As my daughter is about to turn a year old, I have been slowly ending my exclusively pumping journey and consequently have spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience. There were many happy moments but also a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (literally). I spent a lot of time considering ending my exclusively pumping journey.
When my daughter was born, she was not taking in enough milk while breastfeeding. She was born full term with no medical issues; however she was not able to extract an adequate amount of milk. I was physically exhausted because I was breastfeeding and pumping to both feed my baby and keep my supply up. I was mentally exhausted because I was constantly worrying about if my baby was getting enough milk or if I was making enough milk.
It was around this time that I decided that I was going to exclusively pump. I took this decision very hard because I felt like I wasn’t truly breastfeeding if I was exclusively pumping. My husband was extremely supportive; however he did not understand what I was going through. Luckily, I found a ton of information and support in a Facebook group dedicated to exclusively pumping.
Even with that community of women I found myself obsessively googling “When can I stop pumping?”, “Will my baby be ok with just formula?”, and “How to transition a baby to formula?” between months one and five postpartum.
Somewhere between month five and six, I got used to pumping and became less fixated on when I could stop pumping. My plan was to stop pumping at six months; however when I reached that time pumping was my routine and my habit. So, I continued to pump.
When is it ok to stop exclusively pumping?
As I said, I spent quite a bit of time googling when it was ok to stop exclusively pumping. The strange part is that I always seemed to read posts that had the answer. Some posts said 6 months or one year or two years. Why did no one say that you could stop pumping/breastfeeding at any time?
While I am truly grateful that I continued to pump for a year, I wish I had read something that said that it was ok to stop exclusively pumping at any time. Many posts tried to guilt moms into continuing to breastfeed/pump. Depending on your situation, it could be a good idea and perfectly ok to stop pumping at any time.
Here are a few reasons that it could be a good time to stop exclusively pumping:
It is affecting you mentally.
Exclusively Pumping takes a mental toll out of every mother. It is a huge investment of time and energy that you could be spending doing other things. For example, many mothers deal with the effects of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety. For those mothers, it may be a wise decision to turn their focus to their mental health. Regardless of if you have depression or anxiety, if that investment is affecting your mental health and happiness then it could be a good idea to stop exclusively pumping.
You can’t keep up physically.
Any form of breastfeeding, takes a very large nutritional commitment. Any breastfeeding mother knows that if you do not keep up with the calorie intake and fluid intake then your supply will likely decrease. During the height of my breastfeeding days, I found that I was constantly starving and needed to always have a snack beside me. This continued to be true even when I went back to work after maternity leave. It was quite comical to be known in the office as the one to constantly have a stockpile of snacks and goodies. However, if you cannot keep up with the nutritional demands of breastfeeding it may be a good idea to stop exclusively pumping.
Your lifestyle does not support it.
Exclusively pumping can create a huge change in your lifestyle. In the first three months of exclusively pumping, I pumped every 2 hours around the clock. I was very luckily that my workplace was very supportive and accommodating when I went back to work. At four months postpartum I was taking my laptop to the Mother’s Room 2-3 times during my workday to work while I pumped. If there is no way for you to work pumping into your lifestyle or if it is too hard then it may be a good idea to stop exclusively pumping.
You are ready to stop.
It is also perfectly ok to stop exclusively pumping because you are just ready to stop. Even if none of the reasons above are true for you, you can stop exclusively pumping at any time and your baby will be just fine. The best advice that has ever been given to me is “Do not quit on a bad day.” There were days on my pumping journey that everything went wrong; my supply dropped or I spilled a bottle of milk and I thought the world was ending. I am incredibly grateful that I did not give up on those days. If you feel that it is time to quit and it is not a random awful day then it is ok to quit.
Exclusively pumping is the hardest commitment and the hardest journey that I have ever taken. It is a journey that no one truly understands unless they have taken it themselves. It is also a journey that is completely different for everyone, which means that it will also end at different times for everyone.
Reflecting back on it, I am so thankful that I was able to stick with exclusively pumping as long as I did. I am lucky that I quit when I was ready and when I wanted to.