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Making It Work

Weaning from the Pump

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 5, September-October 2003, pp. 183

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My baby is 14 months old and I have been pumping for 11 months. I usually pump at least two times a day. My employer has been supportive and my milk supply is fine, but I miss having lunch with my friends and the ability to do errands at lunch instead of after work. I also miss taking walks on my break or making necessary phone calls to schedule doctor appointments or the like. I'm tired of spending all my break time with my breast pump. How can I stop pumping at work and still keep my supply adequate and avoid plugged ducts or breast infections? Do other women stop pumping and continue to nurse their toddlers?

Response

First off, congratulations on pumping for so long. Give yourself a pat on the back! When my daughter was around 14 months, I faced the same issues you're facing right now. I had my husband, who is an at-home dad, slowly introduce a combination of cow and human milk until she was just drinking whole cow's milk during the day. Meanwhile, I would skip two or three days of pumping, and only pump if I felt particularly full. I never had any plugged ducts, and I was able to quit pumping altogether within a couple of weeks. I was very happy to finally put my pump into storage. Sometimes, my breasts felt pretty full toward the end of the day, but that slowly subsided as my body got used to the new schedule. Nursing evenings, nights, mornings, and all weekend long has been more than enough to keep producing milk. Today, my daughter is nearly 18 months old and still nursing.

Marziah Karch
Lawrence KS USA

Response

I'm currently breastfeeding my 15-month-old son and working full-time while pumping once a day for the last two months. I have tried to find more information myself and found helpful comments from LLLI's book, MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER.

Once my son turned a year old, he refused to take a bottle of my expressed milk and would only drink the milk from a cup or mixed with oatmeal. We nurse in the morning and evenings and my supply is adequate for him with pumping once a day at work. I monitor how much he needs during the day to make sure I provide enough for the time I am at work. I have about a two-month supply in the freezer.

I continue to pump once a day to relieve uncomfortable fullness in my breasts. The discomfort has gradually drifted away. I'm planning to stop pumping completely in the next few months. On some days at home, my son nurses only in the morning and evenings. Other days, he nurses frequently. My supply is not affected by days we nurse only a couple of times and I'm able to produce plenty on days he nurses more frequently. My biggest concern was that my supply would stop. Now that I've seen how easily my supply adjusts, I've stopped worrying.

Very soon I'll stop pumping and continue to enjoy the convenience of breastfeeding with my son and not worry about pumping and finding the time during the day at work.

Carrie Slad
Albuquerque NM USA

Response

I have breastfed two children while working and pumping. I understand how, after a year, it can feel disruptive at times. By the time my children were around a year old and eating a variety of solids, my milk supply was not as abundant and I had stopped feeling overly full. Also, once my children's diet of other foods became established, I found I did not need to pump anymore.

I had been pumping twice at work. I started by reducing my pumping to just once for a few weeks. Then I shortened my pumping time. Then I eliminated my pumping sessions altogether without any plugged ducts or mastitis. But I made sure to breastfeed just before and right after work. By then, my children would maintain my milk supply, just how much they needed, by nursing only. My oldest child nursed until he was almost three and my toddler is still going strong at 22 months. Good luck!

Jenny Jahnke
Columbus OH USA

Response

Give yourself a pat on the back for meeting your baby's needs by pumping for 14 months-what an accomplishment! At 14 months, your child still certainly benefits from getting your milk while you are gone, but will probably be fine without it. Additionally, your milk supply will adjust and you will be able to go on having a successful nursing relationship as long as you and baby wish. To give your child and your body a nice gradual adjustment, you may want to pump once a day for a few weeks, then skip a day here and there and then just phase pumping out.

While working part-time, I pumped until my son was 17 months old. I chose to continue pumping that long, not so much because he needed it, but more because he enjoyed my expressed milk from a cup and because it was easy for me. I slowly phased it out, leaving him less and less until he didn't even miss it. We went on to nurse happily in the morning, evening, weekends, and my days off for another year. My milk supply naturally adjusted to his needs.

Trina Kerns
Silver Springs MD USA

Response

Ah, the life of a working, breastfeeding mother! It feels as though your whole life is spent attached to a baby or a pump. Then, slowly, the baby is breastfeeding less often and the pump that at first felt like a lifeline to home starts to seem like a burden.

I recognize these feelings from having pumped for my firstborn for the first 17 months of her life. Even though she started solids at around six months, my pumped milk provided the bulk of her nutrition for the first year. However, as she grew into an active toddler, she was drinking less of the milk I was bringing home until it seemed to be a waste of time and milk to keep pumping so much. I slowly started to wean off the pump when she was 15 months old by lengthening the hours between each pumping session until one by one the sessions dropped off my schedule, over the course of two months. By the time I was down to one pumping session a day, I still had enough milk to nurse her as she desired on the evenings and weekends, but I was free of the old routine. I finally stopped pumping altogether when I changed jobs and she was content with the reduced supply because she was eating and drinking many other foods.

Now I'm back to pumping at work four times a day for my newborn daughter, and she is enjoying an exclusive diet of my milk while I'm away. The art of pumping came back easily, as my body remembered exactly what to do. I just read or daydream on my scheduled pumping breaks, and my current employer knows that I'll be back momentarily. Plus, I know that these moments spent pumping don't last forever, and it won't be long before my baby will grow up.

I think that weaning from the pump is very similar to weaning a baby from the breast-when you're ready, take it slow, drop off one session at a time until you're done, and relax. In your situation, you can probably lengthen the time between your morning and afternoon pumping sessions, eventually cutting out the lunchtime session, which would free your lunch hour (you can continue pumping on your other regular breaks until you're ready to stop those as well). Keeping calm, weaning from the pump slowly, and nursing often at home will help prevent plugged ducts and still allow you to maintain that special nursing connection with your toddler, even as he grows up and out of your arms!

Michelle Hottya
Santa Clarita CA USA

Response

Since your baby is probably now getting other foods in addition to your milk, my advice is that you may be able to stop pumping altogether. It depends on what your baby is eating, how many bottles you want the baby to have when you are gone, and how often you are able to feed from the breast when you are home.

I eliminated one pumping at a time over a week or two. I had two methods for this. Sometimes I would skip a pumping (not always a good idea if you are prone to plugged ducts, infections, or if a good nursing is too far away). I would also slowly push the time back that I would pump so that it was closer to when I would breastfeed or had to pump again. For example, if I usually would pump at 10 am and then nurse/pump at 1 pm, I would pump closer to 10:15 for a few days, then 10:30, then 11:00 until I could wait until the 1 pm session. Once I could go without too much discomfort between pumping, I would stop that pumping session. I always breastfed on cue at night and on weekends so the transition was smooth and my daughter still received a lot of my milk. I do not recall my supply dwindling, but I did stop producing so much milk at the old pumping times.

Now, my daughter is almost three years old and always has enough milk whenever she needs it. Your body will just stop making a lot of milk for the scheduled pumping time, but you will still have milk available on an "as needed" basis.

It is great that you stayed with pumping for so long. I know it is not easy, especially when the pumping times are the only break times you have while at work.

Heidi Dedeaux
Gulfport MS USA

Response

When my son turned one year old, I began working part-time outside the home. I, too, was afraid that my milk supply would dip if I did not pump. However, after about two months of pumping, I decided to stop for two reasons. First, my son would not drink the milk from a cup. My mother-in-law, who was my son's care provider, told me that he would simply turn up his face and spit it out. Second, I was working as a substitute teacher with no set daily schedule and became frustrated with pumping only to store the milk. So, I decided to quit pumping, remembering what I had heard at so many La Leche League meetings, "As long as the breast is receiving stimulation, the body will make milk." I was only pumping once a day, so I experienced fullness without engorgement for a while and then that went away. I never felt as though my milk supply dwindled because my son never complained. It has only been recently that I quit working because I am expecting my second baby. My first baby is now almost three years old and still happily nursing. I wish you and your nursing toddler much continued success.

Tyra Hargrow
Clarksville TN USA

Response

I used to be in the same boat you are in. I am a schoolteacher and pumped at work twice a day. I missed the time I used to have to plan out lessons during the day, and I missed chatting with my friends during lunch. It was well worth the time, because I knew my milk was the best thing for my baby.

I started the weaning process with my pump on a Monday by pumping for about 20 minutes or so. As each new day came, I pumped for less time. I did this for two weeks. Yes, my breasts were full when it was time to go home. But eventually, my body adapted and now they are not as full. When I meet my 13-month-old at Grandma's house, he is tugging and pulling at my shirt to get mama's milk. And there is plenty for him. I am still nursing him to sleep. And he loves the taste of warm sweet mama's milk in the middle of the night. And of course, we can't forget about the weekends!

Michelle Figga-Burgroff
Tampa FL USA

Response

First of all, congratulations on pumping for 14 months! I know that it takes a lot of dedication, careful planning, and hard work to pump human milk for your baby while at work. I pumped at work for my two children and stopped when they were between 11 and 12 months old. That worked for me because I continued to nurse according to their cues at home, and especially nursed them frequently at night (when it is believed women may produce more prolactin, which helps maintain your supply). I always had a sufficient supply, and they both continued to nurse often when they were with me. My son continued to nurse until he was almost three. My daughter is now 18 months and still going strong! Of course, every woman's body and situation is different. I also eased into it to let my body adjust to the change. For example, I decreased the number of times I pumped over time. Also, I made sure I nursed my baby right before I left for work during the transition period and for quite a while after I stopped pumping. I also nursed as soon as I got home. I work part-time and had the advantage of spreading my hours over four days so that I didn't have to be away from the nursling for more than eight hours, including the commute. My breasts were quite full for a while until my milk supply adjusted, but I did not experience plugged ducts or infections. For me, pumping took time away from my work so I began bringing some work home with me. I also missed the opportunity for social time and exercise walking with my friends during our lunch break. While I felt it was critical to pump while my baby was young, I believe I struck the right balance for my family by stopping when they were old enough to take other foods and liquids during the day. Best of luck to you during this transition.

Laura Etlinger
Valatie NY USA

Response

Be assured that you definitely can stop pumping and keep on nursing your toddler. Your body adjusts to the new demand, just as it did when you went back to work and started pumping in the first place. If you were to feel a little full mid-day, and you don't have your pump, you can always go into the bathroom and hand-express a bit of milk just to relieve the pressure. You aren't trying to stop your milk altogether, so expressing a bit once in a while this way won't be counterproductive to your goals. I wish you the best of success, and enjoy that lunch with your friends!

Liza Davis
Rosemont NJ USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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