Weaning from the Pump

By Kendra Atkins-Boyce, Portland Oregon

shutterstock_194119598My son is 14 months old and I have been pumping my milk for him since I went back to work 10 months ago. I didn’t mind pumping up until recently when I became friendlier with a few people at work. They spend time together during our lunch hour. I began to feel stuck using my time for pumping instead of what I want or need to do. Now that my son is older, how can I stop pumping, keep up my supply, and not get plugged ducts or breast infections? My breastfeeding relationship is very important to me. How do other mothers stop pumping and continue nursing a toddler?

First of all, congratulations on pumping at work for 10 months! That’s an immense time commitment, and you deserve credit for making it work for so long. It’s wonderful that you are making connections at work. Spending time with other adults is important and helps to keep you from feeling isolated. It sounds as if you might feel like pumping is getting in the way of fostering friendships. You seem to be worried that weaning from the pump will bring the end of your breastfeeding relationship. On a personal note, I weaned from the pump more than two years before weaning from breastfeeding. You can definitely still have a beautiful breastfeeding relationship with your son when you are with him.

Before we get into the logistics of weaning from the pump, have you considered pumping while your co-workers are around? You may find that they are fine being there while you pump. When I pumped at work, a co-worker ate lunch with me. It made my pumping time more enjoyable when I had someone to talk to at the same time. “I would pump where my friends are,” says Jessica Stevens. Even if you don’t plan to pump for much longer, you could start pumping for short periods during social times in order to lessen engorgement and help you transition off the pump.

However, Lindsey Cass-Bowser reminds you that, “[Y]our lunch is not the time to be pumping! It’s the law! Your lunch is just that—your lunch. Pumping time is separate.”

Editor’s note: Lindsey is referring to the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law,” a federal law that went into effect in 2010 that requires employers to provide break time and a place for hourly paid employees to express breast milk at work. You can read more about this law at www.usbreastfeeding.org/workplace-law.

Kathy Beezwax says, “Fourteen months is awesome! Give yourself permission to stop pumping at work. You have worked hard for so long and you deserve some time doing things that you enjoy. It’s important you remember how much your child has benefited from your dedication! There is no reason you can’t continue to nurse and/or pump while you are with your son.”

“I started to wean at one year. By taking my lunch a little bit later and pumping less each time, it gradually reduced my milk supply.” Sierra Liggett says.

LeAnn Lewis asks, “Do you have to spend your whole lunch hour pumping? What if you just pump at the beginning?” She continues, “One great piece of advice I received was to pump one breast while my baby nursed on the other side. In my case I was able to pump three times as much that way—oxytocin was working its magic. Perhaps you could pump with your son once in the morning and once in the evening and phase out your lunch pump to a shorter session. Then spend the remainder to fit in your personal time?”

shutterstock_147721874“Nurse at night,” Elizabeth Tutein says. “You will not lose your supply at this point. Your body will adjust. Do not get discouraged. You may be engorged for a few days until your body adjusts to no pumping at lunch.”

“Both times when I weaned from the pump,” says Katherine Benton, “I would gradually decrease the number of pumping sessions per day. I would typically pump three to four times per day, with the first morning session while I was ready for work, and additional sessions during the workday. I gradually transitioned. I dropped one pumping session per week until I was able to get through the workday without full engorgement. But please listen to your body and take cues that are best for you! Maybe you will need to drop a session every two weeks at first. The goal is to maintain your supply but not ever be in painful engorgement throughout the day.”

Ashley Kerr says, “I pump as soon as I get home and later at night if I can. I missed my lunch break with my coworkers, too!”

“My son is 14 months and I just recently stopped pumping during the day,” says Sarah Lynn. “My son still nurses once or twice at night. We co-sleep after he wakes up. If you don’t have a milk stash and still need/want milk for your son, perhaps you could pump early in the morning or late at night to replace the lunch time pumping.”

While you decrease the pump times, you may wish to place nursing pads in your bra to prevent leaking until your body adjusts. You might also use cool compresses in your bra or take a mild analgesic recommended by your health care provider if you experience any pain from engorgement. Depending on which methods you choose, your body may take a few days or a few weeks to adjust to the new schedule, but it will adjust.

Most of all, keep breastfeeding as long as it works for you and your son. When you have weaned from the pump, your afternoon feeding time will likely become one you look forward to, a time to reconnect with your baby, and relax into your time at home.