Exclusively pumping isn’t easy, and it’s completely normal to look forward to the day that you can wean from the pump. But what if you really want to wean, but also see a lot of the benefits in continuing? How do you know when to stop? Here is what to think about when deciding when to wean.
The drawbacks should outweigh the benefits
When you’re deciding whether or not to wean, you probably have a bunch of different competing considerations that you’re trying to weigh. For example, you might be wanting to spend more time with your baby (instead of being chained to your pump) but are worried about the cost of switching to formula. Or maybe you really wanted to meet your goal of breastfeeding for a year, but you’ve been getting mastitis repeatedly and don’t want to keep getting sick. Or pumping is going well, but you haven’t gotten your period back yet and would like to start trying for another baby.
Obviously, you’re the only one that can know what the right choice is, because all of these things are so personal. And the tricky thing about this decision is that, once you do decide to stop, you can lose supply quickly and may not be able to change your mind and get back to where you were.
So how do you decide what to do?
My suggestion is to make a PRO and CON list for continuing to breastfeed. Put all the good things about breastfeeding in the PRO column, and all of the reasons you want to stop in the CON column.
Then, see if there are other possible solutions (besides weaning) to the things you have listed in the CON column. Here are some examples:
- Recurrent clogged ducts or mastitis are making you miserable -> If you’re tried everything (i.e., you’re already taking lecithin and are sticking to a consistent pumping schedule) and you tend to get clogs or mastitis in one side in particular, you could wean from just that side, and keep pumping on your good side.
- You are tired of being chained to the pump because you can’t get out of the house -> If you feel like you can’t get out of the house because you have to pump every 3 hours, see if you can adjust your schedule so that that can. For example, if you want to run errands or go to an activity in the mornings, you could go a longer stretch without pumping in the morning, and then maybe pump more frequently in the afternoon to make up for it.
- You want to spend more time with your baby and can’t because you’re always pumping -> Consider whether or not you can spend time with your baby while pumping. With a newborn, you might be able to put your baby in your lap while you pump with a hands-free bra or Freemie. With an older baby, you might be able to put her in a high chair (so she can’t reach your tubing) and play with her while you pump. Or, if you can afford it, a Willow pump will make it easy to care for your baby while you pump.
- Working and pumping are too hard with your job -> You could try not pumping during working hours for awhile, and see if that works. So if you work 8am-4pm as a bus driver and just can’t get time to pump during the day, you could try doing four sessions at 7am, 4pm, 8pm, and 11pm.
- You just hate pumping SO MUCH -> Would doing less of it – versus stopping completely – help at all? You could try dropping a pumping session and see how you feel. If you still hate it, drop another and reassess, and so on.
To be clear, I don’t think you should keep going if you don’t want to! It’s possible that you’ll decide that what you have in your PRO columns isn’t worth your CON list, no matter what, and that’s fine. I’m just trying to suggest solutions to common exclusive pumping problems in case you want to keep pumping but are struggling.
What to do if you’re still not sure about weaning
If you’re still really conflicted, I think the best thing to do is to take the advice for when you really hate pumping – drop one pumping session and reassess. Things might be a lot easier with one less session per day. If they are, you can stay where you’re at. If they aren’t, you can drop another.
Just take it slow and see how you feel as you go.
Before you decide to go ahead and wean, do this
If after going through the PRO and CON list, you decide to wean, make sure your baby will take the milk that you’re going to transition her to BEFORE you start the process. I have gotten a ton of emails over the years from moms who were weaning from the pump and feeding their baby from their freezer stash – then when they were almost done, they tried to give their baby formula, and baby wanted nothing to do with it.
Avoid that stress! Make sure your baby will take whatever she’s getting next, whether that is cow’s milk, formula, or even your freezer stash (in case you have a lipase issue), and then start weaning.
What issues have you struggled with when deciding when to wean from the pump? Tell us in the comments!
(Ready to wean but not sure how? More info here!)