Exclusive pumping is a wonderful sacrifice to make for your baby, but it’s a huge undertaking. This guide has tip & tricks to help make your journey easier.
While most would prefer to breastfeed their baby straight from the tap, that isn’t an option for every mom—and that’s where exclusive pumping comes in.
Though it’s a wonderful sacrifice to make for your baby, it’s a huge undertaking. So if you’re about to embark on this journey, use this article as a guide. We’ll cover it all, including:
What Is Exclusive Pumping?
Exclusive pumping is when you provide breastmilk for your baby, but don’t do so through direct breastfeeding. Instead, you pump the milk your baby needs, and bottle feed at regular intervals.
Reasons for Exclusive Pumping
Most moms don’t make the decision to exclusively pump from the onset. Instead, this is a decision some moms make if breastfeeding isn’t successful.
Here are the most common reasons a mother chooses to exclusively pump:
- Preemies: Many preemies can breastfeed, but depending on their age and any medical conditions they face, breastfeeding may not be an option at first. For this reason, many mothers of preemies find themselves exclusively pumping.
- Latch issues: Some babies have trouble latching, and some never end up being able to (this is rare, but it does happen). Reasons for this may be anatomical differences in the baby (cleft palate, tongue tie, or lip tie) or in the mother (flat or inverted nipples). Other babies have muscle tone issues, sensory, breathing, or neurological issues that complicate latching.
- Multiples: Breastfeeding more than one baby is really hard! Many moms of twins find their groove with breastfeeding, but other moms find it too overwhelming and choose to exclusively pump for their babies instead.
- Mom’s health: Sometimes a mom has a health issue that makes direct breastfeeding difficult or impossible. For example, a mother may have a history of sexual abuse and find that breastfeeding triggers PTSD.
- Lack of maternity leave: Some moms have either a very short maternity leave or no maternity leave at all, and find the idea of exclusive pumping works better with their schedule. Other moms have jobs that require extensive and frequent overnights (for example, flight attendants or moms stationed in the military) and also find exclusive pumping simpler.
- Personal preference: A small percentage of moms know from the beginning that they want to provide breast milk for their babies, but they have no interest in nursing. Others try nursing and decide pumping is best for them.
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Exclusive Pumping Schedule: How to Exclusively Pump
If you have recently made the decision to exclusively pump or are considering it, you are probably wondering what your days as an exclusive pumper will look like.
In short, you need to pump on the same schedule as your baby eats. Here are some basic guidelines:
- Pump at least every 2 to 3 hours, or about 8 to 12 times each day for the first month. This includes at least one pumping session at night (don’t let more than 4-5 hours go by at night without pumping, as this could negatively affect your supply).
- Pump for at least 15 minutes on each side, or 20-25 minutes if you are double pumping. A good rule is to pump until nothing else is coming out, then take a 2-3 minute break, and pump a little more to see if you get an extra letdown.
Note: Beyond the first month, once your milk supply is fully established, you may be able to decrease pumping frequency and duration. Follow the guidelines below to determine approximately how much milk your baby needs.
How Much Milk Should I Be Producing When Exclusively Pumping?
Although most moms produce roughly the same amount of milk for their babies, all moms are different. Some moms have an oversupply, other moms have a more average yield, and some moms are never able to produce a full milk supply. Keep in mind, too, that not all moms respond favorably to a pump.
That said, there are some general guidelines about how much milk an exclusive breastfeeding baby will need to grow and stay healthy.
- First few days after the birth: You will only be able to pump and collect a small amount of colostrum. Usually hand expression is the best way to collect this.
- After the first few days, as your milk comes in: Expect about 2-3 ounces every 2-3 hours—the equivalent of about 24 ounces in a 24 hour period. (This doubles for twins, triples for triplets!).
- After the first month: Shoot for 3-4 ounces every 3-4 hours—the equivalent of about 24 to 32 ounces a day. This amount will remain fairly constant for the duration that your baby is exclusively breastfed—usually from about one month of age till 6 months or whenever you introduce solids.
- By six months: As your baby gets closer to six months, you can try to lengthen the time between pumping sessions to about every 4 to 6 hours. You still want to pump at least 24 ounces a day, if not more. (Note: This depends on how much solid food baby is on.) If your output decreases, you may have to tweak your exclusive pumping schedule.
- By 1 year: Once baby has been comfortably eating solids for a few months, you can begin to offer the solids before offering the breast. Because of this, baby will depend on solid food for nutrients, but lean on breast milk to fill in any nutritional gaps. This will look different for everyone, but most babies drink about 16 ounces of breast milk per day. By 24 months, this decreases further, with most babies drinking about 10 to 12 ounces of breast milk per day.
Exclusive Pumping Tips
Exclusive pumping is an all-encompassing and time-consuming task. It’s a 24-hour commitment! Pump, feed, clean, repeat… it can feel like feeding your baby is all you’re doing.
That’s why you need a good plan and some “tricks of the trade” to keep you afloat when the going gets tough:
- Get the right type of breast pump
- You’ll need a double-electric breast pump to make exclusive pumping work.
- If you are pumping for a preemie or newborn, consider renting a hospital grade pump, which can increase your output.
- Be sure your flanges fit properly.
- There should be some space around your nipples, so your nipples can move freely during pumping. Your flange may be too small if your nipple rubs against the sides of the flange while pumping. Your flange may be too big if a large portion of your areola is drawn into the flange while pumping.
- Make sure your partner is on board to help
- Set up a pumping station
- Once you’ve got your pump set up, you’re not going to want to get up and get extra supplies. Keep your pumping area fully stocked with clean pumping bra, all of your pumping equipment, snacks, drinks, and anything else you will need.
- Invest in a hands-free bra
- A hands-free bra allows you to secure the pumping flanges to the bra cups and have your hands free for everything else. Hands-free pumps are a game-changer for most exclusively pumping moms.
- Keep plenty of extra bottles, flanges, and any other accessories on hand
- You don’t want to run out of essentials in the middle of the night while you’re pumping. Keep a plentiful stock of all pump parts and milk storage items.
- Clean and replace parts regularly
- Valves and membranes should be replaced at least once per month if you are exclusively pumping. If you are pumping just a few times per day, consider replacing these parts every two months.
- If needed, get help
- Talk to a lactation consultant to help formulate a plan and tackle any issues you’re experiencing.
- Build a support system by joining La Leche League or finding online forums—it’s so important to have other mamas either nearby or online who understand what exclusively pumping entails, and all the struggles you face.
Most of All: Pat Yourself On the Back!
Besides the practical demands of exclusive pumping, one of the hardest parts is the guilt you might feel about not being able to breastfeed your baby. It’s natural to feel that way, but there is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. Feeding looks different for every mama and baby. You’re working your tail off to provide breast milk for you baby. That is an amazing and noteworthy accomplishment.
But don’t forget: If you feel overwhelmed, try to give yourself some grace and consider these strategies for reducing stress. If exclusive pumping is weighing on you heavily, there are plenty of other options, including donor milk and natural formula. The single most important thing is that baby is fed, so they can continue to thrive.
How About You?
Did you exclusively pump for your baby for any amount of time? What tips would you share with your fellow moms?