If you’re anything like me, your breast pump has been your best friend over the last several months. It’s allowed you to return to work without the need for supplementation, build up a freezer stash for the occasional mom’s night out, and let your husband take part in the feedings.
There’s no question your breast pump has had your back and given you peace of mind in knowing you’re always giving your baby the best. However, you’ve finally reached that point when it’s time to ask: “How do I stop 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, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know.
How Do I Wean From the Pump?
A woman’s breast milk production is a pretty remarkable process. Your body wants to make the perfect amount of milk for your baby, so the volume readily increases if a baby drains the breast quickly and continues to suckle after it’s empty. If a baby continually leaves milk in the breast, the body registers this and begins reducing the amount it makes (1).
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 calls them further away from their mother for longer periods of time. This process happens gradually over time, and the body responds safely and effectively.
When weaning from a breast pump, there are several different approaches:
- 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 blocked duct (2). 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 considerably 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
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 (3). It might be possible to drop an evening pumping session without any extra effort or discomfort. Your body isn’t producing much anyway, so it won’t be much of a shock to stop pumping in the evening.
3. Decrease Pumping Time by 25%
Cut down the amount of time you pump 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, but do 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 & 4
Continue to combine steps 3 & 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 do notice a clogged duct, keep pumping on that side to empty the breast, and don’t worry about how long your sessions “should” last according to your weaning schedule.
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 (4).
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 get to a point where your output is so low that you’ll start to wonder, “Am I ready to just quit pumping now?”
The best way to know is to try. Stop pumping altogether and see how you feel.
If you start to feel uncomfortable fullness, you may have to work on your weaning plan a little more. And if you don’t, then 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 automatically decrease your milk supply.
This will hopefully allow you to drop the need to pump with minimal breast discomfort and other side effects.