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How to Wean (Yourself) From the Pump

Feb10

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Yo Amy, what up!

There, that was my attempt at cool, now back to the geeky me and my ultra random boob/breastfeeding related question. My son was born in Feb of last year 7 weeks early. He’s perfect and fine and couldn’t be more huge now, but at the time he was tiny, still cute, and utterly perplexed by what he was supposed to do with the boob. He was too early to have his suck reflex in. But when he figured eating out, it was in such a way that bottles worked over breastfeeding. (Believe me we tried).

Still I had determined that I would breastfeed my son so I pumped. I pumped when he got tube fed, and through his NICU stay, and at home. I’ve pumped at work, on the road, everywhere it seems, for 11 months. It was rough, but I did it for him and I don’t regret it. Now though we are approaching his first birthday (SOB) and I am going to call it quits when we get the go ahead for cow’s milk.

Which leads me to my question: How do I stop?

You see I still pump 5 times daily. My supply is essentially the same since there is no actual breastfeeding child to tell them to cool it when they start eating other things too. So I’m not sure how to do it. Do I just stop cold turkey? Do I nicorette-patch my pumping so to speak and step down gradually? What happens if he doesn’t like cows milk – am I doomed to keep pumping forever? Will I leak everywhere again like at the beginning? Perhaps I am just overthinking something that should be simple?

Any insight would be so helpful. My boobs and I thank you.

Liz

First of all, you are a pumping rockstar for sticking with it — and with such frequency! — for this long. HOORAYBOOBS!

Once you get the all-clear for cow’s milk, go ahead and give it a go before you mess with your pumping schedule. Some babies take to it immediately, some need a little experimenting — bottle or cup, warm or cold, etc. It’s also good to note that by 12 months, your baby should be getting most of his essential nutrition from actual food, so even if he isn’t incredibly gung-ho for milk, it’s okay if he’s not drinking it in the same ratio as he drank breastmilk or formula. (Noah was — and still is — a total milk fanatic, while Ezra prefers to drink water. But since he’s always been a good eater and consumer of meats and beans and cheese and eggs and oh, EVERYTHING, it’s not a big deal.) (Plus, cow’s milk, if you overdo it, is constipating. Which. Is fun.)
And then! Declaring your independence from the lady-milker! Just like weaning from actual breastfeeding, it needs to be done GRADUALLY.

1. Cut out one pumping session a day every three days, or so. On day one, pump four times. On day four, pump three times. IF it’s tolerable comfortable, that is. If your boobs are killing you after your third pumping session, go ahead and pump again. Some women need to space the decrease out further — four, five, even seven days.

2. Gradually increase the time between pumping sessions. Once you eliminate one, don’t keep pumping at the same scheduled time for the others. If, say, you pump five times a day now at every three hours or so, pump four times a day every four hours. This way you don’t have one extra-long stretch during the day.

3. Gradually decrease the length of your pumping sessions. Shave two minutes off every session, every couple days.

4. For any pain, use cabbage leaves, cold compresses and OTC pain medication, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be prepared for a little engorgement, particularly since your supply still seems to so plentiful. (I was fortunate that my boobs were pretty much ready to quit at the same time my boys were, and my supply just sort of…limped away without much discomfort. Everybody’s different.) Keep cabbage leaves in your bra for about two hours at a time (until they wilt), stick a bag of frozen peas on your boobs. You might leak, you might not.

As long as you stick with the mantra of GRADUAL and PATIENCE, this shouldn’t be a terribly uncomfortable process at all. I’m guessing you no longer get up at night to pump, so your boobs should be more than able to handle a nice gradual step-down during the day. Breastmilk is the ultimate supply-and-demand item, so as long as you give your boobs a couple days to process each eliminated session, you should be pump-free in just a couple weeks. Continue to store and freeze any milk you pump — plenty of babies do a hodgepodge of cow and breastmilk, or you can use it in his cereal, or save it for times of colds or illness. (Though once he switches completely over to cow’s milk, don’t be surprised if he rejects any straight breastmilk you offer later. The weaning process sometimes kills their taste for it. Both of my boys made scrunched-up “ewwwwww” faces when offered breastmilk after they were done nursing. Maybe this is different for a bottlefed breastmilk drinker? Maybe my kids were just weirdos?) (Don’t answer that. I know they are.)

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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19 Responses to “How to Wean (Yourself) From the Pump”

  1. Erin Feb 10 at 1:28 pm Reply Reply

    When I stopped pumping (I started in the NICU, too) I stopped cold turkey, wrapped myself up tight with some cabbage, took the drugs they gave me to take for pain after childbirth (I still hadn’t used them…) and went to sleep.
    It was a bad plan. It hurt, a lot. I got a fever, mastitis, etc.
    I would definitely recommend the gradual decrease. It might take some patience, but it seems like you’re already committed to doing things the right way.
    And seriously, cabbage. It really does helps. Who knows why?

  2. lisak Feb 10 at 3:18 pm Reply Reply

    My oldest and I never got breastfeeding down. I pumped for him for three months, which felt like forever. I don’t know how you managed 12-like Amalah said–you’re a rockstar. I did as Amy said–greadually stepped the schedule down from several times a day to not at all over a 3-4 week period and had no troubles. Your body will adjust.

  3. Emily Feb 10 at 3:47 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my gosh- I am going through the same thing! My little man was a great boob boy from day 1 in the hospital, but since I went back to work at 12 weeks, I have been a pump-aholic. We are trying to start the weaning process (he turned 1 two weeks ago) but he is FREAKING OUT about it. I have managed to move my first pumping from 8am to 11am, but he is desperate to nurse on the weekends when I am home, so Daddy gets breakfast duty this weekend!
    I imagine this boy would continue nursing until he was 17, if it were up to him. But I am srrrsly ready to have my girls back.
    Also- cabbage leaves? Whaaaaa?

  4. Gem Feb 10 at 4:22 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, definitely need to decrease gradually. I was pumping 5 times a day but had a really low milk supply (10 oz/day) so when I quit, I thought it would be fine to drop it down to 3 immediately. Big mistake. I got mastitis and my Dr told me I needed to increase my pumping for a week while it cleared out which was really exasperating as I was ready to be finished. It took me about a month to completely stop.

  5. JCF Feb 10 at 4:31 pm Reply Reply

    Congratulations on pumping so long! I just wanted to add that some women experience PPD or Baby Blues-type sadness when they stop nursing or pumping. Weaning gradually should help lessen the chances of this (although you may not experience it at all–I don’t want to scare you, just prepare you in case!), as should taking an Omega-3 supplement, getting sunshine, regular exercise, healthy foods, and lots of water. You know, the regular stuff we should all do but probably don’t with any real regularity! Just take care of yourself while you’re weaning, and good luck!

  6. gizella Feb 10 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    my supply waned but i cut out a feeding (pumping session what have you) as amy indicated. Don’t be surprised however, if you have milk long after you’ve stopped feeding. It took me literally ONE YEAR to stop getting milk. Maybe i did something wrong, but still…disconcerting.

  7. Kate Feb 11 at 7:24 am Reply Reply

    I pumped for about 6 months with my son, and 5 of those were pumping exclusively. He was a big boy, so I had a pretty high milk supply, pumping anywhere from 30-40 ounces a day. Here’s how I weaned myself from pumping (without any real discomfort or mastitis):
    1. Choose the most inconvenient session (mine was in the middle of the workday). Don’t necessarily eliminate it right away, but reduce it. I was originally doing 15 minutes a session, so for 3-4 days I went down to 10, then for 3-4 days I went down to 5, and then I could quit that session altogether.
    2. Choose the next most inconvenient session, and do the same thing.
    3. At this point, your body will start to sense that you just don’t need as much milk, and you’ll be able to start to reduce other sessions more quickly. But still, if you feel the need to pump, pump. Just only pump for a few minutes to relieve pressure so that you’re comfortable.
    4. Carry TONS of nursing pads, extra shirts, etc., while you go through the process.

  8. Olivia Feb 11 at 8:52 am Reply Reply

    What a timely question. I’ve been pumping at work for 10 months and am in the process of weaning my daughter off the bottle by the time she’s a year old. I’m not weaning her entirely as I don’t mind nursing at all, but I am so tired of the pump.
    I’ve been down to two sessions a day for a long time so right now I’m moving to one session and asking my husband to give her only one bottle a day. The rest of the day he gives her food and a sippy cup with water or breastmilk.

  9. cari Feb 11 at 10:25 am Reply Reply

    Just an FYI….babies should not necessarily be getting all/most of their nutrition from solids by 1 year:
    Breastmilk should make up the majority of baby’s nutrition through the end of the first year. At some point toward the end of the first year, most babies will gradually begin to need more iron and zinc than that provided by breastmilk alone Рat that point, additional nutrients can be obtained from small amounts of solids.
    http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/solids/solids-when.html

  10. Anonymous Feb 11 at 11:06 am Reply Reply

    As others have said – you are a TOTAL ROCKSTAR for pumping for this long. I pumped while at work and breastfed when I was with my DD for 8 months. It takes real commitment so kudos!
    I agree with Amy, gradual. For me, my supply was sort of naturally waning because my body knew the difference between the baby and the pump. Also, when I would get stressed at work, my body made less milk. So I cut out the middle of the day pumping, waited 5 days or so, then cut out the late afternoon pumping, and so on. Eventually we were down to morning and night, then just night. So I thought when I cut out that last feeding, it would be no problem. I got engorged when I cut out the last one (which was weird because I thought I really didn’t have milk left). I put on a sports bra, then put my regular bra on, then pumped just for a few minutes when it got really uncomfortable, and then the next day – voila – I was done. The boobs are smart. They learn quickly.
    Good luck to you. And as a previous poster said, don’t be surprised if you get some depression when you wean. I did, and it took me awhile to recognize why. Good ole’ hormones!!

    • Toni Feb 13 at 10:43 am Reply Reply

      Thank you. Right now I am at the stage of pumping only once a day at night. I was considering stopping but after I read your post, I will continue. I will just decrease the amount of time I am pumping.

  11. Michele Feb 11 at 3:46 pm Reply Reply

    Congratulations on the 1 year mark. I pumped/breastfed as well. I pumped 4-5 times during the day (for bottle at nanny’s) then breastfed in morning/night until around 9 months or so. By then, my daughter was too squirmy to stay at the boob, so she got breast milk from the bottle only. I continued to pump 6 or 7 times a day (producing 20+ ozs per day) until the 1 year mark.
    DEFINITELY do a GRADUAL decrease in your pumping schedule. I dropped 1 pump a week. I had NO PAIN at all by this method. I had a little leakage, but just put the breast pads in my bra for that. Gradual will limit the pain. I also had friends who used the cabbage leaves and those work too. It is a little sad to stop, but the freedom that comes afterwards is priceless!!!
    Good luck!

  12. BeeBelle Feb 11 at 4:14 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, all the helpful comments. I’m just here to say that when I first read this I read the parenthetical “sob” as S.O.B. and thought that was awfully harsh on both baby and self. I’ve already given myself the lashes with a wet noodle, but the rest of my penance is to share with everyone how poorly my brain works.

  13. Jill Feb 11 at 10:31 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…published just at the right time for me too. I am in a similar situation to the original poster in that I have exclusively pumped for my son who was born 7 weeks early and spent time in the NICU. I have been blessed to only pump 2x/day – and have produced between 18-20 oz each session for the past 10 months. I’ve cut down to only 10 oz per session gradually over the last month and have introduced whole milk with meals at the advice of our ped. He has taken to whole milk fine, but still loves his bottles of breastmilk in the morning and before bed. I’ve struggled with how to cut down since I’ve only pumped 2x/day this entire time, but have just cut down on the amount I pump at each session and that has worked out fine. I guess my next step will be to only pump 5 oz each session and go from there.

  14. Barefoot Mama Feb 13 at 9:05 pm Reply Reply

    God I wish I actually got to the point where I had to ween. Sadly, I pumped and fed, and fed and pumped, and eventually lost my supply. I still don’t know how it happened but one day I found myself with no milk and it caused me a serious case of the blues. It would be nice to read an article on maintaining supply, or to know if this is something other women have faced. This was a great article though. Thanks for such a thorough piece. Love you guys

  15. Liz Feb 13 at 11:48 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, THANK YOU for answering my question. It helps so much to know the best way to approach this. It is also great to realize how many others do exclusive or mostly exclusive pumping successfully!
    We are two weeks away from his birthday and dr’s appt so we’ll be there soon. It just blows my mind.

  16. Amelia Sprout Feb 13 at 11:53 pm Reply Reply

    M didn’t take to cow’s milk until just about when I was going to wean her anyways, but I had built up a supply in the freezer (we got a deep freeze just for this) so I was able to keep giving her milk at daycare long after I basically quit pumping.
    I would drop whatever pumping is the lowest first, and after that, for me at least, it sort of just made sense. I never had engorgement issues (though M breastfed at home all along) and went slower than Amy suggested, so I think that helps.

  17. andrea Feb 15 at 10:43 am Reply Reply

    My daughter had some issues with digestion went I went off breast feeding completely. Apparently (and I read this in one of the the countless books) there is an enzyme in breast milk that breaks down the cow milk protein. Without the breast milk she couldn’t cope with the cow’s milk. Just something else to watch for.

  18. Annie Jan 13 at 7:55 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for that response! I am in exactly the same situation and was feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of stopping.

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