What is Exclusively Pumping?
Exclusively pumping is one of the less-common methods of feeding babies. It’s more excluded from the breastfeeding and formula mom tribes, and many moms don’t even realize it’s a valid option. I was lucky enough to have had a pumping role model–my mom. Breastfeeding was always difficult for her, so she exclusively pumped for the youngest three of us six kids. When I had breastfeeding issues (inverted nipples) with my daughter, I knew that a valid option was pumping, and it was the best decision for both my daughter and me.
As the name states, exclusively pumping is using an electric pump to pump the breast milk and bottle feed it to their babies. Most moms store the excess breast milk in the freezer or donate it. It can be overwhelming to wrap your mind about at first, but exclusively pumping worked great for me and it can for you too!
- Pumping is painful.
- Breast pumps make your breasts sag.
- Pumping hinders bonding with mom and baby.
- Pumping is a laborious process.
- Stored breast milk loses its nutrients.
- Your baby won’t get enough antibodies from pumped milk.
- You always produce too much or too little milk.
- Pumping doesn’t have to hurt if you use the right equipment and suction strength. Nipple cream also helps. In my case, pumping was 100x less painful than breastfeeding!
- Breast pumps don’t make your boobs sag any more than breastfeeding or pregnancy does. Your breasts will undergo changes no matter how you feed your baby.
- You can bond just as much with your baby while bottle-feeding as you can while breastfeeding. Dad also gets a chance to bond with the baby while bottle-feeding. In some cases, you might bond more with bottle-feeding if trying to breastfeed is too stressful and hard for mama and baby. I was able to bond much better with my daughter once we gave up on breastfeeding since neither one of us was cut out for it.
- Pumping doesn’t have to be laborious. I used pumping as a chance to get away and have a bit of me-time. Try listening to a podcast, reading, music, or good ol’ Netflix to pass the time. I 100% recommend investing in a pumping bra to free up your hands. I used this one, and I loved it!
- Stored breast milk is still nutrient-rich. While there is a difference between fresh and stored breastmilk, there are ways to store it (I’ll get into the juicy details of storage later in this article) that preserve most of the nutrients.
- Nursing isn’t the only way your baby gets breast milk antibodies. Any type of skin-to-skin contact with your little one shows your body what germs they’ve been exposed to and what antibodies to produce in the breast milk.
- You can adjust your pumping schedule to pump more or less depending on how much you produce. If you don’t produce enough, you can eat lactation treats and pump more, and if you make too much milk, you can pump less.
Is Exclusively Pumping for Me?
I’m a firm believer in fed is best, but there’s no denying the benefits of breast milk. Here are some of the reasons moms choose to pump exclusively:
- A baby that refuses to nurse
- Inverted nipples
- A baby that has physical issues that affect nursing such as cleft palate
- A baby that has difficulty gaining weight
- A baby that has trouble getting milk from nursing
- Aversion to nursing for personal reasons
- A baby with teeth who bites (for older babies of course)
There are some benefits to exclusively pumping such as:
- Dad gets to feed the baby as well
- You can use pumping for me time
- You always know how much your baby is eating
- Weaning is easier
- You know how much milk you produce
Here are some of the cons of exclusively pumping:
- It’s a lot of time on the pump — about 120 minutes/day minimum
- Taking care of the pumping equipment is a lot of work
- It’s hard to multitask taking care of a baby and pumping
Exclusively Pumping Tips and Tricks
There’s so much to learn about how to exclusively pump the right way. Here are my best tips to make it the best experience possible for you and your little one.
How Long and Often Should I Pump?
To make a long answer short, you should pump about as frequently as your baby eats. So if you have a newborn, you should pump more often and for shorter times. You should pump for 15-minute sessions every 2-3 hours and 8-12 times/day in the beginning. When your little one gets older, you can cut back on the frequency of your pumping sessions. I was able to drop my midnight pump when my daughter was six months old.
Here are some sample pumping schedules to give you an idea of how to work in your pumping sessions throughout your day.
What Equipment Do I Need?
- My top recommendation for all my fellow exclusive pumpers is investing in a hands-free pumping bra (link to my favorite included above). There are also hands-free pump options such as Elvie or Willow. I never got to try those, but I hear pretty awesome things about them! The ability to pump hands-free will make your life 1000X easier, no matter how you decide to do it.
- Another handy dandy pumping accessory is a rechargeable battery pack for your pump. That way you can pump in your car or wherever you want without being chained to an outlet.
- One thing that is a must for exclusive pumpers is lots and lots of extra bottles to store your milk during the day. If you’re lucky, your little one will drink out of the same bottles that you pump into. I’d recommend buying twice as many bottles as your baby drinks in a day.
- Breast milk freezer bags are the way to go for long term milk storage. Not only do they take up a lot less space than bottles but it’s even possible to pump directly into some bags with an adapter.
- A nursing (pumping) cover is a good option to have for moms who will be pumping outside of the home a lot and are uncomfortable feeling exposed on the pump.
- Nursing pads are a must for us. We still get as much leakage as our mothers-in-arms who breastfeed!
What kind of pump should I get?
Check with your insurance to see what kind of pump it covers. If you’re planning on purchasing one out of pocket, you’ll have to take your budget into consideration. The best breast pumps are the double-electric high-quality breast-pumps, but they aren’t cheap and can go up to several hundred dollars.
Renting a pump is also an option for about $1-3/day. Then there are battery-operated pumps and single-electric pumps. However, single-electric pumps take twice as long to drain your breasts, and battery pumps work slowly and burn through a lot of batteries.
My insurance covered a double-electric Medela pump that I loved, and it never failed me throughout my 11 months of pumping.
How to take care of your pump:
While it may sound tempting, sharing breast pumps is not recommended. Milk gets into the pump itself and contaminates the other milk if you share equipment.
Read the instruction manual and follow their cleaning instructions. As a rule of thumb, after every use you should:
- Clean the pumping area
- Take apart the pumping kit
- Rinse all the pumping parts
- Wash anything that touched milk with soap and water
- Let it dry
You should sanitize your pumping equipment daily by steaming or boiling it according to the pump’s instructions, and let it dry.
Set Up Pumping Stations
If you can manage to get your hands on several pumps, it makes your life way easier. Have a pumping station with your pump, bottles, nipple cream, and some cloths to wipe up milk spillage in the areas of your house that you use most often. I’d recommend your room, car, and wherever you like to chill (such as the living room).
What You Need to Know About Milk Storage
Freshly pumped breast milk can remain at room temperature for up to seven hours and be stored in coolers for up to 24 hours. Fresh milk can be stored in the refrigerator for three to eight days while frozen and thawed milk can be refrigerated for 24 hours. Milk can be frozen for up to six months in a normal freezer or up to 12 months deep-frozen.
It takes about 12 hours to thaw milk in the fridge, or you can run warm water over the bottle to thaw it more quickly. You don’t need to serve breast milk warm; my daughter liked her milk cold. If your little one likes her milk warm, use a bottle warmer or place a bottle of milk in a dish of warm water to heat it. Never microwave your breastmilk or heat it directly on the stove.
If you make too much milk for your baby, and you don’t have the space to store it, milk banking is a great option. Premature babies thrive on breast milk, and oftentimes their mom’s milk hasn’t come in yet. That’s where milk banks come in. Donor milk works wonders for these tiny, fragile preemies.
If you want to donate your excess milk, you have to fill out some documentation and undergo testing to ensure you and your milk are healthy. The milk bank provides the testing and shipping at no cost to you, so you don’t have to worry about any extra cost. Here is the Human Milk Banking Association website if this seems like it’s up your alley.
Clogged Milk Ducts & Mastitis
When I began my exclusively pumping journey, no one told me what could happen if I skipped my pumping sessions for too long. It was in the middle of the holidays, so I was pretty busy. I made the mistake of not pumping for seven hours at only six weeks postpartum, and I got clogged milk ducts. While painful, clogged milk ducts isn’t terribly serious on its own. It is treated by hot compresses, massaging the sore area, and pumping more often than normal. Clogged milk ducts can turn into mastitis however.
Mastitis is when the obstruction in your breast leads to infection. I was lucky enough to never experience this, but my mom had it when she was pumping for one of my siblings. She described it as feeling like “knives being stabbed into my boobs”, and she has a high pain tolerance! If your breast is in extreme pain, and you feel like you have the flu (fever, aches and chills) then you probably have mastitis. Clogged milk ducts include pain in the boobs, but you won’t have the flu symptoms.
If your mastitis symptoms are present for less than 24 hours, you can try the same treatments as for a clogged milk duct to alleviate the infection. If your symptoms stick around for more than 24 hours, symptoms affect both breasts or you feel seriously ill, you should call your doctor immediately.
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