Note: I realize that this topic – switching from exclusively pumping to formula feeding – is something that probably interests or applies to a very small percentage of readers. While there is information about this online, I found very few personal, detailed accounts. Exclusive pumpers are a small group, and exclusive pumpers who decide to wean early with a complete supply are even rarer. I wanted to write about my experience so other women going through this transition can find support and information – not just from me, but hopefully in the comments section, too.
For an explanation of how I reached this decision after 8 months of breastfeeding/exclusively pumping, check out this post.
The Plan: When I decided to stop pumping, I wanted the physical process to be over. Many people suggested dropping a pump every week for five weeks, but once I decided to do it, I wanted to do it as quickly as safely possible. Also, I am going to be traveling a lot for work in the next few weeks and would rather not be pumping in airports.
My mother stopped breastfeeding me when I was three weeks old; she did it by stopping cold turkey. The idea of just stopping makes my toes curl. It would be so painful, and I know it puts you at risk for mastitis. So that was never an option for me.
On the first day of stopping, I pumped my usual number of times (five) but stopped right before I was completely empty. I counted how many ounces I pumped each time and created a chart in my phone. I planned to never pump more than that number of ounces for that specific pump moving forward.
On the second day, I reduced my total number of ounces by four, pumped the same reduced amount on the third day, pumped seven less overall on the fourth day, and pumped ten less on the fifth day. The first four days were the worst. Actually, it was horrible. It gave me flashbacks of after-birth engorgement. I was full of knots, swollen, leaking, and in pain (I really cannot imagine stopping cold turkey). On the fifth day, however, things kind of began to level out, and I could tell that I was really producing less milk.
Also, on the fourth day, I started to spread the pumps out so I could drop a pump. I dropped my mid-afternoon pump first. Today is the sixth day of stopping, and I hope to only do three pumps total, dropping the mid-morning pump. I think I will be completely done in another week or so.
Extras: There are loads of ‘tricks’ to help reduce supply. I have been avoiding hot showers and trying not to direct the spray directly on my chest. The research on cabbage leaf compresses is minimal, but anecdotal reports insist it helps reduce supply. I tried it during the first few days, and it seemed to work (at the very least, the cold was soothing). I did feel really silly with cabbage stuffed into my bra. I have been wearing a firm sports bra but not binding my breasts (again, you can get mastitis). When my engorgement was really bad, I took Sudafed to help reduce my supply; the drug is considered moderately safe for the breastfed baby, so I felt okay taking it when truly necessary and just didn’t over do it.
I have also read that sage tea helps reduce supply; I ordered this tea off Amazon.com but my credit card got screwed up, and my order was canceled. I’d love to know what others think of sage tea.
Complications: Stopping has definitely interrupted my sleep. My breasts woke me up the first three nights (I was so miserable). Weaning has also interfered with my ability to exercise (not a big deal, but I’m just noting it). I only point these things out in case you’re planning to wean and are really busy at work or have a big race coming up – wean when you don’t have a lot going on because it’s going to suck up your entire life.
Emotions: Feeeeeelings. Everybody’s got feeeeelings. And mine are in full swing this week thanks to my hormones, which I’m sure are going crazysauce. Stopping breastfeeding is a horrible emotional rollercoaster. I was a miserable witch for the first three days because of the pain. I felt gross and disgusting (leaking milk everywhere does that to you). When my supply finally started to drop a bit, I felt better, but I still feel pretty sad.
The worst is the guilt. I thought I had fully come to turns with stopping (see this post) but now that I’m in the process of stopping, watching my supply tank, and occasionally offering formula, I feel so bad. The Mommy Guilt is strong, you know? I’m really trying hard to let it gooooo, but that is difficult. I feel guilty that he’s eating formula even though I logically know it’s perfectly okay, I feel guilty for ‘quitting,’ I feel REALLY guilty that I had a full supply and am stopping for ‘selfish reasons.’ And no matter how much I tell myself that he’s eight months old, formula is fine, I am not ‘quitting’ but choosing to stop, and it’s okay to transition to this new stage… I still feel bad. Just trying to keep it real and be honest. I wish I could say, “YAY I AM 100% COOL WITH THIS DECISION” but I’m not and I doubt I will ever be. That sucks.
Part of me knows that it’s not too late to turn back. I could get my supply up again (most likely) and keep pumping. I keep considering this over and over again. But then I remember all the reasons that I wanted to stop in the first place, and I falter. It was so hard to make this decision in the first place, and now that I’ve made it, it’s hard to go back on my choice. I guess it’s just hard all around.
I did have a big talk about weaning with some of my mommy friends yesterday at our meet-up. One of my friends choose to wean her son at eight months, too, and talking to her really helped (hearing from you guys helps a lot, too – thanks for the e-mails and comments). It’s good to have the support from my friends and family because my hormones are imploding right now, and it’s difficult to shore up my own sense of encouragement.
So. That’s my totally honest reporting on stopping. It’s been a trying week, but it is getting physically easier, and hopefully, when this is all over, I will be able to look back and feel okay with my choice. Fingers crossed.