If you’ve been breast pumping regularly for any amount of time, quitting cold turkey can lead to infections. So, what’s the safest way to quit pumping?
With personal experience under our belt, along with what we’ve learned from medical research and the experiences of others, we’ve written this article outlining seven simple steps to stop breast pumping.
If you would like to learn how to effectively wean from the pump in a way that avoids the discomfort and negative side effects of quitting cold turkey, here’s everything you need to know.
How Do I Wean From the Pump?
When nursing babies wean from their mothers’ breasts, it happens naturally; their nursing volume and frequency decrease as their consumption of solids increase, and their curiosity and independence call them further away from their mother for longer periods of time. This process happens gradually, and the body responds safely and effectively.
This process is a little different when it comes to weaning off the breast pump as it’s up to you to decrease the frequency and length of pumping sessions. There are several approaches to weaning from a breast pump:
- Quitting cold turkey.
- Dropping pumping sessions one by one.
- Increasing the length of time between pumping sessions.
- Gradually decreasing the length of pumping sessions.
Keep In Mind
This can close off the milk ducts altogether and cause a clogged milk duct (1). If it’s not treated, it can become infected, which is known as mastitis. For this reason, abruptly dropping pumping sessions or quitting cold turkey isn’t recommended.
Thankfully, it’s much easier to convince your body to decrease your milk production than it is to try to coax it to increase. If you follow these steps, you should be able to gently and effectively stop your body’s milk production with minimal discomfort.
How to Stop Pumping Breast Milk in 7 Steps
Here are seven simple steps you can follow to safely wean from the breast pump.
1. Stop Supplements or Nursing Boosters
If you’re taking supplements or following a special diet to maintain your milk supply, stop. If the supplements are being taken under the care of your doctor, make sure to consult with them first to see whether you need to decrease your dose gradually.
2. Drop Evening Pumping Sessions
Most women’s bodies have peak milk production in the morning and gradually taper off into the evening (2). It might be possible to drop an evening pumping session without any extra effort or discomfort. If your body isn’t producing much milk in the evening, it won’t be much of a shock to stop pumping at that time.
3. Decrease Pumping Time by 25%
Cut down the length of pumping sessions to decrease your output. For example, if your pumping sessions typically last 20 minutes, reduce them to 15.
This will cause you to relieve the breast discomfort of being overly full, but won’t drain the breast completely. Keep your pumping sessions at this length for 4–5 days. After failing to empty your breasts on a consistent basis for several days in a row, your body will automatically reduce its production to meet your new, reduced demand.
4. Increase the Length of Time Between Sessions
Gradually add time between pumping sessions. Let your comfort level be your guide — if you’re uncomfortable 30 minutes after your usual time, then pump. If you can delay your pumping session by an hour or two, then go for it.
Don’t try to push it and wait until you’re experiencing extreme fullness or breast pain as that can cause clogged ducts or mastitis. Instead, try to extend the times between sessions as much as you can. This technique can be done in conjunction with Step 3, meaning you’re reducing your session length and frequency at the same time.
5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4
Continue to combine steps 3 and 4 — slowly reducing your pumping length and extending times between pumping sessions. Pay attention to your body and its comfort level, and let that be your guide.
6. Watch for Clogged Milk Ducts and Mastitis
Clogged milk ducts usually feel like localized pain in the breast. Sometimes you can feel a hard lump or the area feels hot. Other times you can see where you have a clogged duct; the area will look swollen or enlarged.
If you have a clogged duct, make sure it’s resolved before you continue with the weaning process. If you notice a clogged duct, take a break from your weaning schedule and keep pumping on that side to empty the breast.
Put hot compresses on the area, or massage it during pumping. Once the pain and swelling are gone, this means the duct has reopened and you may return to your weaning plan. If you develop a fever, have chills or flu-like symptoms, or notice an unusual discharge from your nipple, you may have mastitis, which is a bacterial infection within the breast (3).
If you develop mastitis, you can self-treat at first using massage, heat, frequent feedings, and rest. If the pain doesn’t subside, you may need to see your doctor for antibiotics to heal this infection.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
7. Stop Pumping
You are likely to reach a point where your output is so low that you’ll start to wonder, “Am I ready to stop pumping altogether?”
The best way to know is to try. Stop pumping, and see how you feel.
If you start to feel an uncomfortable fullness, you may have to work on your weaning plan a little more. And if you don’t, congratulations! You’ve successfully weaned yourself from the breast pump.
The Bottom Line
Weaning from the breast pump doesn’t have to be complicated. By gradually reducing your pumping frequency and shortening your pumping sessions, your body will naturally respond to the lowered demand and will automatically decrease your milk supply.
This will hopefully allow you to drop the need to pump with minimal breast discomfort and other side effects.