Congratulations! The end of your pumping journey is in sight! You did it! You physically provided your baby with precious nutrients, antibodies, and love as he started his little life. Sweat, blood, and tears were likely involved. Now it’s time to wean from the breast pump. No matter if you pumped for six months, twelve months, or sixteen months, figuring out how to stop pumping can be a process. Read on to determine exactly how to do it.
Thinking about how to stop pumping can be jarring since at this point it’s an ingrained habit and part of your daily work schedule. It likely took you a solid month or more to get in a good groove with pumping at work and possibly even at home, so doing a 180 to stop pumping may boggle your mind. We totally get it and have been there. Thankfully, we have figured out tips to make the weaning process smooth.
The most important thing to keep in mind when weaning from the breast pump is to not stop pumping cold turkey. If you are pumping two or more times a day, weaning from the pump cold turkey can lead to clogged milk ducts or even mastitis. You are almost done with breast pumping. Don’t let your final note be a breast infection.
Related article: Clogged Milk Duct: 12 Methods To Treat It Fast
Are there side effects when you stop pumping?
While your postpartum hormones have [hopefully] evened out and calmed down, breastfeeding hormones, specifically prolactin, relaxin, and oxytocin, are still at elevated levels in your body. Because of this, it is essential to stop pumping slowly so that your hormones can gradually adjust back to normal levels. As your hormones fluctuate, you may experience mood swings, irritability, and even depressed feelings as you wean from the breast pump. This is all totally normal and short lived.
Related article: Supplementing with Formula: Advice from Experienced Moms
You can expect for these PMS-like symptoms to last for 2-4 weeks after you stop pumping. If you plan to continue to nurse your baby when you are with him, you may not experience these symptoms until you wean from breastfeeding altogether. Just remember: this too shall pass. If for some reason you are still feeling anxious and/or depressed after 4 weeks, reach out to your doctor to let them know what’s going on and see what they recommend.
One other side effect you may or may not experience is weight gain. Since your body will no longer be burning calories to make breast milk, you may notice a slight gain in weight. On the other hand, since your breastfeeding hunger should abate from not pumping, you may not be as hungry as usual and may find that your hunger levels return to pre-baby levels. This is, of course, assuming you haven’t developed an Oreo habit in an effort to increase your breast milk supply. 😉
How long does it take to stop pumping?
On average, it takes around 2-4 weeks to completely stop pumping. This will vary depending on how many times a day you currently pump, the age of your baby, if you have an over/under supply, your specific work situation, and if you are prone to clogged milk ducts or not. If you have an oversupply and/or are susceptible to plugged ducts, you will want to be especially vigilant and careful when reducing the amount of times you pump and take it slow.
Related article: How to Transition Baby to Milk: Everything You Need to Know
How do you stop pumping at work?
There are a few approaches you can take to stop pumping. It will depend on your specific situation as to what works best for you. You may also find that a combination of these methods work best when weaning from the breast pump. Your body and milk supply will regulate down as you reduce the amount of time you pump.
- Gradual approach (best for moms with an oversupply of milk or those prone to clogs or mastitis):
- Week 1: Reduce the amount of minutes you pump during each session by 5 minutes. For example, if you pump for 15 minutes per session, pump for only 10 minutes per session.
- Week 2: Cut one pump session out completely and reduce remaining pump sessions by 5 minutes again. Most moms find it easiest to begin with cutting out their first pump session of the day.
- Week 3: Cut another pump session out completely. Most moms eliminate the first pump again (or what used to be their second pump of the day). Reduce the amount of time you pump again if you started at a longer pump session time in week 1 (ex. you pumped for 20 minutes). The goal is to reduce your pump sessions to 5 minutes max.
- Week 4: Cut out remaining pump session. You are done! If you pumped more than 3 times a day and still have remaining sessions, continue this pattern of reducing a pump session and pump duration until you have eliminated all pump sessions.
- Quicker approach (best for moms with a normal or under supply of milk, no history of clogs or breast infection):
- Week 1: Cut out your middle of the day pump session. Move your first pump session back an hour or move your last pump session up an hour. Reduce the amount of time you pump during the pump session you want to cut out next.
- Week 2: Cut out the pump session that you reduced during week 1. Reduce the amount of time you are pumping during the remaining pump session.
- Week 3: Cut out the remaining pump session. You are done! Just like the above gradual approach, if you pumped more than 3 times a day and still have remaining sessions, continue this pattern. Shift around the times you pump so that your sessions are evenly spaced out in your day, while also reducing the amount of time you pump until you are down to one pump session that you can eliminate.
If you feel full to the point of being uncomfortable after you have eliminated all of your pump sessions, you can try hand expressing milk or keep a manual breast pump with you just to relieve pressure. Again, only pump to the point of being comfortable. You do not want to stimulate your breasts to produce more breast milk. You just want relief and to avoid a clogged milk duct.
How do you dry up milk supply without getting mastitis?
If you notice that your body is still producing milk after you have stopped pumping, there are a few things you can do to further dry up your milk supply. These are only recommended for moms who are completely done with breastfeeding. If you plan to stop pumping at work, but still want to nurse baby at night, avoid doing these and keep a manual breast pump with you at work instead.
1. Cabbage leaves for breasts
Yep, cabbage leaves. Buy a head and tear off two cabbage leaves to place in your bra against your breasts. Leave them in until they wilt, then replace with new leaves. Continue until you no longer feel engorged. If the thought of wearing cabbage leaves in your bra does not appeal to you (we don’t blame you), you can derive the same benefit by using CaboCreme. CaboCreme was developed by an OBGYN mom and contains concentrated cabbage extract (but without the smell!). You can apply it as often as you need.
2. Sudafed for weaning
Sudafed or phenylephrine, is a decongestant but it is also a medication that can dry up breast milk. Just like it dries up your runny nose, it can also dry up your milk supply. Follow the directions on the box for dosage.
3. No More Milk Tea
4. Snug supportive sports bra
Wear a supportive sports bra to put pressure against your breasts. Do not let it be too tight, though! You do not want to run the risk of a clogged duct. You just want to apply a bit of pressure to reduce the amount of milk your breasts produce.
Peppermint has been used for centuries to dry up breast milk. If you are an essential oil user, dilute 10 drops of peppermint oil with a carrier oil and apply to your breasts several times a day. You can also ingest peppermint tea or peppermint candies to help reduce breast milk supply. Make sure the tea or candy has actual peppermint oil or peppermint extract, and not artificial flavoring. Artificial flavoring won’t do a thing to your breast milk supply, but it will make your breath smell great.
Can you still breastfeed your baby after you stop pumping?
Absolutely. If your baby is 11+ months old, you should be able to stop pumping at work but continue to nurse your baby at home. Your milk supply will adjust to the reduced amount of times you demand milk from it (i.e. pump). If chose to continue to breastfeed baby at home, keep a manual breast pump with you at work in case you ever experience engorgement. This is especially true if baby nurses throughout the day on the weekends. However, your body will likely adjust to the new schedule without any issue since your breast milk supply is very well established.
How to deal with guilt when you stop breastfeeding and pumping
It is natural that you may feel guilt when you stop breastfeeding and/or pumping. Feeding your baby with your body has been an essential part of his and your life as long as he has been alive. You have formed an unbreakable bond for life with your baby. Letting go of this chapter is hard, but with every ending is a new beginning. Breastfeeding time is now cuddle time. Bottles have been replaced with sippy cups. And, best of all, pumping time is now YOU time! Let yourself grieve the ending of this chapter for a day or two, and then think about all the good times you have to look forward to. Plus, you get your body back!
If you would like to remember your breastfeeding journey in a tangible way, there are many companies that will create breast milk jewelry using a few drops of your breast milk. Indigo Willow has a beautiful selection of necklaces, rings, and bracelets that will always remind you of this special chapter of your life (and all the blood, sweat, and tears you put in!).
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