How to Wean (Yourself) From the Pump
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 February 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.
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 breast milk 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.
How to Fade the Breast Pump
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 PATIENT, 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. Breast milk 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 breast milk, 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 breast milk you offer later. The weaning process sometimes kills their taste for it. Both of my boys made scrunched-up “ewwwwww” faces when offered breast milk after they were done nursing. Maybe this is different for a bottle fed breast milk drinker? Maybe my kids were just weirdos?) (Don’t answer that. I know they are.)
Published February 10, 2010. Last updated March 12, 2018.