Your breast pump can feel like both your best friend and your worst enemy. It gives you the freedom to build up a stash of breastmilk, keep your baby fed when you’re not there, and can help your partner be a part of the feeding process.
Whether you have pumped for weeks, months, or years, eventually, the time comes when you’re ready to give it up. No one wants to pump forever!
This moment comes at a different point for every mother. Once you stop asking yourself if you should stop pumping and instead question how you stop pumping, you’re ready.
Before You Quit
The first thing to do before you start weaning from the pump is to stop anything you’re doing to increase your milk supply. Lactation cookies, special diets, and Mother’s Milk tea are all standard methods of making sure your production can keep up with your baby’s demand.
While it may seem obvious to make this your first step, you would be surprised by the things you can overlook when you’re a busy and tired mom! (Not that I know from experience…)
Can I Quit Cold-Turkey?
Regardless of your reason for stopping (there are many, and every single one is valid), pumping isn’t something you should quit cold turkey.
When you don’t drain your breasts regularly, they become engorged, and the tissue around the milk ducts can become inflamed.
The inflammation often leads to a blocked duct. If the duct is left untreated (as it would be, if you stop expressing milk completely), then it can get infected, turning into mastitis, a painful situation.
Try a Gradual Approach
The best way to stop pumping is to begin weaning yourself off the pump, much in the same way a nursing mother weans her child.
When nursing, a mother’s supply is related to her baby’s demand. If the baby drains a breast quickly, your body will adjust and begin making more. Conversely, if your baby leaves milk, then your supply will decrease.
To mimic this method with the pump, try one of these several gradual approaches.
You probably have scheduled times throughout your day where you hook up to the pump and let it flow. One method to help you safely stop pumping is to begin dropping sessions one at a time.
I recommend starting with the session that has the least output. Most mothers have their most substantial supply in the morning, and it tapers off throughout the day. However, if you find that your afternoon pump is always on the light side, then pick that one.
Dropping your lightest session first is an excellent way to ease your way into the weaning process.
After you drop a session, give yourself five to seven days before dropping another one. The time in between will allow your body to adjust to the decreased demand. If you have had issues in the past with clogged ducts, wait at least a week before dropping another session.
Continue to give up sessions, one at a time, until you’re done!
Decrease Length of Sessions
If you’d rather keep to your schedule (and who doesn’t love a good routine?), then consider decreasing the length of time for each session.
Start with a decrease of 25% each time you pump. So if you typically pump for 20 minutes, then cut it down to 15, and so on and so forth.
Just like dropping sessions, you need to give your body time to adapt to decreased time. After five to seven days, reduce the time by another 25%.
Mathematically speaking, this method will never get you to zero. Still, once you’re down to only pumping a few minutes at each session, you can either begin dropping sessions or just try stopping altogether.
Increase Time Between Sessions
The method of increasing time between sessions can be less exact than the other approaches, but it works well if you’re not on a rigid schedule.
Begin by waiting just a little bit longer, maybe an extra half an hour, in between each of your pump times. You can go longer, as long as you carefully monitor your comfort level. If you become uncomfortable or engorged, then it’s time to pump.
Slowly, your body will realize that less milk is needed, and you’ll be able to stretch the time out even further.
Do I Have to Pick One Approach?
While each approach is a little different, they all have a similar theory: slowly teach your body to make less milk.
Often, the most effective method is to do a combination of the three. Drop a session and decrease the length of your others. See how long you can go in between pumps before you get uncomfortable and then pump to relieve the pressure, but not to drain your breasts.
Choose one approach or all three and create a schedule and system that works for you!
What to Watch Out For
As mentioned earlier, even with these gradual approaches, you need to stay aware of your body’s response to the reduction in pumping.
A hard lump or swelling in a breast might be signs of a clogged duct. If this happens, continue pumping through that, ensuring you drain that breast at each session. You can also use hot compresses to relieve the pain.
If the swelling doesn’t go away, the area becomes hot to the touch, or your pain increases, you might have mastitis. Call your doctor if you’re concerned that your duct has turned into an infection.
How to Speed It Up
When you’re ready to quit pumping, slowly weaning from your pump can feel torturous. You just want to be done! While it’s essential to give your body time to adjust and adapt, there are a few steps you can take in order to speed the process up, without raising the risk of a clogged duct.
No More Milk Tea
Yup, the Mother’s Milk Tea you take to increase your supply has an effective opposite that will help reduce it. Using herbs that are known to help decrease milk production, drinking the tea will signal your body that it can stop working so hard!
This remedy is as old as the hills, and modern medicine really doesn’t have an explanation for why it works. But it works just the same, so give it a try.
First, wash the leaves of the cabbage and slice off the tops of the veins. Then place the leaves in your bra for 20-30 minutes. You should repeat this process at least three to four times every 24 hours for maximum effect.
If you deprived yourself of candy canes because you were pumping last Christmas, then now is the time to bust out those leftovers.
Peppermint is known as one of a few herbs that help to decrease your milk production in the case of oversupply or when you’re ready to quit.
If you’d prefer to steer clear of the extra sugar, you can drink peppermint tea or take peppermint supplements to get a similar effect.
Avoid Breast Stimulation
A pump, a baby suckling, and sometimes just the water hitting your breast in the shower can all stimulate your body to make more milk.
If you want to stop pumping sooner rather than later, do your best to steer clear of any non-pumping stimulation, which you’re trying to reduce. This will help you reach your goal faster.
The Last Pump
If you are taking a gradual approach, you will end up at the point when you have just to stop and see how it goes. If you become uncomfortable or engorged, then express enough milk to relieve the discomfort and try again the next day.
Eventually, your body will get the message that you don’t need the milk anymore and will stop producing. However, don’t be alarmed if you still find drops for months (or years) afterward. It’s totally normal and will go away on its own.
The Finish Line
When the time is right, quitting your pump doesn’t have to be stressful. A gradual reduction in the length and frequency of your pumping sessions is a tried and true formula to end your pumping career on a high note.