How to Go About Gradually Weaning From Pumping Breast Milk

Breast pump next to nursing bra

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If you have been exclusively pumping breast milk and decide it is now time to stop, several steps should be taken to ensure a smooth transition. First, though, you need to give yourself a pat on the back for the hard work and dedication you put into expressing your breast milk, either for your little one or a donor milk bank.

Your hard work has been a gift and will impact the health and wellness of your baby throughout his entire life. Now as you move into the next stage you can rest assured every drop you expressed was shared with love.

Effective Methods for Weaning From Pumping

The following strategies are effective methods for weaning from pumping without having to stop “cold turkey,” which can cause incredible discomfort, clogged ducts, mastitis, and more. Any time you stop pumping (or breastfeeding) abruptly you increase your chances of these complications.

Weaning from pumping gradually will be more comfortable and decrease your chances of difficulties.

Drop a Pumping Session

If, for example, you have been pumping six times a day, reduce it to five for several days. Once your body adjusts (usually within two to three days) eliminate another pumping session. After a few weeks, you will have eliminated all nursing sessions. Make sure that as you drop a session you space out the other sessions so that they are about the same interval apart.

Reduce Pumping Time

If you have been expressing for fifteen minutes, decrease expression time to ten minutes, and so forth. Or, if you have been expressing three ounces, only express long enough to acquire two ounces. Again, do this for a few days as your body adjusts, then repeat reducing the time/amount until you no longer have milk to express.

Delay Your Pumping Schedule

If you are on a schedule where you have been pumping every three hours, for example, then delay pumping to four to five hours. As your body adjusts, delay even longer between sessions.

With any of these strategies, you will be gradually decreasing the amount of milk your body is making.

An empty breast makes more milk. By draining your breasts more slowly, your body will not replenish milk as quickly.

The longer you are able to go without expressing, the slower your milk production will be. Thus, you are trying to delay pumping so milk is not drained as frequently, thereby slowing milk production.

What to Do If You Must Wean Abruptly

Sometimes women find themselves in a position where they must wean abruptly. If this is the case, be aware of the possibility of developing clogged ducts and mastitis, and take measures to help ensure this doesn’t happen. Being aware of this possibility can help you take precautions.

Many women find it helpful to apply ice packs wrapped in cloth to engorged breasts. Wearing a comfortable (larger) bra that is supportive can be critical. Chilled cabbage leaves worn inside the bra can provide relief, and be sure to change them every few hours. Also, many women find drinking sage tea helps to decrease milk supply. However, there are no studies on whether sage is effective for reducing milk supply; it can cause side effects and is not recommended for some people so discuss whether or not to use sage tea with your doctor.

Use Hand Expression for Comfort

At any point, if your breasts feel full and uncomfortable, hand express just enough to relieve your pain. You don’t want to get in a cycle where you are expressing too much, but you also don’t need to walk around engorged and in tears either!

Remember, if your breasts are too full for too long you increase your chances of plugged ducts and mastitis — the very thing you want to avoid as you gradually wean from pumping.

Alternatively, rather than expressing just enough to relieve the pain, some women express their breasts completely but then wait for a longer stretch before pumping again.

Avoid Breast Stimulation

Any breast stimulation, be it via a breast pump, your baby nursing, or even the shower water stream hitting your breasts will encourage your breasts to make milk. It is best to avoid it as much as possible until your milk supply has dwindled. That said, you may still notice that you can squeeze a drop or two out, even months later. This is pretty common. If you are concerned talk to your doctor or midwife about it.

Whatever strategy you use, know that your milk supply will decrease and soon dry up completely. If, at a later time, you have a need or desire to relactate, know that it's been done successfully by women all over the world.

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Article Sources
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  1. Kataria K, Srivastava A, Dhar A. Management of lactational mastitis and breast abscesses: review of current knowledge and practice. Indian J Surg. 2013;75(6):430-5. doi:10.1007%2Fs12262-012-0776-1

  2. Eglash A. Treatment of maternal hypergalactia. Breastfeed Med. 2014;9(9):423-5. doi:10.1089%2Fbfm.2014.0133

  3. Becker GE, Smith HA, Cooney F. Methods of milk expression for lactating women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;9:CD006170. doi:10.1002%2F14651858.CD006170.pub5

Additional Reading
  • Mohrbacher, N. (2014). Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple: A Guide for Helping Mothers. Hale Publishing.

  • Morton, J., et al. (2009). Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology, 29(11), 757-764.

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