Weaning can be a process… ESPECIALLY if you are an over supplier. Your body really only needs to produce enough milk to feed your baby for that day. But if you have revved up your supply for the purpose of building a freezer stash, feeding more than one baby, or you just naturally overproduce, then weaning can be a difficult and painful process. Furthermore, weaning with a deadline can further complicate the process.
I weaned after 9.5 months. I exclusively breastfed for the first 2 months and was an exclusive pumper for the last 7.5 months. About a month after I started exclusively pumping, I decided I wanted to build a freezer stash. A serious one. So I revved up my supply and started pumping between 45-60 ounces a day for about 6 months, and worked hard to build a freezer stash. My goal was to give my bay breastmilk for the first year but I was only going to be able to pump until he was 9 months old since we want to begin our next IVF cycle. You have to stop breastfeeding in order to do IVF because your menstrual cycles need to return, and you can’t feed the milk to the baby because of all the synthetic hormones and drugs you have to take.
My goal was to be done pumping when he turned 9 months old, but we planned to go on vacation for a month so I needed to pump a little longer since I didn’t want to give him formula while we were traveling. This meant I was going to have to wean in a much shorter timeframe than I initially planned, and definitely wasn’t my preference. The total expedited process took me about 5 weeks of daily pumping, plus 3 weeks of additional random pumps. It looked something like this:
- 4 weeks to go from about 50 ounces per day down to about 30 ounces per day—while we were still on vacation, and pumping just enough to feed him everyday.
- Another 10 days to get down to what I thought/hoped would be my last pump.
- And then five more random pumps over the next 3 weeks to remove clogs and bumps, while still experiencing engorgement.
If you’re an over supplier, I wouldn’t recommend doing it this fast unless absolutely necessary; I was engorged into my armpit the whole time and had clogged ducts every day. The most challenging part of weaning is getting your body to stop producing milk. First you must downgrade your supply. But downgrading your supply is no easy task. I’ve put together a guide that I hope can be useful to other women, and for my future self when I need to wean again.
START BY DECREASING TOTAL OUNCES PER DAY RATHER THAN PUMP SESSIONS
My method for pumping (found on my previous post) focuses on how to increase your milk supply for the purpose of building a freezer stash. So my method for weaning also focuses on total ounces pumped per day, rather than on total sessions or duration per day. Let me explain… once my supply was established, my goal was to pump 50 ounces per day regardless of how many pump sessions it took. During the first couple months of pumping, I pumped 8-10 times per day. After that I was able to decrease my pumping sessions to 4-7, and sometimes even as little as 3.
My point is that trying to wean by decreasing pump sessions is not effective at downgrading supply; the only way to truly ensure you’re actually downgrading your supply is by tracking ounces, and decreasing by total daily pumped ounces. To further prove my point, you may think you’re pumping less milk because you’ve gone from 8 sessions a day down to 4—hypothetically, you should be pumping half the amount, right? But it’s still possible you’re making the same amount as when you were pumping 8 times a day.
Focusing solely on total ounces makes it easier for you to track your actual progress on weaning. Ideally, if I didn’t have to wean so quickly, I would have wanted to decrease my total by 5 ounces per day each week, until around 30 ounces daily, at which point I would have continued to decrease by 5 ounces in two week intervals. Which would mean it should have taken me a minimum of 15 weeks to wean properly. So it would look like this:
- Week 1: 50 oz down to 45 oz daily
- Week 2: 40 oz daily
- Week 3: 35 oz daily
- Week 4: 30 oz daily
- Week 5-6: 25 oz daily
- Week 7-8: 20 oz daily
- Week 9-10: 15 oz daily
- Week 11-12: 10 oz daily
- Week 13-14: 5 oz daily
- Week 15: decrease 1 oz per day for the last week, and pump small amounts as needed after.
Weaning in a reasonable timeframe is important not only for comfort, but also to lessen the effects of the shift in hormones. I did experience some post weaning blues for several weeks after I stopped pumping. I wouldn’t call it depression, but I definitely felt down and not like myself. This is to be expected due to the shift in hormones, but I’m sure mine could have been mitigated or avoided altogether had I weaned in a more reasonable timeframe.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PUMPING SESSIONS
Logging your pumping sessions lets you know where you’re currently at, and allows you to keep track of your progress in downgrading your supply.
The app I used is called ‘Pump Log’ and it keeps track of everything—the two most important things being ounces pumped per day and total sessions/minutes per day (although I found sessions/minutes per day not as relevant as total ounces pumped).
WEAR AN APPROPRIATE BRA
If you have suffered from clogged ducts or mastitis, wear a loose fitting bralette. I got clogged ducts frequently during the 9.5 months I breastfed/pumped and had mastitis twice early on; these can be extremely painful and may not be prevented, but you can definitely lessen the chance of them occurring by making sure you wear the right kind of bra.
Obviously, if you get clogged ducts then you’re probably already wearing a proper bra, but when you’re weaning it becomes even more important because you may become engorged and the last thing you want is a bra that constricts you. Most days I wouldn’t wear anything. I’ve read some websites that advise women to wear tight bras or even bind their breasts when trying to wean. This is horrible advice and I would not recommend it. Binding the breast does not prevent it from producing milk. Really the only time I would get clogged ducts was when I was wearing a bra, and I only ever wore loose sports bras or bralettes.
SUBSTITUTE YOUR ELECTRIC PUMP FOR A MANUAL HAND PUMP
A manual hand pump can be a great tool when trying to wean! You can use it two ways. Either start by substituting it instead of your electric pump for some of your daily pump sessions, and slowly drop remaining electric pump sessions over time. Or switch exclusively to a hand pump and only use the electric pump if you have a clogged duct. I found this to be very effective because the manual pump was not as efficient at emptying the breast. Maintaining an ample supply is dependent on adequate emptying because an empty breast will produce more milk and faster, than a breast with milk left in it. When you leave milk in the breast (especially after you have been consistently emptying) it signals your body that it doesn’t need to make as much as fast, so it slows down the production.
SPACE OUT YOUR PUMP SESSIONS
If you’re trying to wean faster, space your pumping sessions farther apart and only pump enough to relieve pressure. When I was only using the manual pump, I would pump just enough to relieve the engorgement and only used my electric pump to remove any clog. I basically pumped about half of what I normally would in that same time period. The last 10 days were the hardest and most painful because I aggressively decreased the amount I pumped (from 30 ounces daily down to 3 ounces) and left the breast mostly full, removing just enough to help with, but not fully relieve the pressure.
Even after those last 10 days, and what I thought was my last pump, I still experienced engorgement and hard lumps for the next two weeks and a couple small clogs during one more week after that. Spacing out your pump sessions (sometimes even by days) is key, especially in the end when you’re down to pumping a couple ounces a day.
I’m a huge supporter of lactation consultants, and always recommend hiring one. They are an incredible resource during your breastfeeding/pumping journey and can also help you during the weaning process.