How to Take An Insulin Pump Break

Even if you love managing your diabetes using an insulin pump there are good reasons to take a break from wearing it.

Mindy Bartleson on the beachThis photo of me on a beach in France expresses the joy—and freedom—I feel during my summer pump vacations.

At just nine years old, a true bond was formed—a bond stronger than the pump site and tubing delivering insulin into my body or even my love for mac and cheese. This bond was with my first insulin pump or as my dad liked to call it, a used car attached at the hip.

Within a few days of starting on my pump, I felt like I had my life back. You see when I was 7-years-old I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and at the time, diabetes management options were limited. Those were the days of multiple daily injections (MDI), NPH and regular insulin. This meant a strict schedule of eating a carefully-calculated amount of carbohydrates timed to certain times of day every single day. There was very little wiggle room—difficult for anyone but really hard for a little kid! 

When I started using my pump it was if the strict schedule became unnecessary overnight. From there, I've never looked back. The thought of doing multiple daily injections again just seemed like the worst punishment imaginable!

The Thunderstorm That Ruined Everything

Fast forward several years, I reconnected with a friend from diabetes camp who had moved away, and I learned what seemed unfathomable at the time...she told me she didn’t use her insulin pump in the summer. At all. For several months. She took a pump vacation each summer.

This option had never occurred to me and I couldn’t imagine any reason to go back to MDI. I also didn’t know anyone who went back and forth like that. In my mind, there were two types of people with type 1 diabetes—those who used an insulin pump or those who didn't. 

But I was curious...

I decided to take the plunge and went off my pump for one important evening—the night of my junior prom. I didn't want to worry about my dress or my pump site ripping out or people noticing my diabetes. It seemed like a good way to take my diabetes off center stage but it went horribly wrong...at least in the eyes of teenage me!

I had a vial of insulin and syringes neatly stored in my small, fancy clutch. My pediatric endocrinologist and I had planned the whole thing out and it was a relief to know I didn't have to worry about a pump site location or where to put my pump while wearing a bright orange dress.

 

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans...there was a terrible thunderstorm and being the clutz that I am, I dropped that pretty clutch in a puddle as I stepped out of the party bus to head into the prom. My supplies spilled out and to my complete embarrassment, my diabetes took center stage!

In spite of the prom disaster, the following summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I reconsidered the option and embarked on my first long-term pump break, or as I came to call it, my pump vacation

At that point, I'd been connected to an electronic device for about nine years straight but I couldn't help noticing people I knew who lives with diabetes succeeding without relying on an insulin pump. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing?

This time around, the experience was successful and I've taken a pump vacation almost every summer since them. 

Why Mess with a Good Thing?

You may be thinking if I love my insulin pump so much… why take an extended break from it?

There are a bunch of reasons...one is the weather. In the south where I'm from (Georgia), it’s hot and muggy. Outside in the sun, the insulin in my pump would overheat and that's not good.

Another is that part of the joy of summer is being outside but the heat and humidity caused me to sweat, a lot, and sweat makes pump sites fall off. Plus, the heat had me headed straight to the water for a swim which meant I needed to disconnect the pump. The trouble with that is I often got so involved in the summer fun that I'd forget to reconnect and my blood sugars would start rising!

Skimpy summer outfits were another problem...with more skin showing, it's more difficult to hide a pump and being a self-conscious teen—I couldn't help feeling that all eyes were on my diabetes. 

All these considerations lead me to time my pump break with summertime but over time, I've found other reasons to take pump vacations—It’s good for my mental health. If I’m suffering from diabetes burnout I find it helps to spice up my management.

What are my basal rates, correction factors, and carb ratios? On a pump, it’s easy to forget, but when I take a break, I reconnect with those numbers again. That's good for me and good for my diabetes management because it helps me feel prepared for an emergency.

Knowing how to deal with diabetes in the old-school MDI way is important in case my pump breaks or I'm out of supplies. 

Plus, pump sites cause scar tissue and a pump break gives my body some time to heal. 

Tips If You're Considering a Pump Break

  • Talk to your doctor before you make any changes to your diabetes management. You might also need to revisit how to deliver insulin using injections if it’s been a while.
  • Make sure you have the supplies and prescriptions you need. Keep in mind: you might end up taking a little more insulin
  • Write down all of your carb ratios, correction factors, and basal rates so you can refer to them while you’re on MDI.
  • Figure out how to track your data. Since you won't be attached to your pump it may be more difficult to track how many carbs you eaten, when your last correction occurred and how much insulin you administered. You can use pen and paper or find a diabetes app designed for that purpose. 
  • Pick a relaxed time to experiment with a pump break. A time when you don’t have something major going on because it can take your body time to adjust.

My insulin breaks teach me a lot about myself and my condition. 

Yes, I still LOVE my insulin pump, but I appreciate having a break from it too. I’m also glad to know I have diabetes management options, too. It's not just pump or no pump!
 

Updated on: April 11, 2019
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