Weaning From the Breast Pump

Mom Reading to Baby
Photo © John Burke Photographer/Getty Images

If you have been exclusively expressing milk from your breasts you and electric breast pump and decide it is now time to stop pumping breast milk, several steps should be taken to ensure a smooth transition. First, though, you need to give yourself a pat on the back for the hard work and dedication you put into expressing your breast milk, either for your little one or a donor milk bank.

Your hard work has been a gift and will impact the health and wellness of your baby throughout his entire life.

Now as you move into the next stage you can rest assured every drop you expressed was shared with love. The following strategies are effective methods for weaning from pumping without having to stop “cold turkey” (which can cause incredible discomfort, clogged ducts, mastitis, and more). Any time you stop pumping (or breastfeeding) abruptly you increase your chances of these complications. Therefore, weaning from pumping gradually will be more comfortable and decrease your chances for difficulties.

Dropping a Pumping Session

If, for example, you have been pumping six times a day, reduce it to five for several days. Once your body adjusts (usually within 2-3 days) eliminate another pumping session. After a few weeks, you will have eliminated all nursing sessions. Make sure that as you drop a session you space out the other sessions so that they are about the same interval apart.

Maintain the Same Number of Pumping Sessions, but Reduce Pumping Time

If you have been expressing for 15 minutes, decrease expression time to 10 minutes, and so forth.

Or, if you have been expressing 3 ounces, only express long enough to acquire 2 ounces. Again, do this for a few days as your body adjusts, then repeat reducing the time/amount until you no longer have milk to express.

Delay Pumping Schedule

If you are on a schedule where you have been pumping every 3 hours, for example, then delay pumping to 4-5 hours.

As your body adjusts, delay even longer between sessions.

With any of these strategies, you will be gradually decreasing the amount of milk your body is making. An empty breast makes more milk. By draining your breasts more slowly, your body will not replenish milk as quickly. The longer you are able to go without expressing, the slower your milk production will be. Thus, you are trying to delay pumping so milk is not drained as frequently, thereby slowing milk production.

Sometimes women find themselves in a position where they must wean abruptly. If this is the case, be aware of the possibility of developing clogged ducts and mastitis and take measures to help ensure this doesn’t happen. Being aware of this possibility can help you take precautions. Many women find it helpful to apply ice packs wrapped in cloth to engorged breasts. Wearing a comfortable (larger) bra that is supportive can be critical. Chilled cabbage leaves worn inside the bra can provide relief, and be sure to change them every few hours.

Also, many women find drinking sage tea helps to decrease milk supply.

At any point, if your breasts feel full and uncomfortable, hand express just enough to relieve your pain. You don’t want to get in a cycle where you are expressing too much, but you also don’t need to walk around engorged and in tears either! Remember, if your breasts are too full for too long you increase your chances of plugged ducts and mastitis – the very thing you want to avoid as you gradually wean from pumping. Alternatively, rather than expressing just enough to relieve the pain, some women express their breasts completely, but then wait for a longer stretch before pumping again.

Whatever strategy you use, know that your milk supply will decrease and soon dry up completely. If at a later time, you have a need or desire to relactate, this, too, has also been done successfully by women all over the world!

Sources:

Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding answers made simple a guide for helping mothers. Hale Publishing.

Morton, J., et al. (2009). Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology, 29(11), 757-764.

Continue Reading