Exclusive pumping is more difficult than nursing in many ways. However, weaning from the pump is one area where it actually can be easier! For one thing, the decision on when to do it is completely up to you – you don’t need to worry about your baby adjusting to no longer nursing. Additionally, there is usually less of an emotional hurdle for you as the mother. Finally, you can completely control your pumping output and carefully decrease it, whereas if you were nursing, it’s difficult to know whether your baby is getting more or less than the day before.
When you have decided to stop pumping, you will need to “wean” from the pump just like a nursing mother would wean her baby. This is best done slowly to minimize discomfort and issues with clogged ducts and mastitis. (If you need to wean quickly, try some of the methods for decreasing milk supply like sage tea along with the steps below.)
Below is the process that I used, laid out in six steps. (If you’d like to read more about when/how/why I weaned from the pump with my first baby, I wrote a separate post about my experience here.)
Step 1: Drop Pumping Sessions Until You are Down to Two Pumps Per Day.
If you are currently pumping three or more times per day, start by dropping down to just two sessions per day, preferably about 12 hours apart. (Obviously, you can skip this step if you are already two pumping sessions per day.)
Here is some detailed information on how to drop pumping sessions, but the quick version is that you slowly reduce the amount of time that you pump at a given session (reduce by a few minutes each day) or the volume (reduce by an ounce or two each day) that you pump. I would recommend using volume if you are prone to clogged ducts or mastitis, or if you have oversupply to make sure your breasts start to get the message that they should be making less milk.
After you drop one pumping session, it’s a good idea to wait a few days before dropping the next unless you need to wean quickly.
Step 2: Gradually Reduce the Length and/or Volume of One of the Remaining Pumps.
Since they are about 12 hours apart, you can choose the one that you are most eager to get rid of. (For example, I was pumping at 7pm and 6am and decided to drop the morning one so I could sleep a little longer.) Keep the one session you are not dropping the same length while gradually decreasing the length of time or amount of milk that you pump for the other one.
Step 3: Drop Down to One Pump Per Day.
When you are down to just a few minutes/a few ounces on the pumping session that you’re dropping, try skipping it completely and just doing the one longer pump per day. If you feel uncomfortable, go ahead and pump, but just enough to relieve the pressure.
Step 4: Hang Tight for a Few Days.
Let your body catch up with you.
Step 5: Gradually Reduce the Last Pump.
Gradually shorten your last pumping session (again, by time or volume, whatever has been working for you) until you’re getting only about 2 or 3 ounces from it.
Step 6: Stop Pumping!
Once you’re down to a few ounces, see if you can skip a day completely, then do one last pumping session. Hopefully, at this point, you should be all set to stop. If you feel full a few days later, pump if you need to, but as little as you can and still be comfortable.
[Bonus tip if you are already getting your period and experiencing a supply drop along with it: Try timing the weaning process to correspond with said supply drop. Your body is already making less milk, so encourage it to continue to do so. Drop a session at the beginning of your period and maybe another one at the end, if you think your body can handle it.]
One last thing: it’s normal to have mixed feelings about weaning. On one hand, you might feel a loss of connection with your little one – especially if you are weaning before you’d like to. It is also normal to undergo some hormonal changes.
On the other hand, your life is about to become so much easier – no more hauling a pump around, no more trying to wrangle a baby while pumping, no more pump parts to wash. Try to focus on the good work that you have done by pumping for your little one. Congratulations mama!