How to Wean off Pumping Without Getting Mastitis

Women who breastfeed typically find that their child initiates and executes the weaning process naturally. As children begin consuming more solid foods, they'll require less milk to keep their bellies full. Babies and toddlers also tend to move away from the breast as their world expands and they find other activities to delight and interest them.

Pumping, however, presents a unique challenge. Mothers who pump need to mimic the effects of a child naturally weaning off of breast milk to trigger their bodies to slowly stop milk production. Attempting to quit suddenly can result in painful, engorged breasts. As a result, the milk ducts may become inflamed or clogged. These ducts can also become infected, resulting in mastitis. Follow these steps for a comfortable weaning process.

Shorten Each Pumping Session

To begin weaning off of the pump, mothers should start by gradually shortening their pumping sessions. Cut the length of the session down by about 25% every four to five days. For example, a 20-minute session becomes a 15-minute session. After a few days, this decreases again to about 11 minutes. In another four days, the session shortens to eight minutes, then six minutes, and so forth. 

Another way to measure pumping sessions is by volume. Mothers who track the amount that they pump more than they track pumping time can use this same method to gradually decrease the number of ounces pumped during each session. Follow the same formula and gradually decrease the volume by 25% every few days.

Increase the Time Between Pumping Sessions

Mothers who stick to a routine pumping schedule can let their bodies know it's time to start the weaning process by lengthening the time between sessions. Every three or four days, add about an hour between regularly scheduled pumping sessions. This lets the body know that milk isn't required as often as before. 

If it's too uncomfortable to wait an extra hour, mothers should try expressing some milk by hand as needed. When the breasts become engorged and painful, it's important to relieve some of the pressure to avoid mastitis and other problems. Expressing a small amount of milk by hand can alleviate discomfort without triggering the breasts to produce more milk the way that a pumping session might.

Eliminate Pumping Sessions Gradually

As the time between sessions increases, mothers will find that they can start eliminating some of their routine pumping times. Begin by cutting out just one session and stick to this adjusted schedule for a few days before eliminating another session. Most women produce the greatest amount of milk in the morning and the least in the evening. This makes it easy to eliminate the latest pumping session of the day. After a week or so of lengthening the time between sessions, it may be possible to again eliminate the last session of the day.

Following these three simple steps can make a significant difference in the weaning process. Gradually weaning the body off of pumping helps to prevent mastitis, clogged ducts, engorgement, and pain, so mothers can handle the transition comfortably.

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