When you are exclusively pumping for a newborn, you may be pumping up to 8 to 12 times per day. As your baby gets older, you can start to 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 less time over a 24 hour period than you currently are.
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. (I’ll show you examples of this later in this article.)
When should you drop a pumping session?
This is because frequent removals of milk in the early days is important for establishing milk supply.
However, exclusive pumping can be overwhelming. If you’re burning out or really struggling, sometimes dropping a pumping session is the right call to help you keep going.
(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 people will have different results. When you drop a pumping session:
- Your output might not change, or
- 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 pumping session back to your other 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?
The only other thing you might want to consider is when you get the most milk.
Prolactin levels fluctuate over a 24 hour circadian rhythm. A lot of people notice that they get more milk in the middle of the night and less milk in the afternoon.
Therefore, it might be easier to drop a session in the afternoon than early in the morning.
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
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.
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, 5pm, 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, 5pm, 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, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm (normally you get 4 oz at 3pm)
Old Schedule/First Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm (3 oz – add time to other sessions)
Old Schedule/Second Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm (2 oz – add time to other sessions)
Old Schedule/Third Day Reducing Pump Volume: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm (1 oz – add time to other sessions)
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 5pm, 10pm (add remaining time to other sessions)
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 4pm pumping session and re-space to the 12am to 1pm and you’ve got the new schedule:
New Schedule: 6am, 9am, 1pm, 5pm, 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!
Thinking about weaning from the pump? No idea where to start? Worried that you’ll get a clogged duct or mastitis when you stop pumping? Grab my one-of-a-kind guide here.References
- Bonyata, Kelly, BS, IBCLC. “My breasts feel empty! Has my milk supply decreased?” https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/breast-fullness/