Are You Ready to Wean From Your Breast Pump?

Are you pumping milk for your baby while you are at work?
Are you exclusively pumping your milk for your baby?
Are you ready to ditch the pump?

Are you exclusively pumping1 and needing or wanting to stop pumping?
Are you wondering how to decrease pumping sessions? Are you tired of pumping at work? While there is no “right” time to wean from the pump, the American Academy of Pediatrics2 recommends providing human milk (or formula) at least for the first year whenever possible.

Here are some of the reasons people give for weaning from the pump:

  1. Ready to stop pumping at work or school after reaching 12 months.
  2. Wanting or needing to stop pumping before baby is 12 months old and will give either her own previously frozen milk or formula. Some mothers choose to give donor milk.3
  3. Ready to wean off the pump after exclusively pumping.
  4. After bringing home preemie baby from the hospital.
  5. Pumping to increase milk supply successful and is no longer necessary.

There are a number of ways of weaning from the pump, and you can also combine them. Whether you are an exclusive pumper (“EPer”) or just pumping at certain times of the day (e.g. at work or at school), the weaning process is the same. While everyone’s experiences are different, I found that once I stopped pumping at work and didn’t have to wash parts and worry if I had enough milk for the next day, I was able to fully enjoy my nursing relationship more (not that it wasn’t already enjoyable). And there were less bags to carry back and forth every day! Weaning from the pump doesn’t mean you have to wean your baby; you can still continue to breastfeed. You will want to wean from the pump gradually to minimize discomfort and avoid mastitis, plugged ducts, and other issues, just like you would wean from direct nursing. Your milk production will regulate itself and your body will adjust, which means that most people can continue nursing without any issues.

1. Spread out sessions
Gradually spread out the sessions, but let comfort be your guide and pay attention to your body. For example, if you normally pump every three hours at 9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm, try pumping every 4 hours for a few days (10 am and 2 pm), gradually extending that time. Over the next week you may be able to drop a session as this process takes time. It may take a few weeks to wean from multiple pumping sessions. This may not be ideal if you don’t have a super flexible schedule with your employer.

2. Shorten sessions
Gradually drop minutes off the session that you want to drop. There are a couple of ways this can be done.

One way is to drop 2-3 minutes every other day until you are not feeling uncomfortably full and your body can handle dropping the session. For example, if you normally pump 20 minutes, try 18 minutes and then a couple days later, decrease it to 16 minutes and so on. Continue like this until you feel that the session can be dropped.

Another way is to drop 3-5 minutes every 3-5 days until the whole session can be dropped. For instance, if you normally pump 20 minutes, try 15 minutes the first work week and then down to 10 minutes the next week. Again, let your body tell you when a session can be dropped. Some mothers can drop sessions once they hit 10 minutes, but some may need to drop the session at about 7-8 minutes.

3. Dropping one session at a time
Pumping sessions can be reduced one session per day. For example, if you are pumping three sessions a day--9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm--try dropping one session while continuing the other two sessions. Drop the 12 pm session and pump the other two sessions. A few days later, try dropping one of the other sessions, based on your comfort level, and finally drop the last session a few days after that. If every few days is too quick, scale it back to weeks – week 1 drop the first session, week 2 drop the second session and week 3 drop the last session. If you feel too full, you can pump just enough to relieve the discomfort.

There are no set rules about weaning from the pump. Just remember to do it slowly and gradually to minimize discomfort and avoid issues like mastitis and plugged ducts. Listen to your body! This process communicates to your body that less milk is needed and your supply will adjust.

Supply and Demand
One of the primary biomechanics of milk production4 is supply and demand. If stimulation and the drainage of milk are present, then more milk is made to meet that need. If there is no stimulation and milk is not removed, the brain sends a signal to the body saying that milk is no longer needed. This does not mean, however, that milk production totally ceases. The body will adjust and less milk is made during those times of “no stimulation.” This is how many mothers wean from the pump during a full work day and still nurse when together with no issues. Their bodies adjust to their needs. Isn’t the human body amazing?

Alternative Milks?
If you are weaning from the pump before 12 months, then the AAP recommends2 you wean to your own previously frozen milk or formula.

If you are weaning from the pump after 12 months and continuing to nurse your child at least 3-4 times in a 24 hour period, adding an alternative milk may not be needed. You or your caregiver can offer water with meals. Your milk is designed for your particular nursling, so if you are still breastfeeding 3-4 times a day, both you and your child still get the amazing benefits of nursing past 12 months!5,6

When they stop pumping, some mothers choose to introduce drinks (other than cow or soy milk) like coconut, almond or rice milk. In no way should these drinks be thought of as substitutes for either your milk or formula - they have a very low nutrient value. If you are going to offer an alternative drink, be sure to feed your child YOUR milk first rather than mixing the two together. It is important to make sure your nursling will tolerate the alternatives before cutting out pumping completely. If you choose to introduce an alternative drink and your baby does not like the taste, some mothers mix their milk and whatever drink they are introducing. For example, if you are switching to coconut milk, then mix 75% human milk and 25% coconut milk, 50% human milk and 50% coconut milk, 25% human milk and 75% coconut milk, and finally 100% coconut milk.

Some people continue to pump after 12 months and offer solids and expressed breast milk. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that nursing should continue up to two years of age or beyond.7

“Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins.”
— Dewey 20018

In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of human milk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements
— Dewey 20018

Mixed Feelings
It is completely normal to have mixed feelings when weaning from the pump. Many people feel a “disconnect” with their little one, especially if they are weaning prematurely. Some are sad, while others are joyous about their newfound freedom during the day; when you wean from the pump, your hormones change, as well. Not having to have to lug all those bags anymore and washing pump parts every day can be a relief.

My own pumping experience:
I pumped 3 times a day at work (9 am, noon and 3 pm) until my baby was 12 months old. My state and employer policy allowed me to pump at work for the first year. After 12 months, I broke up my lunch hour into two 30 minute breaks, pumping at noon and 3 pm. Once my son turned 12 months old, I started shaving 5 minutes per week per session that I needed to drop. After doing that for 3-4 weeks, I was able to drop that session, so my sessions were only at noon and 3 pm. I continued these two sessions until 15 months and then, using the same technique, dropped to 1 session and just pumped at noon on my lunch hour. I gradually weaned off and stopped pumping at 18 months. I still had 250 oz of frozen milk in my freezer stash to send to daycare for him.

I felt like I needed to continue pumping after 12 months because my son wasn’t fully on solids yet and still needed my milk. I got a note from his pediatrician and my IBCLC saying that human milk was still his primary nutrition, and I kept it handy to give my employer and daycare in case I got any pushback. When he moved up to the 1-year-old room at 15 months and started to eat more solids, I continued to send what I pumped.

We weaned him off the bottle at 14 months to a straw and cup, and eventually weaned him off the bottle warmer (one feeding session at a time) as the 1-year-old room didn’t have one. He started getting my cold milk in a straw and cup with his name on it and did just fine. His daycare just kept it in his lunch bag with ice packs. He continued to have my cold milk until my stash ran out at 25 months, and he continued nursing when we were together. He is still nursing at 36 months.

Another Breastfeeding USA Counselor, Natalie Gates, had experience with weaning off the pumping for her preemie while dealing with a major oversupply.
“I exclusively pumped for 3 months until my preemie could latch. I got terrible advice from the hospital's lactation staff, who told me to keep pumping longer and longer sessions, even though I was already overproducing. Eventually, I was producing about 100 oz a day, with 10 pumping sessions. Once my daughter was able to latch, I desperately needed to reduce my production so that she wouldn't be overwhelmed. With the help of an IBCLC, I started reducing each pumping session by a few minutes at a time. Instead of 20 minutes per session, I would pump 17 minutes at each session. Every week I would drop a few more minutes. I had some discomfort, but it was manageable. Once I was down to pumping only 5 minutes per session, I was pumping about 3 oz per session. After that I was able to drop the sessions one by one. Eventually, I was able to stop pumping, but the whole process took about 5 months. It was not easy, but it did work out in the end. And the upside is that I was able to donate thousands of ounces of milk.”

Heather Owen, another Breastfeeding USA Counselor also had experience with weaning off the pump at work.
“I weaned from my usual 3 pumping sessions a day by first dropping one session and adjusting the other two times. So, from 9am, 12pm and 3pm I went to 10am and 2pm. After my breasts had adjusted to that I went to just pumping midday, once again allowing time for adjustment. I made sure to nurse when we reunited at the end of the day and this helped, especially when I was dropping pumping sessions. My daughters were both around 16-17 months old when I did this.”

Ellyn Fine, another Breastfeeding USA Counselor, had experience with weaning off the pump for her preemie while dealing with an oversupply.
“My youngest son was born prematurely due to my own deteriorating health conditions. The first thing I remember after being wheeled into recovery, was a nurse explaining how to use the hospital grade pump at the bedside. For the next month I was never too far from a hospital grade pump to ensure my 32 week son got as much of my milk as possible. While he was hospitalized, my 24 hour a day pumping routine - in addition to offering feedings at the breast 2-3 times a day - was critical to establishing a full milk supply…and then some! After 28 days we were finally able to leave the NICU with our healthy son and two enormous boxes of frozen milk. I hadn’t realized that I had worked myself into such an overproduction situation. My body was making far more milk that my son needed. It was exhausting, but a necessity in those first few weeks after discharge, to first breastfeed, then bottle feed my previously pumped milk, and then pump.
As he reached full age of gestation and became strong enough to take larger feedings at the breast, I was able to carefully reduce the amount of time I pumped after nursing and was ultimately able to drop all the pumping sessions. Sometimes my breasts still felt a bit full after pumping, but I thought that was necessary in order to gradually decrease the amount of milk I was producing. As I gradually decreased the number of pumping sessions, we made sure to weigh our preemie frequently to confirm that he was able to increase his ability to transfer milk when nursing. By about 8 weeks I was able to physically (and psychologically!) go the whole day “unplugged,” only pumping when I was away from my son.“

Piper Wood, a Breastfeeding USA Counselor, shared her experience with weaning off the pump.
“When I was pumping for my niece, I pumped twice a day for 20 minutes each session. I pumped for her for just over a year. To wean from the pump, I started by reducing the number of minutes I pumped at each session. I began by pumping for 18 minutes instead of 20, then the next day went to 16 minutes, then 14 minutes, and so on, until I didn't pump anymore. It took nine days to completely wean from the pump using this method, and it was pretty smooth and easy. I didn't have any trouble with engorgement, plugged ducts, or mastitis. My son was still nursing during that time, so that may have helped to regulate my milk production as I weaned from the pump.”

References:

  1. Exclusive Pumping (2014) Retrieved March 2016: Breastfeeding USA https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/exclusive-pumping
  2. AAP Reaffirms Breastfeeding Guidelines (2012) Retrieved February 2016: American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/aap-reaffirms-breastfeeding-guidelines.aspx
  3. How Does Milk Production Work? (2015) Retrieved March 2016: KellyMom.com http://kellymom.com/hot-topics/milkproduction/
  4. Nutrition for Breastfeeding Toddlers (2016) Retrieved February 2016: KellyMom.com http://kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/toddler-foods/
  5. Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet (2016) Retrieved February 2016: KellyMom.com http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/ebf-benefits/
  6. Exclusive Breastfeeding (2016) Retrieved February 2016: World Health Organization http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/
  7. Dewey KG. Nutrition, Growth, and Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Infant. Pediatric Clinics of North American. February 2001;48(1). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11236735

Additional resources that you may find helpful:
Websites/Online Articles

Breastfeed Chicago – Ditching the Pump https://breastfeedchicago.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/ditching-the-pump/

Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk (March 2012) Retrieved February 2016: American Academy of Pediatrics http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827

Breastfeeding USA – Thinking about Weaning https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/thinking-about-weaning

Breastfeeding USA – When is the Best Time to Start My Baby on Foods Other than Breastmilk? https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/when-best-time-start-my-baby-foods-other-breastmilk

Exclusive Pumping – Weaning from the Pump http://exclusivepumping.com/weaning-from-the-pump/

Kelly Mom -Partial Weaning & Combination Feeding http://kellymom.com/ages/weaning/wean-how/weaning-partial/

Kelly Mom – Weaning from Pump http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/weaning-from-pump/

Stormy Miller has a 3 year old nursling and is a Breastfeeding Counselor, a founding member of the North Central Florida chapter of Breastfeeding USA. She has a BS degree in Animal Science and is a veterinary pharmaceutical distributor.