Weaning from Pumping

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated May 10, 2013.

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When the time comes to wean from exclusive pumping there are ways to do this both safely and comfortably.  The following strategies are effective methods for weaning from pumping without having to stop abruptly (which can cause incredible discomfort, clogged ducts, mastitis, and more).  Weaning from pumping gradually will be more comfortable and decrease your chances for difficulties.  Here are three methods:

  1. Delay pumping schedule.
    If you are on a schedule where you have been pumping every 3 hours, for example, then delay pumping to 4-5 hours.  As your body adjusts, delay even longer between sessions. 1
  2. 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 2-3 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.
  3. Maintain the same number of pumping sessions, but reduce pumping time.
    If you have been expressing for 10 minutes, decrease expression time to 5 minutes, and so forth.  Or, if you have been expressing 3 ounces, only express long enough to acquire 2 ounces.  Do this for a few days as your body adjusts, then repeat reducing the time/amount until you no longer have milk to express.

With any of these strategies, you will be gradually decreasing the amount of milk your body is making.  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.  An empty breast makes more milk.  Therefore, you are trying to delay pumping so milk is not drained as frequently, thereby slowing milk production. 2

Occasionally a mother must wean abruptly.  Please read this information if you find yourself in that situation.

At any point, if your breasts feel full and uncomfortable, you can 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 are weaning.  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.  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, this, too, has also been done successfully by women all over the world.

Finally, know that you have much to be proud of!  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.  Pumping is a labor of love and your determination has been a gift that will impact the health and wellness of your baby throughout his entire life.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding answers made simple a guide for helping mothers.  Hale Publishing.
  2. 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.