Are you an exclusive pumper who is ready to stop pumping? Here’s what you need to know about weaning from the pump when you are exclusively pumping.
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Exclusive pumping can be more challenging than nursing in many ways. However, weaning from the pump is one area where it can actually be easier!
For one thing, there is less of an adjustment for your baby. You’re just changing what’s in her bottle, not how she’s eating in addition to what she’s eating.
You can also completely control your pumping output and carefully decrease it, whereas if you were nursing, it can be difficult to know whether your baby is getting more or less than the day before.
Can you stop pumping cold turkey?
When you have decided to stop pumping, you will need to “wean” from the pump just like a nursing mother would wean her baby.
I definitely don’t recommend weaning from pumping cold turkey – this can lead to a lot of discomfort, clogged ducts, and/or mastitis.
How long does it take to wean from pumping?
Your goal is to slowly reduce the amount of milk that you’re producing.
How long it will take to wean depends on how many pumping sessions you currently have each day, your milk supply, and whether or not you are prone to clogged ducts and mastitis.
In general, I would give yourself about a week for each session that you need to drop.
If you’ve had issues with clogged ducts and mastitis during your pumping “career,” it might take you a little longer. I would give yourself a week and a half to two weeks per session.
On the other hand, if you’ve never had these issues, you might find that you are able to go more quickly.
What if you need to wean more quickly?
There are some methods to decrease milk supply that may help. Examples include:
- Drinking No More Milk Tea
- Using Cabo Creme or cabbage
- Taking an over-the-counter medication containing pseudoephedrine (such as Sudafed)
More on decreasing milk supply here.
Weaning from the pump in six steps
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 pumping sessions per day
There are a lot of different ways to drop pumping sessions. You can reduce the time until you feel comfortable dropping a session, move sessions further apart from each other, etc. Much more on how to drop pumping sessions here.
As you drop pumping sessions, rearrange your remaining sessions so that they are more evenly spaced.
For example, say you’re dropping from four sessions per day at 6am, 11am, 4pm, and 10pm. When you drop to three sessions per day, instead of having a long break from 6am to 4pm or 11am to 10pm, you may want to re-space the remaining times so your new schedule is something like 6am, 2pm, and 10pm.
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.
When you’re down to two sessions, you want them to be about 12 hours apart, or as close to that as you can get (for example, 6am and 6pm, or 7am and 8pm, whatever works for you).
Step 2: Gradually reduce the length and/or volume of one of the remaining pumping sessions
It doesn’t matter which session you drop first – you can choose the one that you are most eager to get rid of. (For example, I was pumping at 6am and 7pm 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 pumping session 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 pumping session 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 pumping session
Gradually shorten your last pumping session (again, by time or volume, whatever has been working for you) until you’re getting only about 1 or 2 ounces total per breast.
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 36-48 hours later.
Hopefully, after this, you should be all set to stop. However, if you feel uncomfortable a few days or a week later, you can pump again if you need to. It won’t suddenly spike your milk supply.
Do you have to do that last session (36-48 hours later)?
No. Weaning is different for everyone, and therefore it’s is more of an art than a science.
It’s okay to evaluate how you’re feeling and decide not to do it, or, on the other hand, decide to pump once every other day for a bit until you feel ready to stop.
Do you need to express every drop that you make to be done pumping?
No – this isn’t really possible. Your body will reabsorb any milk that you make and don’t express.
You don’t want to leave an uncomfortable amount in your breasts because of the risks of clogged ducts and mastitis, but you don’t need to get every last drop, either.
Timing the weaning process
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 that drop in supply.
Your body is already making less milk, so encourage it to continue to do so! You could drop a session at the beginning of your period and maybe another one at the end, if you think your body can handle it.
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Weaning from the pump: an example
One of my readers sent me a visual she put together of how she planned to wean from the pump based on the above six steps. I think this is much more intuitive for visual learners, so I asked her permission to share it here.
- On the top in the “Current” column, she has outlined the six sessions that she has at the time she starts to wean from the pump. Each of them are 20 minutes long, so she’s pumping for a total of 120 minutes per day at the beginning.
- Then, she has planned out the order in which she’s going to drop each session, with a red X signifying that she’s dropping it or has already dropped it. She will drop one session per week.
- At the end of the chart, she ends up at the end of Step One above, with two sessions about 13 hours apart. She can pick whichever she’d like – the 8am or the 9pm – and drop that one, then repeat with the final session.
- At the bottom she has outlined the number of minutes that she’ll pump at the session she’s dropping as the week goes on. On day one, she’ll pump for 15 minutes and then stop, and each day after that she’ll reduce the time by 5 minutes until she’s at zero. Then she gives her body a few days to catch up until the week is over.
A few final thoughts on weaning
You may leak for a few days after you finish weaning.
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 breast 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! Do a photoshoot to celebrate, if you want!