Exclusive pumping can be more challenging than nursing in many ways. However, weaning from the pump is one area where it actually can be easier!
For one thing, the decision on when to do it is completely up to you – you don’t need to worry about your baby adjusting to no longer nursing. Additionally, there may be less of an emotional hurdle for you as the mother. Finally, you can completely control your pumping output and carefully decrease it, whereas if you were nursing, it’s difficult to know whether your baby is getting more or less than the day before.
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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!)
How Long Does It Take to Wean from Pumping?
Your goal is to slowly reduce the amount of milk that you’re producing in order to minimize discomfort and issues with clogged ducts, mastitis, and engorgement. 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. If not, you may be able to go more quickly.
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
If you are currently pumping three or more times per day, start by dropping down to just two sessions per day, preferably about 12 hours apart. (Obviously, you can skip this step if you are already at two pumping sessions per day.)
Here is some detailed information on how to drop pumping sessions, but the most common ways to do it are to reduce the amount of time that you pump at a given session (reduce by a few minutes each day) or the volume (reduce by an ounce or two each day) that you pump. I would recommend using volume if you are prone to clogged ducts or mastitis, or if you have oversupply, to make sure your breasts start to get the message that they should be making less milk.
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.
Step 2: Gradually Reduce the Length and/or Volume of One of the Remaining Pumping Sessions
Since they are about 12 hours apart, you can choose the one that you are most eager to get rid of. (For example, I was pumping at 7pm and 6am 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 pump 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 from it.
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.
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 can drop a session at the beginning of your period and maybe another one at the end, if you think your body can handle it.
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
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 mama!
Worried about clogged ducts or mastitis when weaning? Check out my e-book on weaning from the pump here!