When you first start out exclusively pumping, you may be pumping 8 to 12 times per day. As your baby gets older, you can start to reduce the number of pumping sessions you have per day and pump less frequently. Here is everything you need to know about how to drop pumping sessions.
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What is “dropping a pumping session”?
This means changing your pumping schedule so that you pump one time less in a 24 hour period.
In many cases, when you drop one pumping session, you would also rearrange your schedule a bit so that your remaining sessions are more evenly spaced.
When should you drop a pumping session?
Some situations when you might be ready to drop a pumping session include:
- Your baby is moving out of the newborn phase, your supply has regulated, and you’re ready to start pumping less often;
- You would like to pump less often, are happy with your supply, and you are okay with risking a drop in supply while you experiment with a dropped session;
- You are losing your mind and need the sanity of more sleep/fewer sessions, 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 effect will dropping a pumping session have on my supply?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer here – different women will have different results. When you drop a pumping session, your output might not change, it may decrease, or it may even go up.
(My experience was that my supply stayed the same when I dropped from 8 sessions per day to 7 to 6 to 5; increased when I dropped from 5 to 4, and decreased with each session I dropped 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. The total amount of time in a day that you spend pumping should stay the same, just consolidated.
For example, if:
- You currently pump 6 times per day at 20 minutes each, and
- You want to drop to 5 pumping sessions per day, then
- You should change the the length of your sessions from 20 to 24 minutes (so that the 20 minutes from the 6th session is added back to the 5 remaining sessions)
The exceptions to this guideline are if you are weaning from the pump or trying to reduce supply. If either of these is the case, you should keep your sessions the same length of time when you drop one.
Does it matter which pumping session I drop?
For the most part, no. When deciding which pumping session to drop, think about what works best for your schedule. Do you need more sleep? Are you having difficulty getting away from work to pump? Or are you at home with your baby and are struggling with pumping while he or she is awake?
Figure out which pumping session going away would make your life better, and that’s the one that you should drop.
The only exception might be the middle of the night pumping session. Some women get more milk when they pump at night because prolactin levels are higher at that time.
If you try dropping your middle of the night session, you might notice that you get the milk you would have gotten at night when you pump in the morning, or you might notice an overall drop. If you notice an overall drop, you might want to add that session back.
How to drop pumping sessions
There are four ways to drop a pumping session:
- Cold turkey
- Slowly reduce the time of the to-be-dropped pumping session
- Slowly reduce the volume of the to-be-dropped pumping session
- Gradually bring two pumping sessions closer together
Cold turkey is the easiest way to go if you don’t frequently get clogged milk ducts; but if you do, one of the gradual approaches will be better for you.
1. Cold turkey
This one is pretty simple – you just stop pumping at the to-be-dropped pump time. However, you may need to respace 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.
2. Slowly reducing pump time
With this method, you start pumping less at the session 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 pumping session is 20 minutes)
Old Schedule/First Day Reducing Pump Time: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm (15 minutes), 6pm, 10pm (all other pumping sessions are 21 minutes)
Old Schedule/Second Day Reducing Pump Time: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm (10 minutes), 6pm, 10pm (all other pumping sessions are 22 minutes)
Old Schedule/Third Day Reducing Pump Time: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm (5 minutes), 6pm, 10pm (all other pumping sessions are 23 minutes)
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 4pm, 10pm (each pumping session is 24 minutes)
3. Slowly reducing volume
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 way, 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 – add time to morning session)
Old Schedule/Second Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm, 3am (2 oz – add time to morning session)
Old Schedule/Third Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm, 3am (1 oz – add time to morning session)
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 6pm, 10pm (add remaining time to other sessions)
In this example, I noted that time should be added to the morning session, while in the other example, I divided it equally between all sessions. What’s the difference?
You can do it either way, but I’ve found that when you drop the middle of the night pumping session, it can take longer to empty in the mornings, so adding at least some of the time back then can work well.
4. Gradually bringing them closer together
With this method, you move two pumping sessions 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 (each session is 20 minutes)
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 pumping session and re-space to the 12am to 1pm and you’ve got the new schedule:
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 4pm, 10pm (each session is 24 minutes)
Hopefully, this gives you some insight about how to drop pumping sessions so that you can hook yourself up to a breast pump less often!References
- Bonyata, Kelly, BS, IBCLC. “My breasts feel empty! Has my milk supply decreased?” https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/breast-fullness/