If you are considering exclusive pumping your breastmilk or are struggling with breastfeeding and looking for help, first of all, I want you to know that breastfeeding isn’t always easy.
Sure, it looks easy when you see moms happily latch their babies in a Starbucks while continuing their chitchat. It seems like it should be easy, after all, it is natural, right?
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The truth is, breastfeeding is often not very easy at all. Whether you have troubles with supply or your baby’s latch, sometimes it can feel like it just isn’t working.
If you want to breastfeed your baby and it’s proving more difficult than you thought, it can be a very emotionally tough time. The combination of your postpartum hormones, exhaustion and frustration can be overwhelming and let’s not talk about the “guilt” (real or otherwise) that says that breast is best.
Formula, of course, is a perfectly good option if you either don’t want or cannot breastfeed but if you do want to give your baby breastmilk and the “traditional” way is not working for you as you had hoped, exclusive pumping may be an option.
What about moms who want to nurse and pump?
If you are looking for tips on how to add pumping to breastfeeding or are wondering when to pump when exclusively breastfeeding, here are some great breastfeeding tips.
Pumping when nursing a baby is completely different because of a few things:
- Unlike exclusive pumpers, you don’t want to create an oversupply of milk. This is really important when your maternity leave ends because oversupply and pumping for work often go hand in hand for nursing moms.
- You need to make sure your baby has had enough milk BEFORE you pump which can make it hard to build up a breast milk freezer stash.
- You normally won’t need to power pump unless you have a low supply issue, your baby should take care of power nursing while breastfeeding during cluster feeds.
All that said, the tips below will definitely help if you need to increase your milk supply or want to switch to exclusively pumping later on.
What is Exclusive Pumping?
Support groups like to call it “breastfeeding without nursing” which I think is a great term. In a nutshell, you will be pumping breast milk instead of nursing your baby directly. Once you have the milk pumped, you (or anyone!) can feed your baby the bottle of milk.
Why Choose To Exclusive Pump?
There are so many reasons why a woman would choose exclusively pumping their breastmilk over nursing:
- Baby has trouble latching
- Flat nipples
- Breast surgery makes nursing uncomfortable
- Unresolved tongue or lip tie
- Work schedules mean a lot of time away from baby
- Mom is not available to feed the baby but would still like baby to get breastmilk (due to illness, custody orders)
- Personal choice – some women simply prefer to bottle feed their baby but would like them to have breastmilk.
Are there any advantages to exclusive pumping?
I’m not going to lie to you and say exclusive pumping is really easy but if you really want to breastfeed your baby and nursing is not an option, I think you should give it a try.
I ended up exclusively pumping my daughter for 6 months and it was completely worth it to me (I nursed my other daughter for 18 months and never pumped so things can be different with each child).
Some of the good things about exclusively pumping:
- You can see exactly how much milk your baby is drinking
- Other people can feed the baby -as long as you have enough pumped milk, you can leave the baby for an afternoon or overnight without worrying
- Flexibility to pump on the go (I pumped while driving many times).
- Your baby is getting breastmilk instead of formula if that is important to you
- “Alone time” while you pump. Sometimes as new mom you can get very “touched out” so pumping can be a nice break alone.
What are the downsides to exclusive pumping?
The biggest downside for me was that it is very important to work on building a large milk supply when exclusively pumping. It is very easy to get obsessive about how many ounces you are getting.
Other things I didn’t like:
- Bulky pumping equipment that needs to be hand washed
- Unlike nursing, pumping in public is not very convenient or easy.
- Time-consuming – my first pump of the day took at least 45 minutes
- To keep up your milk supply you need to pump in the middle of the night, even once baby sleeps through.
Exclusive pumping can also be really hard when you first start, so you may feel like you need to take a course to help you get it right. Here is a list of breastfeeding and pumping classes that are completely online.
25 Tips for Exclusive Pumping Success
The tips below are meant for moms who are planning on exclusive pumping but they are actually great moms who want to add pumping to a breastfeeding schedule too. Many women plan on pumping for work so building a freezer stash and choosing a pump are critical.
Get the Right Gear For Exclusive Pumping
1. You need a quality, double electric breast pump. You need a pump that can stand up to multiple hours of pumping every day for months on end. Don’t cheap out on this as a good pump can help boost your supply and efficiency at the pump. (meaning less time pumping for more milk).
Top Breast Pump Options For Exclusive Pumpers
2. Check with your insurer as you can normally get a breast pump for free with a doctors note.
3. Get a Hands-Free Pumping Bra, that way you can get on with jobs around the house while you pump. You can also cut holes in an old sports bra to make a pumping bra.
4. Look for a pump that suits your lifestyle. You will have to lug your pump everywhere, along with cooler packs and empty bottles.
If you have a battery operated pump like the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump, you are good to go.
Pumping in the car was my favorite thing to do as it was the only time my toddler couldn’t bug me and try and press the pump on/off switch.
5. Have a backup pump. Missing even one pump is not an option for an exclusive pumper. You need to pump often to keep your supply up. I recommend having a cheap Manual Breast Pump on hand for emergencies.
6. Get a Nursing Cover. It will allow you to pump outside of the house which will likely be necessary when you are exclusively pumping. Pumping in public requires some creativity. Places I pumped: Going through the McDonald’s drive-thru, in the shower stall at the gym and on the beach.
7. Get a breast pumping app like Pump Log. It will help you work out how much milk you need to make it to a certain date in the future and also see how much your baby is drinking each day.
It actually became a bit fun to calculate how much I needed to get to a certain date or to compare different pumping sessions and work out which was the best and which ones I could drop.
8. Stock up on spare Breast Milk Collection Bottles and pump parts. Washing them constantly will really wear on your after a while. I hand washed everything until my daughter was 6 months then I started to use the dishwasher sanitize cycle.
9. Coconut oil should be on your list of postpartum supplies. A dab on your nipples will make pumping much easier which in turn will help your supply.
How Often Should You Pump Breast Milk When Exclusively Pumping?
10. In order to build up your supply, aim to pump 8 -10 times a day for the first 3 months. Pump until you are empty then go a few more minutes. Sometimes changing the level of your pump can encourage a second let-down.
11. If your supply starts to drop, add in a pump or two for a few days. It is the pumping equivalent of a baby going through a growth spurt and signals to your body to make more milk.
12. Your body produces the most milk between 2am-5am. Always try and get a pump in there for optimal supply, even when your baby starts sleeping through the night. (I told you it wasn’t easy).
13. While most nursing moms don’t want to create an oversupply of breast milk exclusive pumping mamas usually try to establish an oversupply as early as possible.
Why would you want an oversupply of breastmilk? It will allow you to build up a freezer stash and quit exclusive pumping much earlier. .
14. The first three months are when you should really work to increase your milk supply. After your hormones settle down about 3 months postpartum, it’s much harder to manipulate your natural supply.
15. Once you pass the 3-month mark, you can experiment with cutting pumps. Many women find that they can drop to 4-5 pumps a day with no decrease in output once supply is established at around 4 months.
16. The middle of the night pump and the morning one are normally the last ones that you can drop – sorry!
Tips For Building Your Milk Supply When Exclusively Pumping
If you want to try some natural ways to increase your milk supply, make sure to check out this list of 21 Milk Boosting Smoothies For Breastfeeding Moms.
17. Some women find they get a second let-down around the 25-minute mark of pumping, just as they are about to turn the pump off. Play around with your pump settings to see what works for you.
20. I always tried to drink a cup or two of this tea each day which contains tons of great herbs to increase your milk.
21. Eat lots of foods that can help increase your milk supply quickly. One idea is to drink lactation smoothies that contain breastfeeding superfoods such as:
- Brewers Yeast (add it to lactation cookies as it tastes gross otherwise).
- Popcorn (!?!)
- Lots and lots of water
22. To help maintain your supply or boost it if you notice a decrease, add a power pump for a few days.
Power pumping just means pumping until you are empty, taking a short rest then pumping again. Repeat the cycle a few times. This signals to your body that it needs to produce more milk, just like when a baby cluster feeds at night.
How to Make Exclusive Pumping Easier
23. Join this Facebook support group. They are strict and you need to apply to get in but if you are serious about exclusive pumping, you need these ladies.
24. You will feel emotional when you see someone nursing their baby or talking about it. It took me a good 4 months to really come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to work for us. It’s normal and you are doing the next best thing you can for your baby.
25. Make sure you have exhausted all avenues of nursing if that’s what you really want to do. Once your baby is used to the bottle exclusively, it is much harder to get them back on the breast
When To Pump When Exclusive Pumping
Sample Pumping Schedules
Bear in mind that everyone’s body reacts differently to the pump and you may not be able to drop pumps if you find your output suffers too much.
If you need to increase your supply or find it dropping, add in pumps or pump for longer to signal to your body to make more milk.
Breast Pumping Schedule for the first 3 months
This schedule is a good start for the first 3 months. Once your supply is established, you can gradually drop pumps and (hopefully) work your way down to just 3-4 pumps a day without losing too much of your output.
6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm (potentially a power pump), 9pm, 12am, 3am
- The 3 am and 6 am pumps should be your biggest in terms of output.
- The 6 am pump could last up to an hour.
- Pump each side until empty.
- Expect to be pumping for 15-20 for the rest of the pumps throughout the day. Switch the level/press the letdown button if you are not getting enough milk flowing.
- Add in a power pump once or twice a week.
- You want to be pumping every 2-3 hours. The clock starts when the pump begins, not ends so if you pump from 6 pm -7 pm with a power pump, you will still start the next pump at 9 pm.
Pumping schedule for 3 months onwards
This is where pumping becomes a lot more flexible and you can experiment with dropping pumps.
Remember that you will still need to pump for the same amount of time so instead of pumping for 3 hours spread over 8 pumps of 20 minutes, you will be pumping for at least an hour at a time for a few times a day.
6am, 10am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm (power pump), 10pm, (3am)
You can try dropping the 3 am pump once your baby is sleeping through the night but be warned that you might notice a significant drop in output. Once I dropped the overnight pump, I lost at least 10oz which I could not get back. I would very gradually drop that pump until you are sure you are making enough throughout the day.
Once I dropped the overnight pump, I lost at least 10oz which I could not get back. I would ease that pump earlier to 4 or 5 am and push everything back an hour until you are sure you are making enough throughout the day to completely drop it.
When you want to start dropping pumps around the 6-month mark, start dropping the pumps where you get the least milk (typically afternoon or early evening).
A schedule with 4 pumps per 24 hours might look like this:
6 am, 10 am, 3 pm, 10 pm
Each pump would be around 30 minutes, except for the longer 6 am pump.
If you want to try dropping to 3 pumps a day, you could try:
6 am, 11 am, 9 pm
I wouldn’t try dropping to 3 pumps until your baby is a lot older, closer to 11 months as you could lose a lot more supply than you want and it will be very hard to gain it back.
Some exclusive pumpers are able to go to 2 pumps a day and maintain their supply but many find that they no longer produce as much milk as the decreased pumps signal to their body that weaning has begun.
I would proceed with caution if you want to drop beyond 3 pumps and maintain your supply.
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