Because Addie was intubated shortly after birth due to her breathing complications, I was not able to breastfeed. Before she was born, however, I knew she would be a NICU girl and that I would most likely need to pump. I purchased my Medela Pump In Style Advanced and all my supplies, and was ready. Once she was born, I religiously pumped every 3 hours as instructed by my lactation consultant. I ended up pumping for exactly 13 months and had no pain or discomfort and I wanted to share my tips for successfully weaning from exclusively pumping with you all so I could hopefully help another mom that is trying to do the same! I have to say, this may not work for everyone (in regards to having no pain/discomfort) as everybody is different. These are just the things that worked for me.
During my 13 months of exclusively pumping, I wrote about my breast pumping tips. It’s one of my most popular blog posts to date. It makes me so happy that I can help other moms with my tips, and if I can help someone with successfully weaning from exclusively pumping too, then I feel so happy! Exclusively pumping is not an easy task. It’s double, even triple the work, because you have to pump, feed, and wash tons of pump parts. It can be utterly exhausting. I remember crying to Mathew many nights telling him I wanted to stop. Then he would say, “Ok if you want to stop then you can” and I would tell him, “Are you crazy?! I can’t stop!” I think he was playing mind tricks on me, haha. He was always supportive, however, and would get up every night for me to grab my pump parts and water whenever I needed. Because of this, I ended up pushing through and kept on until Addie was over a year old.
Here are my tried and true tips for successfully weaning from exclusively pumping:
Pump every 2-3 hours as instructed by your lactation consultant. When Addie was first born I was told to pump every 2-3 hours. I didn’t have any problems with producing milk, so I decided to pump every 3 hours so I could recover from my c-section. I would wake up every 3 hours, pump for 20 minutes, and go right back to sleep. I’ll tell you- a pumping bra was a life saver during this time! It was exhausting for everyone in our house though, because Mathew and my mom would help me sit up, hand me my Medela pump parts, would store the milk for Addie, and then wash and sterilize my pump parts. I didn’t even know until a few weeks in that I could keep my pump parts in the fridge so I wouldn’t have to constantly wash them. It was a lifesaver. I did this until Addie was 12 weeks old. It’s important to do this because you will really want your body to recognize the need for supply.
Drop your nightly pumps after 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, you body will know your pumping schedule, and your baby should be sleeping through the night. At this point is when I decided to drop my nightly pumps. I was exhausted from Addie’s surgeries and traveling back and forth to the NICU. In order to keep myself in good mental and physical health, I needed rest. My freezer was getting so full of milk that we had to buy a deep freezer to keep all the milk storage bags! Because I was pumping so frequently, I initially dropped the first pump of the night, then after 2-3 days I dropped the middle of the night pumps, and after about a week I was able to drop my VERY early in the morning pump. Make sure you don’t drop all your nightly pumps altogether, but wean over the course of a week or two. You may feel engorged the first couple of days, which is why you’ll want to take it slow.
Space out your daily pumps to every 4-5 hours. Once Addie hit about 6 months old, I decided to space out my pumps even more. I had no intention of weaning from exclusively pumping until she was a year old, however, our demanding schedule of more surgeries, Addie being home for 6 days, and then heading right back into the PICU was a lot of stress. She was pretty sick when she first arrived to the PICU, and I felt like she required a lot more attention due to her breathing complications. Here is when I would pump when I woke up in the morning (8:3o am), again in the early afternoon (12:30 pm while eating lunch- this is where my hands free pumping bra came in handy), before dinner (5:30 pm), once before Addie’s evening bottle (8:30 pm), and then again right before bed (around 11:30 or midnight).
Space out your daily pumps to morning, afternoon, and night. At almost 10 months old, Addie came home from the PICU officially. We had multiple doctor appointments each week, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, too. Not to mention I felt like my door was constantly revolving with people needing to come see us due to her medical needs. Pumping all the time became more difficult because Addie was getting more active. I decided to drop a couple pumps throughout the day and only pump in the morning when I woke up, in the afternoon before Addie woke up from her nap, and then again in the evening right before bed. I did this for 2 months until Addie was a year old. Majority of children switch to cow’s milk at a year, so dropping pumps at this time is incredibly normal. At a year old, you’ll really want to talk to your child’s pediatrician about cow’s milk (or other alternatives), but it’s important to make sure your child weans over to their new type of milk instead of one drastic change. This will help any gut issues or discomfort that can occur for your baby during that time.
Drop to one pump a day. After Addie hit a year old, I kept weaning from exclusively pumping by dropping to one pump a day. I went from pumping 12-18 ounces a pump to 2 ounces. We weaned her off breast milk and onto the milk her pediatrician recommended by slowly introducing it. Once I knew she would almost fully be drinking her new milk, I went from pumping every other day to just completely stopping within about a week.
The last day I had successful weaning from exclusively pumping, Addie turned 13 months old. I was thrilled I had provided milk for her for so long, and truly believe that my breast milk attributed to her not catching any viruses while in the hospital. She never caught a cold, got the flu, or RSV and I believe my antibodies really aided in that. I won’t lie though, I was also really sad. I remember telling Mathew, “Maybe I should pump just one more time tonight.” I just didn’t want to give it up, even though I knew it was best for our crazy schedules, and because she needed the extra calories and nutrients from her new milk. I really feel accomplished though. I grew up as a kid having formula (which I believe there’s nothing wrong with) and that’s just what a lot of moms did in the 80s. Almost everyone I know was formula fed, so I didn’t have anyone other than a few new mom friends that were breast feeding. I am SO grateful to all my family and friends that were supportive of this during the 13 months we pumped. It wasn’t easy and there were many days I wanted to quit, but I’m so thankful to have had the support system that I did. Breast feeding is reverting back into being the “norm” and I’m so glad we got to do it as long as I did.