When you first start out exclusively pumping, you could be pumping up to ten or twelve times per day. At some point, you’ll want to start dropping some of those pumping sessions and consolidating the amount of time you spend attached to your breast pump. There are a couple of ways that you might know that it’s time to drop a session:
- Your baby is older than two or three months,
- You are happy with your supply, whether you supplement or not, and you are okay with risking a drop in supply while you experiment with a dropped pump,
- You are losing your mind and need the sanity of more sleep/fewer pumps, or
- You are ready to wean from the pump.
(If you’re struggling with whether or not to drop a pumping session, here’s a flowchart that I made to help with the decision.)
What affect will dropping a pumping session have on my supply?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer here. When you drop a pumping session, your output might not change, it may decrease, or it may even go up. (Mine stayed the same when I dropped from 8 to 7 to 6 to 5, went up when I dropped from 5 to 4 pumps per day, and decreased after that.)
The most important thing that you can do to protect your supply when you drop a pumping session is to add the time from the dropped pump back to other the pumping sessions unless you are weaning from the pump or trying to reduce your supply. The total amount of time in a day that you spend pumping should stay the same, just consolidated. For example, if you are going for 6 pumps per day at 20 minutes each to 5 pumps per day, you should change the the length of your sessions from 20 to 24 minutes.
If you’re weaning, keep your sessions the same length of time.
Does it matter which pumping session I drop?
For the most part, no. When deciding which pump to drop, think about what works best for your schedule. Do you need more sleep? Are you having difficulty getting away for work to pump? Or are you at home with your baby and are having difficulty pumping while he or she is awake? Figure out which pump going away would make your life better, and that’s the one that you should drop.
The only time I’d recommend keeping a certain session, even if you want to drop it, is if it affects your overall supply for the day significantly when you skip it.
For example, many women are able to pump more milk in the middle of the night than they are at other pumping sessions. Normally, when a breastfeeding mother drops the middle of the night session, she just gets that milk later, in the morning. If for whatever reason this isn’t the case for you, you might want to keep pumping in the middle of the night.
How do you drop a pumping session?
There are four ways to drop a pump:
- Drop it cold turkey
- Slowly reduce the time of the to-be-dropped pump
- Slowly reduce the volume of the to-be-dropped pump
- Gradually bring the pumps closer together
The method that is best for you depends on how quickly you want to drop the pump and whether you prone to clogged ducts or mastitis. Cold turkey is the easiest way to go if you don’t get a lot of clogged ducts; but if you do, one of the gradual approaches will be better for you.
1. Dropping a pumping session cold turkey
This one is pretty simple – you just stop pumping at the to-be-dropped pump time. However, you may need to re-space your other pumping sessions. For example:
Old Schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm.
To drop the 3pm pumping session, you might rearrange your schedule to the following:
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 4pm, 10pm
You can just switch over one day, and then you’re on the new schedule. If you see a significant supply drop, you can think about adding the dropped pump back in.
2. Dropping a pumping session by slowly reducing pump time
With this method, you start pumping less at the pump that you want to drop until you get it down to 5 minutes or so. Then you stop pumping at that time completely. Taking the prior example, where we drop the 3pm pumping session:
Old Schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm (each pump is 20 minutes)
Old Schedule/First Day Reducing Pump Time: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm (15 minutes), 6pm, 10pm
Old Schedule/Second Day Reducing Pump Time: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm (10 minutes), 6pm, 10pm
Old Schedule/Third Day Reducing Pump Time: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm (5 minutes), 6pm, 10pm
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 4pm, 10pm (each pump is 24 minutes)
3. Dropping a pumping session by slowly reducing volume
This approach works great for weaning from the pump or for dropping a middle of the night pumping session when you’re prone to clogged ducts.
Essentially, what you do is just pump an ounce less every day (or every few days) until you’re down to 1-2oz at a given session, then stop pumping altogether at that time. This works well for women with oversupply because you are carefully controlling the amount of milk removed from your breasts at that time to allow your body to get used to the new schedule.
Old Schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm, 3am (normally you get 4 oz at 3am)
Old Schedule/First Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm, 3am (3 oz)
Old Schedule/Second Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm, 3am (2 oz)
Old Schedule/Third Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm, 3am (1 oz)
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm (each pump is longer to account for dropped pump time)
4. Dropping a pumping session by gradually bringing them closer together
With this method, you move two pumps closer together until you can comfortably drop one. In the below example, you would move the 3pm and 6pm closer together until you are ready to drop the 3pm one.
Old Schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm
Old Schedule/First Day Closer Together: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3:15pm, 5:45pm, 10pm
Old Schedule/Second Day Closer Together: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3:30pm, 5:30pm, 10pm
Old Schedule/Third Day Closer Together: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3:45pm, 5:15pm, 10pm
Old Schedule/Fourth Day Closer Together: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 4pm, 5pm, 10pm
Then drop the 5pm pump and re-space to the 12am to 1pm and you’ve got the new schedule:
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 4pm, 10pm