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How to Wean: By reducing time on the pump

How do you wean from exclusive pumping? There is one way and that's to reduce the amount of minutes you spend pumping to slowly decrease supply. Keep reading to find out why this is effective and why it might be the method for you.


Image by LittlePumpling


Exclusive Pumpers can't stop pumping in one day and just hope everything's going to be alright. Weaning takes time, it takes mental strength and it requires some effort of some kind as you're needing to tell your body that it's no longer required to make milk for the baby anymore. Sometimes your body already knows and this process and so weaning will be quick and pain-free but other times, the body needs a few actions from you to show it that the baby doesn't need breastmilk anymore and it's time for something new.


Do you want to wean?


It's wise to understand weaning before taking the plunge, take a moment to read about a few techniques beforehand so you can plan the last chapter of your exclusive pumping journey to ensure it's stress-free and allow yourself as smooth of a transition as possible (whilst being a parent).


Whether you've made it to your goal and you're excited to stop pumping or something's changed and you feel it's best to stop now, it's good to familiarise yourself with various techniques used to wean off the pump and then to pick what suits you and your lifestyle the best.


Making the decision & having peace with it.


The first stage to weaning is actually coming to terms with the decision you're making. As an exclusive pumper, you've spent hours at the pump throughout your journey, you've perfected your set-up and you have learned how to bottle and breast feed your baby. It's been a huge learning curve and it'll be an experience you'll never forget. It takes dedication and determination to continuously pump day after day, so it's really important to take a moment to truly understand why you are wanting to wean and what this will mean for you if you decide to stop doing it. This process is really important for your mental health so please give yourself time to come to terms with the decision.


If you are confident in your decision to wean off the pump and accept that you're going to stop lactation because of it then this process will be easier on your mental and physical health.

I am an advocate for taking care of parental mental health and find that postpartum mental health is so often overlooked, however I cannot urge enough how important it truly is. If you are deciding to conclude your breastfeeding journey (remember, pumping is breastfeeding) you'll be making a decision which is highly personal and no one can tell you otherwise. Be kind to yourself when you are going through this process. Be aware that like all important parental decisions, you may second guess yourself during the process. However, if you have made peace with the choice and you're confident and comfortable as to the reasons why then the transition will be much easier on you. You will be more likely to be empowered by the new phase you're entering into and you may find yourself finding positives in moving away from exclusively pumping too.


If you do feel negative in anyway, be sure to speak to someone you trust like a family member or close friend and share your thoughts and feelings with them. Whatever you're going through is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. If you do not have a friend or family member to share your thoughts with you are welcome to join conversations online via Little Pumpling (see top of website for links). The online community has grown to be hugely supportive of each others experiences as each exclusive pumper has been there in some way too.



It wasn't fit for bake off but it was so much fun to do

Ways to help you come to terms with the end of your journey:

  • Plan on making an exclusive pumping celebration cake at the end of your journey

  • Purchase a piece of breastmilk jewellery to commemorate your journey

  • Take pictures of your last pumps or bottles (Little Pumpling has a reel using this idea).

  • Create a journal or diary which will become a collection of your last moments of your journey. This exercise is great for your wellbeing as you're giving yourself time to be present and write down how you're feeling. You'll also be able to reflect on your journey in the future if you ever want to revisit what you were going through.

Once you've made the decision to wean. How do you do it? One method is moving a session along every few days until the chosen session becomes obsolete and therefore dropped. You then repeat the method with another session until they are all dropped and you are no longer required to pump.


Are you 'schedule sensitive'?

This tactic is good for people who are very schedule sensitive. How would you know if your 'schedule sensitive'? The clocks changing would effect your supply or travelling time zones would be difficult. When I say difficult or effected, I mean feeling full quickly when half an hour later or feeling bumps or lumps because a pump session has moved slightly.


If you're time sensitive, read my weaning blog which talks about the 'move a session along until it's gone' method.


Reducing Time to Reduce Output

Another technique is to reduce minutes that you pump. This method is simple but effective. By reducing pump time, you're signalling to your body that baby doesn't need as much breastmilk anymore.


Why is something so simple so effective?

Breastmilk production works on a supply and demand basis. Whilst you pump, your nipple(s) are being stimulated and this stimulation signals to the body to make milk. So when it comes to weaning off the pump, you can flip this mechanism and give your body signals to reduce breastmilk production by decreasing the duration of a pump session.


Another way in which reducing the duration of sessions works is you are purposefully (but subtly) pumping less effectively. Let's say for example that you normally pump for 20 minutes and reduce to 18 minutes. We can assume that you empty the breast slightly more in those last 2 minutes and so, by reducing to 18 mins, you are getting slightly less than you normally do. Let's assume some milk is left behind. Milk remaining in the breast signals to the body that baby doesn't need as much milk. It does this by understanding signals from a chain of amino-acids found in breastmilk called Feedback inhibitor of lactation (FIL). FIL is a mechanism designed to regulate breastmilk production and to stop engorgement which can be hugely uncomfortable! The breastmilk protein sends a signal to the not make milk, so when breast milk is removed from the breast, the signal is quieter and when the breast is full of milk, the signal is stronger.


Learning how FIL works provides insight into one of the many ways our bodies determine how much breastmilk is needed. Understanding how we regulate can also unlock knowledge of how we can wean too. If we normally aim to efficiently remove breastmilk, to tell the body to make milk, then with the same logic, pumping and leaving a little bit of breastmilk behind, will provide a signal to your body that breastmilk is not needed as much as it was before.


What you need to do

First of all, let's identify the first pump session to drop. You can consider any session you like, it's your routine, to help you think about which one to choose, consider dropping the session that you like the least, maybe it conflicts with something else or you find it inconvenient or you wish to sleep!


Once you've decided what session to drop, think about how long you normally pump and the next time you do that session, reduce by 5 mins. You may not notice a difference at first but the body is linked in so many ways, if you are doing this calmly and willing for this change, weaning will come.


If you have not experienced any lumps, discomfort or other negative symptoms from reducing by the initial 5 minutes. Reduce a further 5 mins no sooner than 3 days later. I say this because I don't want to encourage fast weaning, as I believe the hormone fluctuation is a lot to deal with.


Keep reducing by 5 minutes every few days until the session has been dropped altogether.


Repeat this method again with another session, picking lowest output pump session next. Reduce the minutes until it is dropped and continue this process until all sessions are dropped.


Always remember to wean in your own time

Note that you can take your time with this process. Weaning is a time of transition. It's a process and does not need to be rushed. You can wait longer than a few days before reducing minutes further. You can also wait as long as you like before beginning to reduce the next session on your list. This process can take a few weeks or it can take months if you would like it too. It's okay.


Summary: Weaning by Reducing Time

It's a simple method but one that works really well for many exclusive pumpers. You do not need to use this method exclusively, you can mix and match it with others like the one mentioned in my previous weaning blog. The trick is to pick things which suit you. I will reiterate that you do not add any missed minutes to any other sessions in a 24-hour period as you are wanting your body to understand that less milk is needed so go against your natural pumping instincts to add the missed minutes. This will feel weird at first but it will get better as you get used to the weaning part of your journey! Always be kind to yourself and always be proud of everything you have done for your little pumpling.


If you have any questions, come over to instagram and comment on a weaning post!


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LP x


Important information about weaning

If you are deciding to wean, you need to consider what your baby is going to drink when you're not offering breastmilk anymore. Some pumpers have 'freezer stashes' of milk ready to feed their baby after they wean. Others use formula. Please consult your health visitor for advice if you are unsure what you are going to do.



 


This article is that of the opinion of the author. Consult your health visitor or GP if you want any medical advice. This article uses affiliate links and referral codes to help maintain the community it is building. The links do not add a cost to you but if you choose to purchase an item using them we may receive a small commission for the sale. It is a small thank you to the author for the time and dedication taken to provide you with information on Exclusive Pumping.


References:

Chapter 2 - The physiological basis of breastfeeding, Infant and Young Child Feeding. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/









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