Ah, breast pumping – the absolute best thing to happen to mankind for some mothers, and the absolute worst nightmare for other moms.
If you’ve successfully made it throughout your breast pumping journey victorious and are now ready to enjoy a little bit of rest and wean from the pump, then hats off to you – you deserve it!
You’ve reaped all the benefits that breast pumping has to offer you and your family, from keeping you free instead of being tied up at home waiting for every breastfeeding session to happen, involving other family members in the act of baby feeding (husbands need to develop a bond with their baby too), and countless other advantages.
However, after all this time you’ve spent with your breast pump (and on it – *cough, cough* – endless cleaning of parts, anyone?), it’s time for you to give it up.
When Should I Stop Breast Pumping?
There’s no specific time you should stop breast pumping in, the decision is ultimately yours to make when you deem the time is right.
Whether you want to stop pumping because your baby is 12 months of age now and you’re moving on to a new phase, you no longer need to pump any more because your (previously) low milk supply has been consistently up for a long while now, or any other reason – different mothers want to wean from the pump for different reasons.
How Do I Wean From The Pump?
If you thought that exclusive pumping is one of the most difficult and demanding tasks you’ve ever had to stick to in your lifetime, then hey, you’re probably right and we can’t argue with that!
But, the good news is that weaning from the pump is nowhere near difficult as maintaining a proper pumping schedule and routine is. Getting your body to decrease milk production is easy, but getting it to increase milk production so you can properly pump is the hard part.
As you’ll notice after going through this list, the process of weaning from the pump is not that different from the process a nursing mother needs to undergo to wean her baby (even though the former is easier than the latter).
Note: While the following tips are mainly meant to guide moms who exclusively pump to feed their babies, they also work for moms who occasionally pump from time to time as part of their baby’s feeding regimen.
1) Gradual Is The Way To Go
When weaning from the pump, the only way you’ll succeed is by doing so gradually. This is important to establish from the start because if you try to do it too fast, you’re setting yourself up for guaranteed failure, so forget about quitting pumping cold-turkey and accept that it’s going to be a bit of a long process.
Keep in mind that no two women are exactly alike when it comes to their bodies, so this is likely to be a different experience for you than it is (or was) for someone else you know.
Always listen to your body and your comfort levels. If at any point you feel overly uncomfortable with the pace you’re going at, slow it down a bit more, even if it puts you behind schedule when compared to any mom you know that has previously weaned off pumping.
Now is not the time for comparisons, now is the time to listen to your body.
2) Slowly Decrease Number Of Pumping Sessions
So, whatever number of pumping sessions you’re currently engaging in today, gradually decrease that number throughout the coming days and couple of weeks.
Mothers who pump 5 times per day should decrease that number to 4 pumps per day as a start, others who pump 3 times per day should decrease that number to 2 times per day as a start, and so on.
Do not attempt to eliminate a pumping session from your routine each and every day, as this will only be counter effective. I know you’re excited to wean as fast as possible (and you may have a valid reason to do so), but trust in the process and give it the time it needs.
You should drop one pumping session from your routine no more than once every few days (around one session dropped every 3 days to 7 days), to give your body the chance to cope with the changes going on.
3) Slowly Decrease Time Spent In Each Session
You should also slowly decrease the amount of time you spend on each pumping session.
Again, the key here is to do it slowly and gradually, meaning decrease a couple of minutes from the duration of your sessions, evaluate how it’s going and tweak if necessary.
4) Slowly Decrease Milk Output During Each Day
For all the sessions you perform during a period of 24 hours, you should produce less milk output than you did the day before, preferably less by 1 ounce to 2 ounces only.
So if on Friday you pumped 30 ounces of breast milk, strive to pump no more than 28 to 29 ounces on Saturday, 27 to 28 ounces on Sunday, 26 to 27 ounces on Monday, and so on.
Reducing your pumping output by more than 1 ounce to 2 ounces a day will be an excessive deficit for your body to handle all at once.
5) Slowly Increase Time Between Pumping Sessions
Gradually increase the amount of time in between your pumping sessions instead of keeping them at constant times throughout the weaning phase.
This goes hand in hand with gradually decreasing the amount of pumping sessions you perform in a day’s time, which we’ve already covered above.
A good rule of thumb to follow is increasing 30 minutes in between your pumping sessions every 3 days.
For example, if your current pumping schedule requires you to perform one session every 2 hours, continue with this schedule but start performing one session every 2.5 hours in day 3, one session every 3 hours in day 6, one session every 3.5 hours in day 9, and so on.
If when you increase the time between your sessions you get excessively uncomfortable before a session’s new time is due, pump as minimally as possible for you to relieve the discomfort and be able to wait a little more till the session time comes.
There’s a difference between normal discomfort (which you should be patient with as it will pass) and excruciating pain that risks having you develop clogged ducts and mastitis.
6) Get To Only One Pumping Session Per Day
If you’re staying consistent and following schedule, you’ll eventually get down to just one pumping session per day.
This will happen when you reach a point where the cumulative time and milk output of all your pumping sessions combined for the day can be done in just one session.
7) Go One Day Without Pumping
When you’re at one pump a day and are removing no more than 2 ounces to 3 ounces of breast milk in total a day, keep at it for a few days and then try going one day without pumping.
At this point, enough time should have passed with you decreasing both the frequency of draining your breasts and the volume of milk you drain from them, which would have decreased your milk production greatly by now.
If all goes well, perform one last pumping session the day after.
From here on, you should be good to go and stop pumping for good! 🙂
8) Cut Out All Lactation Boosters & Supplements
When trying to wean from the breast pump, you should stop taking any lactation boosters or supplements you may have started taking back when you wanted to increase your milk supply.
We’re trying to get your body’s milk production to slow down at this phase, but these boosters and supplements do exactly the opposite.
Whether it’s lactation tea you’re drinking, lactation cookies or pills you swallow – cut all of it out of your daily regimen.
If you started taking these boosters and supplements under the supervision of a doctor, talk to them and tell them that you now want to stop pumping, and they’ll be able to advise you best on how to avoid any negative side effects when laying off these supplements too.
Help! My Breasts Feel Very Full And It’s Getting Annoying
When you’ve reached this far and have promised yourself that you’ve pumped your very last session, you may feel that your breasts are very full after a few days, to the extent that it gets very annoying.
If that’s the case, then don’t worry, this happens and you’re not the only mother that has ever experienced this.
This is a very important reason why we advised that you go slowly through this process, because a gradual approach to weaning off your pump will allow your milk supply to decrease slowly as well, which means less feeling of fullness and discomfort that comes with it.
Problems like this happen when your body hasn’t had the chance to cope with the changes yet and the milk production has not gone down, leaving your breasts full of milk and increasing the risk of milk duct inflammation. This is how many mothers develop cases of blocked ducts and mastitis.
What you should NOT do at this point is give in to the temptations and get back to your previous pumping routine that you’ve been working so hard over the course of the past few days and weeks to wean off in the first place. This will only cause a big set back.
What you should do is pump just a tiny bit until that feeling making you go insane goes away. It’s a temporary thing that if you go through and put up with at first, will go away in a matter of time, so don’t give in and ruin all the progress you’ve made so far.
Is Weaning From The Pump Easier Than Weaning From The Breast?
Any mother that directly breastfeeds her baby through skin on skin contact, and the time has come to wean them from it, knows from first hand experience how difficult of a task this often is.
The good news for you, however, is that even though the two processes are alike in several aspects in between them, weaning from the pump when exclusively pumping is significantly easier than weaning from the breast is – and here’s why.
1) Easier Measurement Control
When you’re stopping pumping and need to gradually decrease your milk output, it’s much easier to be in control of everything if you’re pumping than if you’re directly breastfeeding.
You can make use of measurement cups, measurement guidelines found on your breast milk storage bags, visually seeing everything happen in real time right before your eyes, etc ..
On the other hand, you don’t have the same luxury if you’re nursing via skin to skin contact. No products for you to use to help you measure your output because the milk is being directly transferred from your breast to your baby.
While you can put your baby on a scale both before their feeding session and after to know how much milk they consumed in that session exactly, this still doesn’t give you control over your output during the session as it’s still going on.
2) Less Emotional Involvement
Even though weaning off breast pumping has a certain degree of emotional involvement in it and different mothers feel different ways about it, I think we all agree that it’s no where near the emotional involvement that comes with direct breastfeeding baby through skin to skin contact.
The connection mothers feel they’re losing with their babies when they stop directly breastfeeding them is arguably much more significant.
What Should I Do With My Breast Pump Now?
When you stop breast pumping, it’s also time for you to decide what you want to do with your breast pump.
If you’re likely to have another baby in the foreseeable future, then you should obviously keep it somewhere you can use it again when you deliver your new baby.
However, if you’re unlikely to have another baby in the foreseeable future or have made up your mind that you’re not getting pregnant again, keeping hold of your pump is useless – you’ll end up storing something that takes up valuable space around the house and collects dust, without you ever using it again.
If that’s your case, then read this article we wrote about what to do with a used breast pump that you don’t need anymore. In summary, you can either re-sell, donate or recycle the pump, but there’s much more details than that you should know about so give that piece a quick read.