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How to Wean from the Pump

Eventually, every mom who is pumping her milk wants to wean from the pump. It’s not rocket science, but it does require a little pondering and planning. Here are a few strategies for how to wean from the pump.

Consider your reasons for wanting to wean from the pump

Understand, I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong reason to decide that you’ve just had enough! Instead, I’m saying that your reason for weaning from the pump may — or may not — influence your strategy for doing so.

Maybe you want to quit pumping because your original reason no longer exists. For example, some babies are initially unable to suckle directly at the breast due to prematurity or other health issue. If that or a similar issue is no longer in play, you probably have no interest in being tethered to that pump now.

Maybe your baby is a year old, and you’re tired of pumping at work. If so, you need to decide if your aim it to quit pumping your milk but continue nursing your baby.

Whatever your reason for weaning from the pump, go for it. When you wonder about how to wean from the pump, two issues figure into your plan: ground rules and options.

Set some ground rules for yourself

Let’s talk about those two ground rules first. There are basically two ground rules for weaning from the pump.

  • Never allow yourself to become so uncomfortable that you set yourself up for a plugged duct. Don’t delay too long, and don’t go cold turkey. If necessary, pump just enough to make yourself comfortable.
  • Set up a routine where you pump (or maybe, nurse) at set intervals. For example, if you are employed outside your home, nurse the baby before you go to work, and as soon as you return home from work.

These two simple ground rules will need some variations, depending on your situation. In general, though, these ground rules will help you to stay comfortable, and avoid any issues. 

Weigh options for weaning from the pump

To some extent, the strategy that you choose for weaning from the pump depends on whether you plan to continue nursing or not.

Stop lactating

If you decide it’s time to shut off those fonts of white gold, there are three basic strategies for how to wean from the pump.

Strategy #1: Lengthen the interval. Start by pumping 15 minutes later than usual.

The advantage of this strategy is that it decreases the possibility of having a plugged duct. Anyone who has a history of plugged ducts or mastitis should consider this strategy.

A disadvantage is that it may be difficult to remember. To overcome that, you could use a timer.

Strategy #2: Decrease the duration of each pumping session, so that you are not completely emptying your breasts.

Remember that the breast makes milk on the supply-and-demand principle. The more you remove, the more milk you make.

Conversely, then, if you are trying to decrease your supply and stop lactating, removing less milk will help you to accomplish that.

Think about how long it takes you to pump your milk until the sprays diminish. Then, decrease that time by a few minutes. For example, you could start by decreasing your pumping time by about 3 minutes at each session. However, everyone is different. The idea here is leave some milk in the breast.

The advantage of this strategy is that you can continue to pump at the times when you usually pump, so there’s no new routine to manage.

The disadvantage is that it still means you’re setting up the pump the same number of times. If you don’t want to bother with that, try using a little hand expression until you feel better. 

When you think about how to wean from the pump, keep in mind these supply-and-demand principles.

Strategy #3: Hopscotch a day. During the first week of weaning from the pump, mark one day — possibly two — and eliminate one pumping session.

Let’s say you pick Tuesday and Friday as the days when you eliminate one pumping session. Skip just one session on these “off” days. Be aware of what your breasts feel like. If you feel uncomfortable or overfull, express just enough to make yourself feel better during the “omitted” pumping time.

The advantage of this strategy is that you are free during the time that you would usually be pumping.

The disadvantage is that skipping a session puts you at higher risk for a plugged duct.

Continue lactating

I’ve yet to meet anyone who has fallen in love with their pump. But I’ve met thousands of mothers who fall in love with their babies and have the wonderful feelings of bonding while nursing. And, they have the reassurance that they are providing the best nutrition and the best immunoprotection in the world.

Congratulate yourself

Anyone who does any amount of pumping has my admiration and respect! It’s work; it’s not fun. If the work starts feeling like drudgery, it’s okay to revisit your decision to pump. 

Whenever you decide to stop pumping, and whatever methods or options you use, always remember to be aware of your body. Do what is comfortable for you.

What are your tried-and-true tips for how to wean from the pump? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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