor, and I enjoy reading your blog. I’m still breastfeeding my 25 month old because he’s still not ready to give it up at night and first thing in the morning. I was trying to figure out a good answer to the question in your blog about why a mom who is producing milk would quit at 6 months. It’s true about what Momma Iz says on her July 13 entry, I have seen some women (or their husband/partners) seeing breast as sexual, the fear of their child growing teeth, or just the preconceived notions that they may have grown up with, that it’s unnatural after a certain age, etc. There may also be a valid medical reason, however, that this young woman may have not have wanted to share. Women with postpartum depression may require certain antidepressants that they may not want their child exposed to through breastfeeding. This is just one example but there are many others. I am certainly an advocate of breastfeeding and will happily share my own experiences, good and bad, with my patients. I would be more than happy if all of my patients breastfed for at least 6 months, The bottom line is that this woman did breastfeed longer than the majority of women in this country do, and must have had a reason to quit that was too personal to share, even in a group of nonjudging friends.

    • Thank you for your response! It does make a lot of sense and I never thought about it. Anti-depressants are definitely a no-no with breastfeeding and sometimes are essential for a new mother’s mental health. I often wonder how messed up and cruel nature can be. How can giving birth and taking care of a beautiful human being make a woman so depressed at such a wonderful time in her life?

      • Careful about your assumptions. While it may be wonderful to have a child, it’s also one of the most stressful things a person can go through, both physically and emotionally. Hormones, finances, relationship strain, lack of sleep…so many things can contribute to postpartum depression for both women and men. I think the assumptions that being a new parent is nothing but bliss keep people silent about what they may be going through.

        I appreciated your response, Mommydr. I am weaning my daughter at 10 months, but went through some soul searching about it. It seems like the pendulum has swung so far the other way- putting pressure on women to breastfeed for well over a year or we don’t care about the well-being of our children. Don’t get me wrong, I think breastfeeding is great and the best thing for babies, but it is not always the best things for moms and there may be hidden difficulties (or a woman just plain doesn’t like it). I personally have found it challenging, and never the ‘bliss’ described in my Le Leche League book. My daughter loves to pinch, poke, etc, during breastfeeding since she was about 5 months old…nothing I’ve tried has gotten it to stop short of basically pinning her arms while she eats. I’ve had soreness off and on (been to a lactation consultant who could not see any reason for it), which I’d attribute to just her mouth changing and occasional biting. I’ve been persevering and was planning to go a year when I realized: I don’t have to! She eats solid food, and lots of it. Yes, she’s now having some formula, but the bulk of her nutrition now comes from foods, not me or formula. I decided to let go of the guilt imposed by attachment parenting and wean. What a relief! A very liberating realization to come to.

      • Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree with you that many people figure out having a baby is no big deal but I have found it every draining, physically, emotionally and mentally. And it doesn’t stop after the first few months. Having little ones is exhausting too. Mine are now 5 and 3 and 1/2, and they just drain everything out of me by the end of the day. I first when you had a village to raise your child with you, things were a lot easier. We have zero support system around and it puts a lot of pressure on us, the parents.

        As for breastfeeding, I agree it’s not always easy. My first was a lazy latcher and then had major GERD, which made for stressful feedings (lots of throwing up) until we used anti-acid medication. My second was a sucking pro but started screwing around at 6 months (would pull my hair and pinch me). At 9 months he wouldn’t stop biting me, so I pulled him off the nipple. Since I was working and pumping, I continued to pump exclusively so he could still get breastmilk, but no more nursing for him. We all cuddle a lot still today, years later, so the bonding continues even after the early months.

  6. I fed all of my three girls until around 10 months but I could only manage with my son for five (stopped producing milk). I had such a bad conscience about it – I wanted to be able to give him as much as the girls…

    Like Tilly, I still miss it sometimes and when I notice other mums feeding I’m always touched by the beauty of it. Such an amazing thing to do for your child and I definitely think it intensifies the bond.

    • Thanks for sharing you story, Sarah! I think we’re pretty lucky humans are mammals. We could have been birds, having to feed our babies regurgitated worms… I always smile at moms nursing – great thing to do for another being.

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