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, give yourself a pat on the back for the effort 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 their entire life. As you move into the next stage, you can rest assured that 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 other discomforts. Any time you stop pumping (or breastfeeding) abruptly, your chances of developing these symptoms increases.

Weaning from pumping gradually will be more comfortable and decrease the likelihood of unpleasant symptoms or complications.

Drop a Pumping Session

For example, if 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 to ensure 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. If you have been expressing three ounces, only express long enough to acquire two ounces. Do this for a few days as your body adjusts, then repeat reducing the time and 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, you can start to 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. Your goal is to delay pumping and ensure that your milk is not drained as frequently, which will slow your milk production.

What to Do If You Must Wean Abruptly

Sometimes people who are breastfeeding have to wean abruptly. If this is the case for you, be aware of the possibility of developing clogged ducts and mastitis and take precautions to prevent these conditions.

Many people who are breastfeeding find it helpful to apply ice packs wrapped in cloth to their engorged breasts. Wearing a comfortable (usually larger) bra that is supportive is also critical.

Chilled cabbage leaves worn inside the bra (changed every few hours) can help reduce engorgement and dry up milk. However, if you have a sulfa allergy you should avoid this home remedy.

Also, many breastfeeding people find that drinking sage tea helps to decrease milk supply. However, there are no studies on whether sage is effective for reducing milk supply. It can also cause side effects and is not recommended for some people. You'll want to discuss whether or not it's safe for you to use sage tea with your healthcare provider.

Use Hand Expression for Comfort

If your breasts feel full and uncomfortable, you can hand express just enough milk to relieve your pain. While you do not want to get stuck in a cycle where you are expressing too much, there's also no need for you walk around engorged, either!

If your breasts are too full for too long, your chances of getting plugged ducts and mastitis increase—which is exactly what you want to avoid as you gradually wean from pumping.

Rather than expressing just enough to relieve the pain, some people choose to express their breasts completely, 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. During the weaning process, it's fine to take a hot shower, but you'll want to avoid hand expressing milk while you're doing so.

That said, you might still notice that you can squeeze a drop or two out (even months later). This is pretty common, but if are concerned you can always talk with your healthcare provider.

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 people 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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