I’m Not Ready to Wean My Baby But I’m Ready to Ditch the Pump!

how to wean from breast pumpAs an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I work with a lot of mothers for whom pumping is a major part of their breastfeeding experience. While most are incredibly thankful for the ability to pump, almost all are ready to celebrate when they realize that it is time to wean off the pump. But, how do you make that happen? Especially if your baby is still breastfeeding and you’d like to continue with that part of the relationship? Can you wean off the pump but not from your baby? The answer is a clear and resounding YES!

YOU…on YOUR timeline

Often, mothers will ask me WHEN they should consider weaning off of the pump. Honestly, there is no “right” time other than the time that is right for each particular mother and baby. Many women, who are encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines, have a goal of pumping for one year. But, I’ve had lots of moms who pumped much longer than that and even more who pumped for a shorter period of time. Factors such as how supportive the work environment is, how much milk “stash” a family has, and how the addition of complementary foods to a little one’s diet impacts nutrition all come into play. But, there is no “magic” time and a family can decide together what works for them.

Please understand this: Breastfeeding and pumping can be entirely independent of each other. The decision to wean from the pump doesn’t have to also be the decision to wean from the breast. Our bodies are wildly adaptive and because breastfeeding is very much a “supply and demand” system, mothers and babies can find routines for feeding that work well, even if it is only in the evenings and on weekends (or whatever works based on work schedules!)

Supply and Demand

Here’s one of the foundations of the mechanics of breastfeeding: Breasts make milk when breasts are emptied of milk. And, the opposite is also true: Breasts don’t make milk when breasts are not emptied of milk. There are highly technical explanations involving hormones and proteins and the wonderful dance that a body does to perform this awesome task but it comes down to this “supply and demand” truth. Not only does a breast that is emptied make more milk but an empty breast produces milk faster than a full breast. How much is made is very dependent on how much is removed. So, how can we use this to our advantage? Let’s work smarter and not harder:

1. Extend Time Between Pumping Sessions

Every single mother I have spoken to about how she weaned off of the pump comfortably has used this method. Take what you will from that statement but I do think that it points to the fact that, as we get to know our bodies, our “gut” tells us what will work. If we remove milk less often from our bodies, our bodies will slowly start to decrease the amount of milk being produced. For example, if you are used to pumping 3 times during a work day (10am, 1pm, and 4pm), let’s try starting to shift the sessions so that there is a longer interval between them. Obviously, the goal is to extend them and shift them and make it so that we are finally able to drop a session. But this takes time! We can expect that it will take a few weeks (and often longer) to wean from several pumping sessions.

2. Decrease Time Per Pumping Session

Another method is to decrease the amount of time we are spending per pumping session. This way, we are leaving a bit of milk behind, signaling to the body “Hey, you’ve made more than we need. You can dial it back a bit.” If you normally pump for 12 minutes, maybe you could try pumping for 10 and watch how your body responds. Again, the same goal applies as when we increase time between sessions: Communicate to your body that less milk is required.

PAY ATTENTION to Your Body

It is critically important during the whole process that moms are paying close attention to their bodies. Are any areas of the breast tender? Hard? Do you find that you are feeling particularly full and uncomfortable? Does the time of day matter? You are the best expert of your body and this process is NOT going to be scheduled and structured. Listen. Respond. Don’t rush yourself. Take time to allow your body the space to respond in its own time.

Dialing Back Your Supply Without Killing Your Breastfeeding Relationship

The most critical piece of the process is how a mother and baby are continuing to connect as pumping time is decreased. Many mothers continue to put baby to their breast, even as they are dialing their milk supply back when they are separated. Most find that as routines and schedules change, so does they way their bodies respond to their little ones and breastfeeding continues even while milk isn’t being removed during working hours. Mothers and babies are so incredibly adaptable and it is exciting to watch families navigate a new chapter in their breastfeeding relationship.

Did you wean from the pump? What advice would you offer a mom going through the process?

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to “I’m Not Ready to Wean My Baby But I’m Ready to Ditch the Pump!”

  1. Bethany December 27, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Thank you so much for this article! I am just at the point of deciding to wean from the pump since my LO will be one in just a few weeks and doesn’t drink very much milk when I am at work. I want to wait until a year when I can introduce other milk options (soy or almond milk probably) so that she has a supplement milk drink when she is not with me. This article is SO helpful!

  2. Lisa December 28, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    I am currently nursing my second child and plan to do so for as long as he wishes or at least 2 years. I have some concerns about how my milk supply would maintain the appropriate level for my child. Inevitably, I think we would end up using only frozen milk during the day and nursing in the evening and at night, thus depleting the frozen supply and ultimately shortening the breastfeeding relationship. Could you speak to this?

    • Amber McCann, IBCLC December 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Lisa, could you clarify a bit for me? Are you working and would continue to pump? At what age are you considering weaning from the pump?

  3. Eireann January 16, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    I stopped pumping 6 months ago when my little guy was a year and he’s still happily nursing! He’s pulled back how much he nurses, but I imagine he would have done the same even if I was at home full time. I scaled back the number of times a day I was pumping over the course of a couple of weeks until I just stopped with no problems at all.

  4. Jan January 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Will you really produce enough milk during the day to EBF or would you have to give some bottles during the day? I am away form my baby 3-4 days a week. She is now 10 months and I am really ready to stop pumping. I don’t want to give formula so I am going to wait till 1 year I guess to use cows milk- not much longer. However I guess I find it hard to believe that on my days away form her I won’t get uncomfortable etc. if I don’t pump- but keep nursing during the day and not just at night etc. the rest of the week.

    • Vy January 17, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Hopefully you will get a response from the professional that wrote the article. I am just a mom – but a working, pumping mom, who’s logged 2+ years!

      I think it would be a little more tricky if you work half the week. This article is basically dayweaning (if you work normal business hours.) You teach your body not to produce milk from 9-5, but it will continue to produce plenty of milk for evening, when you are nursing the baby. It’s the same idea that, once your child is sleeping through the night, your nighttime supply will greatly decrease.

      I believe that if you want to stop pumping at work you will have to decrease daytime nursing sessions on your days off. I would not do that at ten months, personally. I understand being ready to ditch the pump, though (that’s why I read this article in the first place!)

  5. NL January 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    If you forego pumping during your work days, can you still breastfeed your baby on the weekends? I am ready to slow down pumping during the day but then I worry I won’t be able to nurse LO on the weekends.