About a month or so ago, I got sick. Like really sick. It was an awful cold and cough that lasted well over 2 weeks. And during those two weeks, my milk supply dipped drastically. This was probably due to a combination of factors: lack of good sleep/rest, being too tired to pump throughout the night and let’s not forget the stress. At that point, it had been around a solid 9 months of me providing Jai with my milk and in my mind, I was ok with being done if that’s what my body was telling me. And so I talked it over with myself (it was more emotional that I thought it would be to decide it was the end, but that’s an entirely different blog post…stay tuned.) and my husband and I decided that I was going to really stop pumping…I had been exclusively pumping for about 5 months. I knew I had to do it the right way though to avoid too much pain, discomfort or the “M” word: MASTITIS.
Here’s what I did to effectively and safely wean myself off the pump. I think these tips can work with weaning from breastfeeding too since the same basic principles apply.
Rules of supply and demand:
Just as frequent pumping/breastfeeding increases milk supply, decreasing pumping/breastfeeding causes your supply to dip too. The key is to do it in a methodical way, reducing both the time in between pumps and the length of each pump. Most resources will tell you that you should aim to give yourself a 2 week weaning period, although this can vary from woman to woman. I used to pump every 2-3 hours every day for about 20-30minutes each pump but once I decided to stop, I gradually increased that period to every 4-5 hours to 5-6 hours to every 9-10 hours and then just once a day. Simultaneously, I went from 20-30 minutes during each pumping session, down to 15-20 minutes, then 10-15 minutes and finally at the very end, 5 minutes or less…and that was just to provide a little relief.
Do NOT suddenly stop pumping or bind your breasts. This is not the safe way to dry up your milk supply. I didn’t even know about binding breasts until I did some research online. There are some crazy stories about women experiencing excruciating pain and plugging their milk ducts in the process causing themselves infections by doing this. If you are prone to mastitis, you need to remember to take it very slowly. Let your body guide you.
I suggest keeping a record of your pump volumes especially during your weaning period. That way you can trend what is really going on with your body and you can better judge how to plan and how to proceed.
Don’t aim to empty:
Towards the end of week 2, I was only pumping when absolutely necessary to provide some relief but not to empty out. For example, during the last four days, I pumped only twice and that was when I felt very full. And I didn’t pump to completely ‘empty’ out but instead only to take some of the pressure off. I have to reiterate…the key is not to empty out. If you do, then your body will produce more. Again, basic rules of supply and demand.
Comfort is key:
I wore a sports bra during my ‘weaning’ period. My sister-in-law recommended this and it worked so well for me. A sports bra provides just the right amount of support without being too tight. And sports bras protect against moisture so even if you have a leak or two, you will be ok.
Extra protection just in case:
But even though sports bra are designed to help with moisture, I still chose to put cotton bra pads inside the cups of my bras just in case…. especially when I was wearing white or was at work. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
Something for the pain:
Warm or in my case, hot showers helped a lot. Cool cabbage leaves…I didn’t try these myself but a couple of my co-workers and friends swore by them. You’re supposed to take cold cabbage leaves and insert into the cups of your bra. When they start to wilt, replace with new ones. Smelly but effective. I’ll take their word for it. 🙂
If that doesn’t work…you can take a mild pain med such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain and/or swelling. I took Advil when I stopped pumping all together. It helped. With that said, you shouldn’t be in any insane amount of pain during this process, so if you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort then maybe you need to reconsider how you are weaning. Maybe you are going too fast and need to slow down a bit. Again, 2 weeks is just an average…it may be a longer or shorter process for you.
If your pain is unbearable plus you have a fever or temperature, if you have discoloring on your breasts or nipples (especially red) or they are warm to the touch…you need to call your doctor or lactation consultant. You may have an infection.
Hopefully, these tips are helpful if you are in the process of weaning or thinking about it. Before I go, I have to say congratulations to all of you mommas out there that breastfed, pumped or both for ANY amount of time that you were able to! Give yourself a pat on the back for even just trying. 🙂
And if you’ve already been through this, please share your tips to wean from pumping or breastfeeding. Did any of these tips work for you? We’d love to hear what you did.