The best tips for exclusive pumping including how and when to pump, nighttime feeds, supply issues, the best pumps, and how to wean.
The journey that led to exclusive pumping
We struggled with feeding from the beginning. It did not come "naturally" to us. At a time when I wanted to worry about nothing besides snuggling my newborn baby, I was stressed beyond belief about him getting enough milk.
I'd feed Max for up to an hour but he still seemed unsatisfied and would need a bottle I pumped after. I used nipple shields since latching was such a struggle.
I had a ton of anxiety over his weight dropping a second time despite feeding him around the clock, good supply, no tongue tie, multiple lactation consults, and no obvious reason why it was so challenging for us...but it was.
I also could tell that the 24 ounces lactation consultants said Max needed wasn't enough for him. I was told to stick with it, that he would get stronger, that I would get stronger. But I couldn't for the life of me keep questioning if my baby was still hungry.
For me, exclusively pumping actually SAVED time, not to mention my sanity. Breast feeding was a personal choice I felt strongly about; and being able to give sweetie man my milk while also knowing exactly how much he was getting changed the game.
Has it been easy? Far from it. Are there days I think it may be my last? Definitely. But here we are, almost four months in, still kicking. I got a lot of messages about grieving not being able to breast feed, but I'm not mourning a loss. This decision has been so life-giving for us! I can't imagine feeling any closer to my tiny best friend.
I hope that in sharing my story, you feel more informed about these personal choices. No matter how you decide to feed your little one, never forget that fed is best and you are absolutely the best mama for your baby! Your journey deserves to be celebrated every day.
Why did you decide to exclusively pump (EP)?
The combination of Max struggling to latch, breast feeding for way longer than babies typically take (we used a nippled shield for him to latch) plus feeding him a pumped bottle and him still not feeling satisfied signaled to me that Max wasn't transferring my milk properly. He wasn't gaining weight and I knew I couldn't sustain both breastfeeding and pumping for each feed. The stress was robbing me of all my joy and precious time.
Which breast pump is best?
I had travel coming up and I wanted something smaller, better for public use, and more efficient. It's kind of like a Willow or Elvie pump but much cheaper.
The Baby Buddha slashed 10 minutes or more off of each pumping time. The suction is insane! It knocked the Medela I was previously using out of the park. I also love that the motor is small and can go around your neck. I got this clip so I can clip it onto my shorts! It also comes with a timer so you don't have to set one on your phone.
The Freemie Cups allow you to pump on the go or in public without having bottles hanging down. You can put the cups in your bra and tuck the tubing under your shirt so it's more discrete.
I've been exclusively pumping for four months and my nipples were still sore! The pump is very strong so if you're a first time pumper, it will take some getting used to. The first mode is super intense pulls, so I switch away from that one pretty quickly and then do the second mode on level 4 and that works well for me.
Some people say their output isn't as good with the Freemie Cups, but I haven't noticed that. When I'm home I just use the bottles that come with the pump. If you need to feed your baby while pumping, this is a great solution.
So if you're looking for something portable, more compact, and quiet, this is your pump. I wish I would've used this from the beginning!
What are the biggest challenges?
- Being tied to the pump doesn't have the emotional benefit and bonding effect that breast feeding does.
- There is more equipment to buy and maintain and a lot more bottles and parts to wash and sanitize.
- If you don't have a partner, pumping and feeding the bottle is double the time.
What are the biggest benefits?
- You know exactly how much milk your baby is getting, which is especially helpful if you're struggling with weight gain.
- Other people can help with feeding. Having Jeff or my mom feed Max, especially when we were still feeding him at night, was immensely helpful. It really helps spread out the responsibility of feeding.
- You can save milk for later. If you have a good supply, you may be able to pump more than your baby needs each day and build up a freezer stash so you don't have to pump as long as you thought.
- For working moms, you'll have to pump at some point anyway, so sometimes introducing bottles early makes the most sense.
How often do you need to pump and what does your schedule look like?
I started off pumping on the same schedule I would have breast fed, which was every 2-3 hours around the clock or about 10 times per day. Some people pump for 15 minutes, some people pump for 25 minutes. Find what works best for you and your body.
Once Max had gained enough weight, my pediatrician said I could go a longer stretch at night with feeding Max and let him wake us up versus us waking him to eat. That was when we started to get a real stretch of sleep---so amazing!
Going from six pumps to four pumps when Max was four months old really changed the game. I worked with my friend Kristen of Snooze Clues on slowly but surely reducing pumps. Use code HUMMUSAPIEN10 for 10% off Kristen's services!
This Exclusive Pumping blog was also super informative for answering questions along the way. It felt really nice knowing there's a community of women out there in the same boat.
Also be sure to check out this evidence based support group for pumping on Facebook.
What about pumping at night?
It's not the most fun, but you should pump during the night for the first few months to maintain supply, and also because output tends to be the highest at that time.
First I went from 8 pumps to 6, spacing them out a bit more and going longer at night to train my body. I'd pump before bed around 9pm and then wake up at 3am to pump, not going longer than 6 hours at night without pumping to avoid infection. I pump for about 25 minutes each time.
Once Max was sleeping through the night (even though it was still really inconsistent until like 14 weeks), I wanted to wean the middle of the night pump. I was getting up alone and it was really tough. But I also pumped the most at that hour and I didn't want to mess up the supply I'd established.
I waited until he was about twelve weeks old to drop the nighttime pump. I've learned that it's all about slowly training your body and not making any big changes that'll confuse your body until you're sure your supply is good to go.
It actually happened naturally because one day I messed up my alarm and didn't wake up until 7am, LOL. I felt very full and uncomfortable, but I was fine. From then on, I started getting up around 5am to pump.
When I went from 5 pumps to 4 around 14 weeks, I went until 6:30am. I like to give Max his morning bottle, so I try to be done pumping before he gets up around 7am. Now I go about 5 hours between pumping, which looks like 6:30am, 11:30am, 4:30pm, and 9pm. Of note, when I went down to 4 pumps, my supply dipped a couple ounces, so I had to pump more like 30 minutes to get it back to where it was (then go back down to 25 minutes).
Max now eats at 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm, so we're not pumping and feeding at the same time. Since Jeff is about to go back to work and I'll be doing all the bottles when we don't have the babysitter, that'll be helpful.
How do you boost your milk supply?
My milk took a bit to come in. I was lucky to have a friend's frozen breast milk that needed to be used in the interim, but formula is of course a great option, too! In the beginning I could only pump a couple ounces, and I never dreamed that I'd be able to pump 12 ounces at once.
Everyone is so different when it comes to milk output. Some people can pump a ton at once and some people none at all. Honor your body and know that your worth is not measured in the ounces of milk you make. You are so much more to your baby than that!
Know that it takes time and what you pump in the beginning isn't what you'll pump months in.
- Pump often and regularly. It's all supply and demand, and your body is only going to make the amount of milk you take out. Stay consistent with a schedule. Pump for at least 15 minutes even if milk isn't coming out. Pump an extra 5 minutes after your milk stops coming out so your body knows you need more. Don't go longer than 6 hours between pumps until you feel really confident in your supply.
- Drinks tons of water and eat enough calories. Your body will not prioritize feeding another human if you are not adequately feeding yourself! Breastfeeding requires at least an extra 500 calories a day!
- Destress. It's hard not to be stressed as a new mom, but unfortunately stress doesn't do your supply any favors. Experts say looking at pictures or videos of baby and listening to calming music while pumping can help! There are days and times I pump less than others. Just because one day your yield is less doesn't mean your supply is at risk forever!
- Use the initial letdown setting more than once. You know at the beginning where it pumps differently than the rest of the time? I pump for about 10-15 minutes and then press that button again to trigger another letdown. Thank you to the mama who sent me this advice on IG, because it's had the biggest impact on my output! I typically press this button twice every time I pump.
- Supplement. I took two of these More Milk Moringa pills a day to boost my supply so I could freeze a bottle's worth of milk every day, and it really helped! Use code HUMMUSAPIEN for 15% off. You can also include brewer's yeast into cookies, smoothies, oatmeal, etc.
How do you store pumped milk?
Freshly expressed milk lasts up to 4 hours at room temperature, 4 days in the refrigerator, 6 months in the freezer, and up to a year in a deep freezer. We actually just bought this freezer since frozen milk is taking over our current freezer!
I typically weigh the milk I pump (I use this scale) into bottles and then refrigerate it. I keep about 4-5 bottles in the fridge at a time and freeze the rest, following a FIFO (first in, first out) method. For context, I feed Max 6 oz bottles 5 times a day. I'm usually feeding him a bottle I pumped earlier in the day versus the milk I just pumped.
What are the best pumping and feeding accessories?
You can get a pump for free through insurance. I chose the Medela Pump In Style with MaxFlow.
- Freezer Storage Organizer: I love this guy because it flattens the milk to make for easy storage later. It also helps organize it by date.
- Milk Storage Bags: These are my favorite bags so far to freeze milk in.
- Comfiest Pumping Bras: Larken bras totally changed the game for me. I bought countless uncomfortable ones that I dreaded putting on. This one is like butter on your skin, plus you can wear it all day and not have to put something on just for pumping. Now these are the only ones I wear! Use code HUMMUSAPIEN10 for 10% off. If you want a less expensive bra you can take on and off when you pump, I’d go with this one (and size up).
- Sterilizing Bags: These save SO much time when it comes to sanitizing bottles, pump parts, and pacifiers. Truly a life saver!
- Breast Milk Cooler Bag: Great for milk on the go and also to leave upstairs for middle of the night pumping when you don’t want to go downstairs. This also really comes in handy for traveling.
- Kitchen Scale: I use this daily to weigh milk into bottles for feeding and for freezing
- Quick Clean Wipes: Great for on the go cleaning of pump parts.
- Cute Pumping Bag: If you want a work or diaper bag that can also store all your pumping stuff, this is an awesome option. I love the laptop case holder!
- Deep freezer: For storing extra milk.
- Oxo Bottle Brush with Cleaner: Essential for cleaning bottles without having to use something that’s touched a bunch of dishes with food. Make sure you have some kind of basin to house all the dirty bottles, too.
- Countertop Drying Rack: Ideal for drying bottles and lids separately from food dishes, especially if you’re pumping.
- Philips Avent Baby Bottles: These are our favorite bottles. The slow release nipples worked great early on to prevent him from eating too quickly and 12 weeks in, we still use them. I love that they can fit 6oz of milk now that we’re feeding him that much, which means I don’t have to buy another set of bigger bottles. We switched to the larger size around 5 months.
How do I wean from exclusive pumping?
I pumped for about 7 months and then started to wean. Everyone is different in how quickly they can wean and I am not an expert, but from my research I'd say 4-6 weeks is an ideal time frame.
Don't go cold turkey! Stopping too quickly can shock the body and result in not only infection, but also crazy hormonal repercussions.
- Go slow. I weaned for about a month. You want to slowly teach your body to make less milk, and it took my body a while to get the picture. I was still producing a good amount of milk in the beginning even with cutting down time until one day my body just got it. Going slow will also help your body better tolerate changing hormones due to weaning.
- Start by reducing one of your pumps by 2-3 minutes at a time each day until you can lose that one pump. Don't change the times of the other pumps too much yet.
- Once I went down from 4 to 3 pumps, I found my body could handle cutting down faster than 3 minutes at a time.
- Then you just want to be taking the edge off. I got to a point where I was pumping for 5 minutes at 6:30am and 5 minutes at 8:30pm. One night when I had only pumped for 5 minutes, I found I could just not pump the next night.
- Once I felt not overly full, I stopped pumping. If you need to pump a couple minutes in the final days, that's fine!
Can weaning make you feel sick?
YES. This is something I didn't know that I wished I did.
Changes in emotions and physical well being due to fluctuating hormones are totally normal. Heightened anxiety depression, feeling physically sick, headaches, nausea, and insomnia are all fair game.
What advice do you have for mamas considering pumping exclusively?
- Get several hands-free pumping bras and go mobile. I've never pumped without a pumping bra! If you have a battery pack (mine came with my pump), you can attached it to the motor and put it all in a backpack so I can walk around, cook, pump in the car, whatever. You feel so much less like tied to the pump when you have the freedom to move around. The Baby Buddha is the best because the motor is so small and you can hold t like a purse!
- Refrigerate your parts between pumps versus washing them every time. Breast milk lasts refrigerated for 4 days, so washing them with soapy water once a day or so is totally fine and will save you loads of time! Also be sure to wash the parts in a separate basin versus the sink to avoid contaminating them with food bacteria. Here is the CDC's guidelines on cleaning.
- Have spare parts. My biggest fear is the connectors losing suction and me not being able to pump (this has happened!) so I always have a spare set of connectors. You also want to have plenty of extra bottles so you don't have to worry about washing them right away. I needed slow flow bottles so Max never drank out of the Medela bottles. I may try to feed him directly from those now that he's older, which would save lots of washing!
- Consider not warming the bottle. I thought this was required, but turns out it's totally a preference. I try to take the bottle out an hour before he eats or just run the bottle under hot water to loosen the fat that settles at the top so baby gets all parts of the milk. We've always given him cold bottles and he's fine with it. This was also helpful for when we left bottles upstairs in the cooler bag to avoid going downstairs in the middle of the night.
- Get a tracking app. For the first couple months, I used the Pump Log app to track my supply and I absolutely loved it! It was great to see it over time, and it was especially helpful in the beginning when I was pumping so often.
- Know it will get easier. It truly is so overwhelming at the beginning because you feel like all you do is pump, and it's time you're not cuddling the baby. You will not be pumping 8-10 times a day forever. I was down to 4 pumps by 3 months! It's still not easy, but I'm used to it now.
What's the best formula?
The formula you choose depends on many factors, including budget, baby's preference, and any allergies baby may have. Fed is best!
I chose Bobbie because the high quality ingredients and transparent sourcing mimics European formulas, which tend to be favorable compared to their American counterparts made with corn syrup. Bobbie is organic and also USDA approved! I also like Similac Organic.
If your baby doesn't due well with dairy, you can try HiPP HA which is an organic European formula made with hydrolyzed proteins to reduce allergic reactions. Our pediatrician recommended HiPP as well as Holle Goat when we were dealing with really bad eczema!
YOU'RE A WARRIOR!! Know that your mental health matters. Also know you can do hard things. Leave any questions in the comments!
I am not a doctor or lactation consultant. This post is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult with your pediatrician throughout this process!