How long does it take to wean from exclusively pumping? I’ll show you how I weaned from exclusive pumping, how I did it, how long it took and other interesting things I learned along the way.
After learning all I could about breastfeeding and pumping as I began my exclusive pumping journey, weaning wasn’t something I had even thought about. However, as Bibi got older, I started to realize I needed more information about the right time to wean her from breastmilk.
In some ways, weaning from exclusive pumping is simpler since the baby is already drinking from a bottle. The tricky part for moms who exclusively pump is figuring out how to reduce milk production while pumping.
When is the Right Time to Wean Baby?
According to the La Leche League, there is no set number of years you should nurse your baby. Deciding to wean your baby from breastmilk should happen when you feel ready.
“Breastfeeding is a two-way street. If you resent it when you sit down to breastfeed, your child will pick up on this.”La Leche League
Until the age of 12 months, the main source of nutrition for babies should be breastmilk or formula. But some people mistakenly think that when baby starts solids between 4-6 months they need less milk. However solid foods are not a substitute for breastmilk or formula.
If you are breastfeeding or pumping and want to begin weaning your baby before 12 months old, it is generally recommended that you will need to supplement their diet with the same amount of formula. After 12 months old, you can begin to substitute cow’s milk (or other milk) in place of your breastmilk. Remember to always check in with your doctor or pediatrician if you have any concerns about this.
How Do I wean Baby from a Breastmilk Bottle?
The good news is that for exclusive pumpers, the weaning process can be a little bit easier for the baby since they are used to taking their milk from a bottle. However the main hurdle is to help the baby adjust to an alternative type of milk.
We decided to wean our daughter from breastmilk a little past her first birthday. First, we introduced her to a small amount of cow’s milk that was mixed in with her breastmilk bottle. Each week we would gradually increase the amount of cow’s milk until it made up half of the bottle. After we saw that she had no troubles with cow’s milk we transitioned to giving Bibi a combination of cow’s milk, fresh breast milk and frozen breast milk.
Likewise, I also started to wean myself off of exclusive pumping. As my milk supply slowed down, we increased the amount of cow’s milk that Bibi was drinking. Experts recommend using whole fat milk for babies over the age of 12 months. At this age, they should drink between 16-24 fluid ounces (480-720 milliliters) of milk a day.
How long does it take to wean from exclusively pumping?
It is important to know that each woman’s experience with weaning from exclusive pumping will be different. Since breastfeeding is based on supply and demand, once you start pumping less your body will naturally begin to produce less milk.
Every woman will have a different tolerance for the discomfort that pumping less time or less often will bring. The length of time that it takes for you to wean from exclusively pumping will be different than it was for me.
It is important to transition slowly from exclusive pumping. Stopping pumping too quickly can cause issues like mastitis and clogged ducts. It took about two and half months from start to finish for me to stop exclusively pumping, but as you will read below, I had a brief hiatus out of necessity.
How to Wean From the Pump
To wean from exclusive pumping, I used a combination of the following advice given by Kelly Bonyata. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant on the popular breastfeeding website, KellyMom. Here is a summary:
- Drop one pumping session every 3-7 days: If this is too physically uncomfortable, you can do it more gradually by pumping less and less for one session until you can drop it completely.
- Decrease the amount of time you are pumping for ALL of your sessions by two minutes every other day. On the first day of weaning from the pump you should pump 2 minutes less than normal for each session. Next, on Day 3 go down an additional 2 minutes, and on Day 5 another two minutes until you don’t need to pump anymore.
- Increase the time in between pumping sessions. If you normally pump every 3 hours, try to extend it to every 3.5 hours.
Bonyata says the key to weaning from the pump is to “let comfort be your guide.” If at any point you are engorged and uncomfortable, you can pump to relieve your discomfort and step back a bit in your method.
How I Stopped Exclusively Pumping
At the time I weaned from exclusive pumping, I was pumping four times a day. My milk production was around 1000/ml per day. This was not the peak of my milk production. Earlier in Bibi’s life I pumped more frequently at 5X a day for a total of 1.5 litres of breastmilk a day, here’s how I did it.)
My usual pump schedule was at 7 a.m., 12 p.m., 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. My weaning strategy was to combine my two afternoon sessions into one session. The result was longer (but equal) times between pumping.
My weaning strategy
Step One: My new pumping schedule became 7.a.m, 2:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Since I wasn’t in a hurry to wean, I gave myself two weeks to adjust to the new schedule. Switching from 4 pumping sessions to 3 sessions, my output decreased from 1000 ml to 800 ml. At the end of 2 weeks of pumping three times a day, my output had decreased from 800 ml to 650 ml.
Step Two: Next, I decided to drop my afternoon pumping session. Again I looked for two convenient times that would give me equal breaks between pumping. My new schedule of pumping was at 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Moving from 3 pump sessions to 2, my output decreased from 650 ml to 490 ml. After 8 days of this, my output decreased further from 490 ml to 410 ml.
Step Three: I had a brief hiatus in which I returned to pumping 3 times a day (see below).
Step Four: I returned to pumping 2 times a day. This time I gradually decreased the length of time I pumped each session. I decreased one minute of pumping each day. After 8 days, I had reduced my milk output down to 150 ml/ day from 2 pumping sessions.
Step Five: Last I dropped to 1 session a day, and my milk output went down to 100 ml/ day.
Step Six: After four days of one pumping session per day, I started skipping days. I only pumped four more times, ending my exclusive pumping for Bibi at 70 ml/day.
It took me two and a half months to stop weaning from exclusive pumping. My schedule and timeline won’t look the same as yours, but sometimes it helps to see someone else’s experience. As long as you are comfortable, you can wean from exclusive pumping in a shorter amount of time.
Extra Insights on Weaning
I want to share some areas of my weaning experience that might be insightful to you. These were things I wondered about and couldn’t find information on.
After we did sleep training with Bibi she started to sleep consistently through the night. My pumping schedule changed because I no longer pumped in the middle of the night. Subsequently, at 7 months postpartum, my period returned. Before my period started, I was pumping 1.5 litres a day. My milk supply started gradually slowing down. By the time Bibi was one year old, I was producing 1 litre a day.
During the weaning process as I transitioned from 3 pumping sessions to 2, the stay-at-home orders started. Like many parents during this uncertain time, I was worried. We were supplementing Bibi’s bottle with cow’s milk and grocery store stock was a concern.
Because of this worry, I decided to increase my pumping sessions back to 3 times a day. I hoped that I could increase my milk supply because it was comforting knowing I could provide milk for Bibi.
I was able to increase my milk production to about 600 ml/day. This is slightly under the amount I had previously pumped with 3 sessions. Although it was more than I had been pumping with reduced sessions, I could tell my body just wasn’t able to increase to its former level of milk production.
Just as all every woman’s breastfeeding experience is different, our weaning experiences will not look the same. Like any big transition in your baby’s life, you will feel emotional. As you begin to wean yourself from exclusive pumping, give yourself permission to grieve the end of an era. Along the same lines, try to find reasons to celebrate the beginning of a new and exciting time in your journey with your child.