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How to Wean from Exclusive Pumping
In this read, you’re going to learn about weaning from the pump and how to do it safely.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “wean” when used to describe a baby gradually nursing less.
For exclusive pumpers, weaning from pumping to produce less breast milk over time is a task that cannot be handled flippantly.
So keep reading, because I’ve got some great tips on how to stop pumping safely and effectively!
We have lots to go over on this topic, so let’s jump right in!
Why do I Need to Wean From Pumping, Can’t I Just Stop?
The reason you want to gradually reduce your pumping sessions, (especially if you are exclusively pumping) is because it’s dangerous for your health to not do this task properly.
I’m sure as an exclusive pumper you’ve been made well aware of the dreaded word mastitis.
Which is a nasty infection caused by trapped breast milk that grows dangerous bacteria.
You can easily get mastitis when you stop pumping due to milk ducts not being evacuated regularly. This can also happen if you are not fully emptying your breasts at each pumping session.
Not only will fully emptying your breasts prevent infections, but it will also help to maintain and increase milk supply.
Avoiding mastitis and over all discomfort is the best reason I can think of as to why you want to slowly wean from the pump verses quitting it cold turkey.
When should I Consider Weaning from the Pump?
There are many reasons why a pumping mom might be anxious to begin the process of weaning from exclusive pumping.
One reason to stop pumping may be that it’s in the interest of your own emotional health and that’s totally understandable, this #pumplife is not easy!
But if you’re wondering when during your pumping journey it’s safe to start dropping pumping sessions, below is a good guideline to follow.
Months postpartum/pumps per day:
- 1-3 m.p.p. / 8-12 p.p.d.
- 4 m.p.p. / 6-8 p.p.d.
- 5-6 m.p.p. / 6p.p.d.
- 7-8 m.p.p. / 4 p.p.d.
- 9 m.p.p. / 4-3 p.p.d.
- 10 m.p.p. / 2 p.p.d.
- 12+ m.p.p. / 1 p.p.d.
The simple bulleted chart above is a helpful example on how often you should be pumping based on months postpartum.
This graph is intended for those who are planning to continue to pump, but want to slowing decrease the number of pumping sessions without losing their milk supply.
When do I Drop a Pumping Session?
I don’t know about you, but during my exclusively pumping journey, I was counting down the days that I could drop at least one pumping session a day!
Those first few months of pumping around the clock 8-12 times per day were the hardest – by far!
A good indicator of when you can drop that first pumping session, is when your baby begins to regularly sleep through the night.
Since exclusive pumping is the intentional mimicking of a baby’s eating habits, you can take that cue from your baby that your body will hopefully adjust to this new pumping schedule accordingly.
This first dropped pumping session usually happens around month 3 or 4.
However, many babies at 6 months or older are still waking at least once per night to feed.
With that in mind, you can determine when to cut out your middle of the night pump based on when your baby signals that their tummy is big enough to hold the right amount of milk to keep them full throughout the night.
How to Wean from Pumping
Below you will be guided through the steps that I used to gradually drop pumping session without losing my milk supply. Likewise, these steps kept the process safe to avoid breast infections like mastitis.
The First Dropped Pumping Session
We already somewhat touched on this topic, but let’s get a little more detailed – because it’s important!
The first pumping session to begin your weaning process will be one of your middle of the night pumps at around 3 or 4 months postpartum (when baby is sleeping through the night).
Your body should adapt pretty nicely to this shift since it is a very natural course to take.
However, not having baby wake to remind you to pump will make it a little harder to stay on your pumping schedule.
The temptation to sleep all through the night with baby will be great!
Tips to Help You Wake up to Pump:
- Have something you look forward to doing while pumping, like watching a favorite show, reading or blogging!
- Keep a handy, little touch sensor night light next to you so you can quickly get some light in the room.
- Set a vibrating alarm on your smart watch.
- Sleep with a diffuser that has an invigorating scent in it – like sweet orange and lemon (my fav!)
At this stage, you will still need to get in one middle of the night pumping session before you can fully wean from pumping at night.
I recommend dropping the first middle of the night pump, and leave the second (early morning) one alone.
This is because prolactin levels are usually elevated the most between these late night and early morning hours.
You also do not want to wake at 6 or 7am and be painfully engorged.
Add Extra Time to Remaining Sessions to Not Lose Supply
Here is what you need to do If you are ready to reduce the amount of pumping sessions per day, but are not willing to lose output.
- Add a small amount of time to the remaining pumping sessions (5-10 min at the most).
- Power pump once a week.
- Take sunflower lechitin to help move milk out of sticky milk ducts.
- Keep making those boobie bites and eating a milk promoting diet.
Adding time to your pumping sessions is crucial when you are weaning down sessions and want to maintain your supply.
It may seem to be a little counter-productive to the end goal of pumping less, but it is only necessary if you are worried about losing a signifiant amount of milk output.
This course of action may require some trial and error.
How to Stop Pumping Completely
We’ve covered many different scenarios for ways to wean from the pump, now lets talk about how to quit pumping completely.
For many reasons, it is the end of your pumping journey and you need to know how to go about finishing the process without pain or getting a nasty infection.
I can give you the tips that worked for me when I went off the pump, but just know, this was a process – it did not take place in a day.
I worked up to weaning off the pump over a 3 month period before I completely stopped.
I was also 10 months postpartum when I pumped for the last time.
The duration of how long you have been pumping may also affect how long it takes you to stop pumping.
Just some things to consider before you implement these strategies.
Reduce Time on the Pump
Every pumping session you have left, reduce the amount of time by 2 minutes every week until you are out of time.
Simple, yet effective. And most importantly safe!
You want to take this process slowly.
Like I said earlier, this may be a trial and error process.
So, take it in stride and listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, reevaluate your strategy and do what’s best for your health and well-being.
Increase Time Between Pumping Sessions
For reference, say you normally would pump every 3 hours.
To safely extend time between pumping sessions, begin to add 15 additional minutes between pumping sessions every week until you are weaned.
I can’t reiterate this enough; if you begin to feel pain or are uncomfortable with this weaning process, please do what feels best for you and consult a lactation counselor for more guided help.
Take an Anti-Histamine to Help You Dry Up
Now, you could also be a little more pro-active and try and over the counter anti-histamine to help speed up the process. We know these work to dry up milk supply because while breastfeeding intentionally, we avoid these things adamantly.
Ever had a cold while breastfeeding? It’s miserable.
I must encourage you to do your research and also ask your doctor if it’s ok to take these kinds of medications while feeding your baby breastmilk.
Incase you aren’t sure what that weird word means, (galactagogue) it is a food or medication that helps increase lactation in a breastfeeding mother.
You can actually consume foods and herbs that naturally reduce lactation.
Here’s a short list of some anti-galactagogues:
While on the subject of food, here’s another natural route you can take to wean from pumping and dry up your milk supply. Applying cabbage leaves to your breasts actually helps reduce lactation.
This is also a great tip for removing clogs.
Why I Had to Stop Pumping
This answer will be different for everyone, but I can speak for myself and what my experience was like.
The biggest reason why I stopped pumping at 10 months postpartum (2 months shy of my goal) was mostly because I got my period back at 7 months postpartum. Boo!
I was a little shocked and very disappointed when this happened, because I thought as long as I was pumping (4-5 pumps per day at the time) my period would not come back. Well, mother nature (as always) had her own plans.
Unfortunately, no matter what I did to maintain my milk supply, it wasn’t a fair fight with determined hormones – they won.
I was eventually only producing a quarter of what my baby needed per day.
So, instead of forcing myself to pump through sore breasts from menstrual hormones and stuff my sad, deflated breasts into flanges that were now too big, I quit.
The day came that I didn’t feel full, there were no more letdown signals and barely any milk was dribbling out when I tried to hand express.
Hopefully me sharing my story will help you better relate to what it may look like for you, when you begin weaning from the pump.
The biggest tips I want you to take away from this read, is to always prioritize looking after your health and comfort first.
Listen to your body, take things slow and be patient. Being in a hurry to quit pumping isn’t worth the risk of mastitis or losing your milk supply when you’re not ready to.