Tips for Exclusively Pumping Moms

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**I am not a doctor or a certified lactation consultant. This post is based solely on my experience.**

What is exclusively pumping?

Exclusively pumping is simply that; you do not breastfeed your baby, but express your milk from a pump and give it to them via a bottle.

Your baby will still be getting the nutrients of breast milk but through a bottle instead of straight from the breast.

Is it possible to exclusively pump?

While exclusively pumping may not have been my first choice, it is entirely possible to exclusively pump for the first year instead of breastfeeding.

There will be days where it will be mind over matter, but exclusively pumping is possible and done all the time.

How long can I pump breast milk exclusively?

I know of several women who made it 3-6 months exclusively pumping and even some who made it an entire year or more exclusively pumping.

I was personally able to exclusively pump for 7 months.

How long you pump for is strictly up to you and your supply.

Exclusively pumping is not for the faint of heart.

When should you start pumping?

In my situation, I started pumping the next day because my baby was in the NICU, and I was not allowed out of bed for 24 hours after my c-section because I was on magnesium due to pre-eclampsia.

If you want to exclusively pump and not breastfeed at all, you will need to start pumping right away in the recovery room.

If you are attempting to breastfeed first but your baby has a bad latch or a tongue tie or anything else that isn’t working, pick a breastfeeding session or two and pump during those sessions.  Let your breasts get used to the pump.  It will also give you a chance to see what works for you and what doesn’t during this time.  If it were me, I would pick two sessions during one of the nighttime feeds.

However, if any of the above are true, you might want to consider pumping after you attempt to breastfeed to ensure your are emptying your breasts.

These suggestions are for if you still want to attempt to breastfeed, but you are considering exclusively pumping if it doesn’t work out.

When will your supply come in?

In the beginning, you are pumping what is called colostrum. It is very thick and hard to pump.  You will think you have no supply, but surprise, your supply hasn’t come in yet.

I didn’t know this before giving birth, but it takes a few days for your milk to come in.  It isn’t this instantaneous thing.

It is likely your supply will come in 3-7 days after you start pumping or breastfeeding.

What if you still want to nurse or try to nurse?

You can absolutely still nurse or try to nurse while pumping!

I didn’t attempt to start nursing my daughter until almost a week after she was born.  That is when her nurses felt comfortable.  She would get super tired just drinking from a bottle, and breastfeeding is a lot more work especially for tiny babies.

I pumped, bottle fed, and attempted to nurse at every daytime feeding session for 6-8 weeks.  My daughter had an amazing latch and suckle, but food just wasn’t her thing early on, and she would never be able to exclusively breastfeed.

I really don’t recommend this. In my opinion, you should pick one method or the other unless you are VERY good at handling stressful situations. It just becomes a lot to juggle.

Side note: My milk on its own was not enough to satisfy my daughter, so from the beginning, she was getting a small amount of preemie formula mixed with breast milk.  We tried breastfeeding exclusively and just breast milk in her bottle, and she started to become very lethargic because she wasn’t getting enough calories. ☹

In the end the choice was made for me. 

Exclusively Pumping Schedule

In the hospital, it was recommended for me to pump every 3 hours for no more than 15 minutes.

Oh, how I wish I could have a do over.

Pumping every 3 hours for 24 hours is pumping 8 times a day including at night.  If you choose to pump every 2 hours, you will be pumping 12 times a day including overnight.  This is the amount of pumping sessions you will have in the first few weeks.

You will need to pump at the minimum 15 minutes, and the maximum recommended is 20 minutes. However, as the months went on, I was pumping much longer than 20 minutes. (A sign I probably should have stopped pumping sooner than I did.)

I would pump whenever my baby would eat, so we would be on the same schedule. If I were to do this again, I would have my pumping schedule alternating my baby’s eating schedule in hopes I could enjoy the time with my baby and not be stressed out.

Pump until you feel empty

Between pumping and attempting to breastfeed, I ended up with an over supply and started to not feel empty after pumping for 15-20 minutes.  It was awful, but I listened to professionals instead of my gut, and I didn’t pump more than 20 minutes in the beginning even though I needed to and should have.

I want to emphasize that is it VERY important that you empty your breasts.  If milk is left, your body will stop producing as much because it thinks you don’t need as much, and you will have to work harder to bring it back.

Do the best you can to stick to your schedule whether it is every 2 hours or every 3 hours especially in the beginning.  You are trying to build your supply, and once it is completely established, you will be able to go longer between pumping sessions.  It is typical for this to happen around 12 weeks.

Sample pumping schedule:

For every 3 hours: 5:00am, 8:00am, 11:00am, 2:00pm, 5:00pm, 8:00pm, 11:00pm, 2:00am

This was my pumping schedule until Baby G started dropping her feeding sessions. When she dropped a feed, I dropped a pumping session.

For every 3 hours: 12:00am, 3:00am, 6:00am, 9:00am, 12:00pm, 3:00pm, 6:00pm, 9:00pm

For every 2 hours: 5:00am, 7:00am, 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm, 9:00pm, 11:00pm, 1:00am, 3:00am

You are an absolute rockstar if you can maintain exclusively pumping every 2 hours. Just writing out the schedule makes me exhausted.

The times are just examples. You do what works best for you as long as you are pumping every 2-3 hours to build and maintain your supply.

How can you stick to your pumping schedule and still have a life?

I will be honest with you. It is very hard, at first.  Once your supply is established, it does get easier.  But I did miss out on things during the weekend because I was pumping.  That is when you have to decide what is more important.

Also, buying an inverter for your pump will help because then you can pump anywhere at any time.  The inverter worked for my Medela pump, but if you prefer here is the car adapter for the Medela Pump In Style Advanced.

I did A LOT of pumping in the car.

Cleaning Pump Parts

There are a few hacks out there for cleaning your pump parts.

First, I recommend having at least 2 sets of everything.  I used the Medela Pump In Style Advanced.  With this pump, it is recommended to change the membranes every 6 weeks minimum (the white pieces).  I can’t say this really helped much as far as flow or supply.

**make sure you are using the right size flanges for your breast size.  This will make a difference.

The one hack for cleaning pump parts

The one hack I saw a lot is immediately after pumping put all of the pieces into a freezer/gallon bag and put it right into the fridge.  Doing this you will not have to clean them until the end of the day.  Which saves you time and sanity because you will only need to clean them once a day.

This was not my favorite way to “clean” my pump parts.

I started with cleaning each set every time I used them.  This gets exhausting, and I don’t recommend it.

Since I had two sets of pump parts, I would keep the one I just used in a bowl of soapy water and let them soak while the set that was in there before dried.  This method made me feel a lot better.

I would then hand clean both sets at night and let them dry overnight.

With that said, you might want to get a drying rack or a drying mat for your pump parts.

Exclusively pumping and your milk supply

Your milk supply should be pretty steady once you hit 12 weeks. However, there is still a possibility of it dipping as your period starts to make a comeback.

I didn’t get my period again until I officially stopped pumping, but there were signs it was coming.  At the same time each month prior to starting my period again, I would have a dip in my supply and pump significantly less milk.

I had reached a point where I was barely keeping up with the demand, so I had to go into my freezer stash when this would happen.

Exclusively pumping tips to help with your milk supply

Reduce stress

It is really easy to stress when you are pumping because you can see how much milk you are expressing and you know how much your baby needs. When you think it isn’t enough, you begin to stress and get down on yourself. Do whatever you need to do to reduce the amount of stress.

Try meditating before you pump, if possible.  Give yourself a pep-talk.  Do some diaphragmatic breathing before you pump.  If at all possible, have your pumping station away from the chaos of the day.  Look at pictures and videos of your baby before and during pumping.

Watch tv or do some work while you pump; it will help take your mind off pumping.

I am pretty certain stress is what did in my supply.

I had one week where I pumped what I needed and a bit more.  We were at the beach where there were plenty of people to help care for Baby G while I pumped, and I could just focus on that.

Also, early on, I could barely get anything out while my daughter was still in the NICU.  The lactation consultant suggested putting a blanket over my chest and to focus on something else while I pumped.  It worked wonders.

Have a “calming routine” before you pump that gets you in the right mindset.

Stress is a powerful thing that can consume you.  Find ways that work for you to better cope with your stress.

Get a hands free pumping bra!

This too will help with stress.  And, make sure you have a double pump.

Drink lots of water!!

There isn’t much else to say when it comes to this. Carry around a refillable bottle and drink water whenever possible.  Ultimately make sure you are staying hydrated.

Do NOT turn your pump settings all the way up!

This will hurt your supply, and it will give you some very cracked and sore nipples.  I actually had my pump on the lowest setting I could.  Play around with it, but no matter what, the pump doesn’t need to be cranked up all the way.  I used Bamboobies nipple cream for my cracked nipples.

Fennel essential oil

I really think this helped my supply a lot.  Or, it simply could be the whole I believe it will work so it did. Either way, I would use fennel oil again. Fennel oil is a milder oil, so I did apply it neat to my breasts but not the nipple.

Mother’s Milk Tea

I tried using this tea. It was very hard to get down as it did not taste very good.  Possibly with the tea and the next things I will discuss consistency will pay off because I didn’t really see huge results with this.  Because of the taste, I certainly wasn’t drinking it daily.  The box actually says to enjoy 3-5 cups daily.  I did good to stomach one, but it does say to steep one bag at a time; I would steep two bags each time.  Again, it can’t hurt anything, so it is certainly worth trying.

Fenugreek

I did not try this one at all.  It was recommended by my lactation consultant and another friend.  It is also recommended all over the internet by other nursing and/or pumping moms.

Oatmeal

This was another suggestion I read about everywhere.  Again, consistency is key, and I couldn’t stomach oatmeal.  I prefer grits, so oatmeal just wasn’t for me.  Still anything is worth trying consistently to see if it works.

Beer or brewer’s yeast

Because you are pumping, you can time out how much you drink.  I would have one beer as soon as I was done pumping, so that it would be ok for the next session.  I do think the beer helped my supply or just simply helped me relax.  Either way, I felt it was helpful in some capacity.

Eat a balanced diet

Eating a well-balanced diet and the proper number of calories will also help your supply tremendously.  You will be hungry all the time.  Load your pumping station up with nutritious snacks.

Power pumping

Power pumping tricks your body into thinking it needs to produce more milk.  This never worked for me; again, I blame consistency or lack thereof.  Power pumping is like when your baby cluster feeds during breastfeeding. You pump for 20 minutes, then off for 10, on for 10, off for 10, and on for 10 for a total of 1 hour.  You really need to have time to power pump regularly.  This sequence should signal to your body that there is a big demand, and it needs to produce more milk.

If you are getting no letdown when pumping

There are a couple of things I did for this.

Before my daughter really started moving, she would still latch from time-to-time. So, I would have her suckle until I would get a letdown then attach my pump.  This helped A LOT early on.

Another way you can encourage a letdown, is by putting a heating pad or warm corn pillow to your chest prior to pumping or during pumping.  I did both.

I have a corn pillow a student made me, and I would also put the flanges on the warm corn pillow, so they would be warm too.

Exclusively pumping benefits

The main benefit is that you are still giving your baby breast milk even though you are not physically breastfeeding them.

With that said, if after a month or two you say you are done, that is OK! You have to do what is right for you and your baby.  It doesn’t work for your baby if it doesn’t work for you too.

As I said before, I ended up with an oversupply, so I used this to make a freezer stash.  I would look at my output for the day, and pull out what would be considered excess for the day and put it into the freezer.

Try to put as much as you can in the freezer early on. I did this as often as I could, but once my baby started needing more than 4 ounces of milk per bottle, I had a hard time keeping up.

I was able to pump for 7 months.  It was sad and relieving to not have to pump anymore.  It was also very strange to not have to plan everything around my pump schedule and go about our lives.

Weaning from the pump

You have somewhat done this naturally already because when your baby dropped a nighttime feeding session, I assume you dropped a nighttime pumping session as well so you could get some sleep.

At 6-7 months in, I was still pumping 5-6 times a day. I was never able to get down to 4 times a day.

With weaning, you drop one pump session at a time.

At this point, I was pumping at 6:30am, 9:30-10:00am, 1:00-2:00pm, 5:00pm, 8:00pm, and 11:00pm.

I started by dropping the 11:00pm pump first. I went with my new schedule for about a week to a week and a half.  Your boobs will tell you when it is ok to drop the next pump session.  I dropped one pump session every week for the next month or so until there were no more pump sessions to drop.

Helpful Resources

Kelly Mom is a great resource. I used this website constantly. Even some of the breastfeeding tips can be helpful for exclusive pumpers.

Exclusive Pumping is an entire site dedicated to exclusively pumping.

What was your exclusively pumping experience like; let me know in the comments below?


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