Welcome to the world of exclusive pumping! You may or may not have expected to find yourself here, but rest assured, it’s a supportive community. Reasons for joining the Exclusive Pumping community are varied. Your baby might struggle with their latch. They might be slow to gain weight. You might be going back to work. Your partner might want to help feed their child.
Whatever the reason, exclusive pumping gives your child a head start through the beautiful bond of breastfeeding. However, if you’re a first-time exclusive pumper, you probably have some questions.
What is Exclusive Pumping?
Exclusive pumping refers to breastfeeding solely by pumping milk, not by nursing. This point is the main differentiator between moms that exclusively pump and those who combine both nursing and pumping. You can provide the milk via a bottle, a nasogastric tube (for babies with feeding issues), or a cup — the main thing is that you are pumping.
Is Exclusive Pumping Breastfeeding?
Let’s make sure to clarify this point right now: exclusive pumping — in fact, any kind of pumping whatsoever — is breastfeeding. Exclusive pumping may often get overlooked as a form of feeding your baby, but it's just as important as nursing.
Why Exclusive Pump?
There’s no one right or wrong reason to choose exclusive pumping as a way to feed your baby. You know what’s best for you and your family. But breastfeeding can be lonely, especially exclusive pumping. Don’t feel alone: here are some common reasons for pumping.
- Your baby is preterms, low-birthweight, or is/has been hospitalized
- Problems with latching due to tongue or lip ties, inverted nipples, palate problems, etc.
- Having twins or multiples
- Return to work
- Discomfort, aversion, or mental health concerns
- Need to track your supply and baby’s calories and intake
Note: This isn’t an exhaustive list. There’s no one right reason to exclusive pump. Any situation listed above, a combination of them, or something not on the list entirely: these are all valid reasons to exclusive pump.
Benefits and challenges
Like with nursing, there are both benefits and challenges to exclusive pumping.
The benefits are numerous and include, but aren’t limited to:
- For babies:
- Gets the benefits of breast milk, including protection from disease, reduced risk from SIDS, and all the nutritional value of liquid gold
- For moms:
- Allows you the flexibility to be away from you baby
- Allows caretaker the opportunity to feed baby
- Allows you to keep breastfeeding as part of your parenting plan
- Retain health benefits for mama, including decreased breast cancer, postpartum weight loss, and more
When we talk about the cons of pumping, the issues aren’t surprising:
- Overfeeding occurs more easily when you bottle feed a baby, whether you're using breastmilk or formula.
- Exclusive pumping involves significant work: Pumping, feeding, and cleaning parts all take more time. This may contribute to why some mamas stop pumping earlier than nursing mamas.
What you need
You need more than your boobs and your baby when you exclusive pump. You need the right equipment to make your pumping journey as easy as possible. At the minimum, you’ll need:
However, you’ll be spending a lot of time at the pump, so it’s worth investing in some extras to make pumping easier and more comfortable. Great add-ons include:
- Lactation massager and/or warming massage pads
- Silicone breast pump
- Steam santizing bags for your pump parts
- Pump bag
- Wet/dry bag
- Bottle warmer
All moms and their babies are different. Let's just put that out there right away. A good schedule for you might not work for someone else — and that's totally okay.
But broadly speaking, you want to make a breastfeeding schedule that mimics how often your baby needs to eat. When you have a newborn, you'll need to pump between 8-12 times in a 24-hour period. (Sorry mamas, that also includes in the middle of the night.) Pumping sessions tend to last between 15-20 minutes each, but this can vary widely depending on your own milk production.
Okay, so you’ve got the pumping down. How about the feeding part of things? One of the benefits of bottle feeding your baby is that you will know exactly how much your baby is taking at each feed. That being said, there are still some things to keep in mind.
How much to feed
While every baby is different, between the ages of one and six months, exclusively breastfed babies take an average of 25 oz per day total. Divide this amount by the number of times your baby feeds and you should get an idea of how much your baby needs at each meal.
Ex: If your baby feeds 10 times a day, you would estimate that they need about 2.5 oz per feeding.
Tips for handling breast milk
When it comes to bottle feeding, don’t forget that it’s easy to overfeed babies with bottles. That’s because babies aren’t able to control the flow of milk the way they can when nursing. To offset this, you can use slow flow or newborn nipples to create a more manageable flow.
When preparing breastmilk for bottle feeds, don’t use the microwave to warm the milk. Microwaves can create hotspots and scald a baby’s mouth and the process actually changes the composition of breast milk, damaging the nutritional value. Breast milk should only be warmed using a bottle warmer or by placing in a container of warm water for a few minutes. You can also serve the milk cool or at room temperature if your baby accepts it.
Common Exclusive Pumping Challenges (And How to Solve them)
Whether you’re pumping or nursing, supply is a perennial worry for breastfeeding moms. For moms who pump, there’s the benefit of seeing how much your output really is. On the other hand, low supply is more common with pumping. (It’s understandable — it can be more stressful and time-intensive to pump.)
For mamas with low supply, the go-to suggestion we always make is to try power pumping. Power pumping is the fastest way to increase supply. To set up a power pumping schedule, follow the steps below:
- Pump 20 minutes
- Rest 10 minutes
- Pump 10 minutes
- Rest 10 minutes
- Pump 10 minutes
Nipple pain. No one likes that phrase. But it's common when you're breastfeeding, especially if you're exclusive pumping. Nipple pain can have a number of causes. It's important to pinpoint what exactly is behind the discomfort beforeit can be resolved. Common culprits can be:
- Incorrect flange size
- Wrong pump speed
- Lack of lubrication on your flange
A clogged duct is an obstruction in your breast that prevent milk removal. This can happen when milk isn't sufficiently removed from your breast. There can be clear reasons for them — missing a pumping session, too-tight bra, sleeping on your stomach, or seemingly for no reason at all. You can tell you have a clogged duct if you have a hard, uncomfortable lump in your breast. Your breast may be tender and hot to the touch. You may also experienced reduced milk flow from that breast. To treat a clogged duct, pump as often as possible, use moist heat, and use a lactation massager to help get the clog moving.
Finding the right pump
Not all pumps are made equal. If you have insurance, it should cover a new breast pump after you give birth, but do your research before committing, especially if you know in advance that you’re going to be pumping.
Features to look for in a breast pump include:
- Noise level
- Ease of assembly and transport, especially if you're hauling your kit to work with you
- Adjustability of suction and cycling speed
If you’re not sure which pump is right for you, you have the option to rent one from your hospital or birth center. Sometimes you just need to try before you buy! (So to speak.)
If finding the right pump is important, so is getting the right flange fitted for your pumping journey. The standard flange size is usually 24 millimeters, but mamas may need anything from 21 o 40 millimeter flanges.
Not having the right flange size can negatively affect your pumping: It can cause clogged ducts, low supply, and nipple pain. However, a quick consult with a lactation counsellor can solve the problem.
Pumping at work
Pumping around your coworkers? Talk about awkward.
Few pumping mamas relish the idea of pumping at work, but with some coordination and creativity, it doesn’t need to be bad. The first thing you should do is speak with your supervisor and/or your HR representative. All workplaces are federally mandated to provide adequate pumping facilities to breastfeeding mothers. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), your employer has to give you reasonable break time to express breast milk and a space that is functional, shielded from view, free from intrusion, available as needed AND NOT A BATHROOM.
When a mama is pumping just for the occasional feeding — let’s say, for a date night or so their partner can help with nighttime feedings — storing the milk isn’t usually a problem. A few bottles in the fridge, maybe a few milk bags in the freezer, and done.
But for exclusive pumping mamas, quantity can build up. It’s common for exclusive pumpers to fill up the fridge, freezer, and even deep freeze.
To solve this problem, start with a milk storage strategy. These tips will get you started.
Exclusive pumping may or may not have been your goal when you decided to breast feed, but it’s a good path to meeting your breastfeeding goals. Make sure to give yourself time to find what works best for you — much like nursing, there’s no one right way to do it. A good source of help can be online groups that focus on pumping like One Ounce at a Time, Exclusive Pumping, and, of course, LaVie’s Lactating Moms group.