There are some situations where it can make sense to breastfeed from only one breast. Some nursing parents find that their baby prefers one side over the other. Others keep getting clogged ducts or mastitis on one side. Here’s how to wean from one breast and just pump or nurse on the other side.
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Can you pump just one side?
Yes! This usually happens in one of a couple of different ways:
- You pump one side at a time in the same session – so you do one side and then the other, or switch back and forth (you can set up a double pump as a single pump to do this)
- You pump one side at one session and the other at the next session (also called “block pumping” – this usually isn’t necessary or preferred but may make sense for some people)
- You wean from one side and only ever pump on that side
Weaning from one breast sounds kind of funny, but it actually can work.
Each breast produces milk using the process of supply and demand independently from the other (which is why many people have a “slacker boob,” or uneven output).
Why wean from one side?
This happens more often with parents who are nursing their babies than it does with exclusive pumpers, as the baby might not like nursing from one side. Sometimes one breast gets too full (making it hard for the baby to latch) or it might not produce enough (frustrating the baby).
In some cases, though, it can also make sense for exclusive pumpers to pump from only one side.
How should you wean from one side?
If you’re exclusively pumping, I would suggest following the steps here to wean from the pump, but only on one side. Continue to follow your normal schedule on the breast that you plan to keep pumping.
If you are nursing and baby prefers one side, you may want to continue to focus feeding on that side, and only feed on the other side when necessary for comfort until you can stop offering that breast altogether.
Weaning from One Breast: Case Study
Mo from Life and Love in the Petri Dish was an exclusive pumper for her beautiful daughter and got mastitis five times in three months, all on one side. She was able to wean from that side and continue to pump for her daughter on the other.
She was nice enough to answer a few questions for me about how she did it and what she’d recommend for anyone trying the same thing.
On your blog, you mentioned that you gradually pumped for a few minutes less from the left side. Was there anything more to the physical process of weaning from that side? How long did it take?
I cut down pumping by a minute or two each day, per pumping session. That sort of signaled my body to slow the milk production.
It took about a week, if I remember, and I took it really slowly because weaning can CAUSE mastitis, and that was why I was weaning in the first place.
The weaning was “facilitated” after coming on the heels of so many mastitis infections – during each one my supply dropped, so it was already much lower on that one side.
Honestly, in my recollection, it was more difficult emotionally than physically (probably much of that hormonally driven).
I’d really, really wanted to breastfeed my daughter, and when I couldn’t get her to latch, really wanted to provide her milk. I knew that I would lose a lot of supply by weaning on one side (which I did), and that was tough.
Did you have any problems with leaking on the left when you were still pumping from the right side? Did you feel lopsided?
I had a bit of leakage – I’d just attach a pump bottle on both sides and allow the “unpumped” side to collect. It wasn’t much, and I can’t remember how long it lasted for.
YES I felt lopsided, and I looked really lopsided – one huge breast and nipple and one small one. My husband said I looked like a martian. (Thanks, Will!)
You mentioned on your blog that it was difficult for you emotionally to wean from one side because it made much harder to exclusively feed Magpie breast milk. Looking back now, are you glad that you did it?
I really had to do it. I could not go on getting sick that often (102+ degree fever each time, etc), so i haven’t really looked back nostalgically. It was what it was.
I do really wish she’d been able to breastfeed directly, but we have a very close relationship and I tried as hard as I could with that. I have to let it go.
What would you tell someone who was planning to wean from one breast? Any tips or warnings?
My tips would be to go slowly. Know that physically it’ll look weird but things all go back to normal once you wean entirely. (Although I weaned in late October and I still have milk in my other breast – much longer than I expected).
You can read more about Mo’s experience as an exclusive pumper here. Thanks to Mo for sharing her experience! And if you have experience weaning from one breast, let us know how it went for you!
Want more information about weaning? Worried that you’ll get a clogged duct or mastitis when you stop pumping? Do you want a weaning plan template to help you create your own plan? Grab my one-of-a-kind guide here.