How You Can Be Successful with Exclusive Pumping
For some moms, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out the way they hope it will. And there are some situations where nursing your baby just isn’t possible. Whether it’s because your baby isn’t able to latch or your baby really struggles to go from breast to bottle, or any number of reasons traditional nursing isn’t possible.
In these situations, many moms think formula feeding is the only option. But there is an alternative you can explore if you still want to be able to give your baby breastmilk. It’s called exclusive pumping.
What is Exclusive Pumping?
Exclusive pumping, sometimes called EPing or breastfeeding without nursing, or bottle feeding breast milk, is not always easy. Pumping breast milk can be difficult and time-consuming. Even when you get good at it, it’s not most moms’ idea of a good time.
But if nursing isn’t going to work for you and you still want to give your baby the benefits of breast milk, exclusive pumping is a great option.
Exclusively pumping the breast milk needed to feed your baby every day is a big commitment. And an admirable one.
Resist any urge to feel guilty about exclusive pumping when traditional breastfeeding isn’t working for you. However you decide to feed your baby, you’re a dedicated mom, making the choice you know is best for you and your child. Ignore anyone who tries to tell you different.
How to Create an Exclusive Pumping Schedule
When your plan for feeding your baby is through exclusive pumping you will need to create and maintain a pumping schedule.
Maintaining a consistent pumping schedule will help you keep up your milk supply to meet your baby’s needs. It will also help you avoid clogged ducts or other painful side effects of not regularly emptying breast milk.
But you don’t want your entire life to revolve around your exclusive pumping schedule.
When you make the decision to be an exclusive pumping mom you need to consider how many pumping sessions you need in a day. And the best times during the day you can consistently fit them in.
If you’re returning to work, consider your lunch and break times. And then figure out when you can fit sessions in during your morning routine and at home after work.
It’s going to feel like a lot at first. Each pumping session requires 15 to 20 minutes of actual pumping. That doesn’t include getting yourself hooked up, cleaning your pump parts or getting your breast milk to the refrigerator or freezer. All of which takes time.
But over time, as you adjust to your schedule and it becomes part of your routine, it does get easier.
If you’re beginning your exclusive pumping journey shortly after giving birth, your pumping schedule should mimic your newborn’s feeding schedule as much as you can manage. This includes pumping at least once or twice during the night.
The night pumping sessions will be necessary at least until your baby is three months old. And very possibly a bit longer if you’re having any issues with supply or your baby is still eating often during the night.
Night feedings are one of the most challenging parts of feeding your baby no matter how you choose to feed them. But dealing with a breast pump in the middle of the night really is a pain in the butt. It’s better to know that and accept it now. Just sayin’
Keep in mind night time pumping sessions are a temporary part of your life. And even if you have to keep it up past the three-month mark an end to night time pumping can’t be more than a few weeks or months away.
As your baby grows older or if you’re switching to exclusive pumping with an older baby, your pumping schedule may be different.
As your baby begins to eat solid foods and becomes less dependent on breast milk for their nutritional needs, you will be able to pump less often over time. (And drop those night feedings!)
When you start to drop a few pumping sessions around the six month mark and your milk supply is more established, your schedule also becomes a little bit more flexible. As long as you get your pumping sessions done during the day, the exact time is less important.
As you begin needing to produce less breast milk and can pump less often, make sure you are still pumping enough to maintain your supply. It’s best to take this slowly, dropping one pumping session at a time. And then give it a few days for your body to adjust.
And then make sure you are still producing the amount of breast milk you need for your baby.
This is a great post with sample schedules for exclusive pumping moms. If you’re just looking for times and numbers, scroll on down to the fabulous pink and white infographic near the bottom of the post. But the entire article is well worth a read.
Exclusive Pumping Tips & Tricks
1. Get the Right Breast Pump & Hands Free Pumping Bra
If you’re going to be exclusively pumping breast milk, you need a seriously good breast pump. You need an electric breast pump for double pumping. And you need quality. You’re going to use the crap out this thing. Buy a good one right at the start.
The pump I have personally used and love (as much as I can love a breast pump) is the Medela Pump in Style Advanced.
And be sure to check with your health insurance. Most will cover the cost of a breast pump. But they might require a doctor’s note or that you order from a specific vendor. Make the insurance call BEFORE you purchase your pump.
A hands free pumping bra is another essential item for the exclusive pumping mom (or any mom that plans to pump at all, really). It’s exactly what it sounds like. A bra that holds the pump in place so you can have your hands free.
Imagine twenty minutes of holding the pump to your breasts and you’ll see why you want to the hands free pump bra. I personally used this hands free pump bra and it’s still in perfect condition after over two years of use between pumping for my two kids.
2. Have a Back Up Breast Pump
A high quality breast pump is not cheap, so it might not make sense to buy two. BUT if you’re an exclusive pumping mom missing even one pumping session can be devastating. So, you need a backup plan.
You may want to buy a less expensive pump to keep as a spare. A manual breast pump is inexpensive and easy to put in your car or desk for emergencies.
Another option is to get a used pump from a friend or family member who is done pumping and buy new parts. Which will be less than the cost of a second new pump. The buying of new parts is essential here, no skimping! It’s essential for the health and safety of your baby.
You’ll need to buy new breast shields, valves, backflow protectors, bottles & bottle accessories, tubing, and basically all the removable parts for a pump except the cord to plug it in.
Fortunately, replacement parts are not expensive so this is a reasonable choice if you want to have a backup electric pump.
3. Make Sure Your Pump Fits
One of the best ways to make sure you get the most out of your breast milk pumping sessions is to make sure your pump fits.
Your breast pump will likely come with a set of breast shields/ flanges. These may not fit you.
It’s no surprise that breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Well, so do breast shields. And just like with a bra, you want to make sure the ones you use actually fit you.
Getting the right size breast shield will do more than make you more comfortable while you pump (although that’s a good enough reason by itself!). For many women a better fitting breast shield helps them produce more milk.
So, take a look at the different sizes and your own breast size. And consider going up or down a size accordingly. It’s such a small thing but it can make a big difference in your success exclusively pumping.
4. Get a Pumping Tracker & Set Reminders
Your breast pump isn’t going to cry or act hungry when it’s time for you to pump. So, it’s a good idea to set some reminders on your phone or oven timer or wherever is going to be helpful to you.
This is especially important during those sleep deprived early days of new motherhood when you don’t know day from night let alone how long it’s been since your last pumping session.
5. Get Support for Your Exclusive Pumping Journey
Exclusive pumping can be challenging. It requires a huge amount of time, energy and dedication.
If you’re a mom choosing to exclusively pump breast milk you may find yourself feeling left out of traditional breastfeeding support groups or groups for formula feeding moms. So, it’s important to seek out the support YOU need for your journey.
There are Facebook support groups, support threads, and groups on BabyCenter and even several websites dedicated to helping moms exclusive pump successively. A quick internet search will put a number of great sources in front of you.
If you find yourself struggling with exclusive pumping, seek out support from other exclusive pumping moms! Facebook groups for exclusive pumping moms or groups on BabyCenter can be great places to make direct contact with moms on a similar feeding journey.
They are also great places to ask questions when you have them.
Even if things are going perfectly (yay!), join an exclusive pumping Facebook group! You never know when something might come up and you’ll be glad to have exclusive pumping support you can reach out to immediately.
Exclusive Pumping Weaning
If traditional nursing wasn’t the right choice for you and you decided on exclusive pumping, you can be very proud of the effort you put into giving your baby the benefits of breast milk for however long your exclusive pumping journey lasts.
When you’re ready to wean your baby from exclusively pumped breast milk either to formula or just off the bottle if they are old enough, here are a few tips to make it easier.
1. Drop one pumping session at a time
As you begin the weaning process from exclusive pumping, you start with dropping one pumping session at a time.
It may be easiest to start dropping the pumping sessions where you tend to produce the least amount of breast milk anyway.
If all of your pumping sessions produce more than enough, consider shortening the length of time you pump and the amount for a few days before dropping a session completely.
Keep dropping pumping sessions until you are down to two pumping sessions about 12 hours apart.
2. Reduce the time and volume of one pumping session
When you’re down to pumping twice per day, pick one of the last two to drop first. And begin reducing the time and volume of that pumping session.
Keep the second pumping session the same length and volume for now.
When you’re down to pumping only a few minutes or ounces at the reduced pumping session, try dropping that pumping session completely.
If you find yourself uncomfortable and need to pump, pump just enough to be comfortable and then stop. Try again skipping pumping the next day. Repeat these steps until you can skip the session without discomfort.
Continue with one pumping session for a few days. Give your body a chance to catch up with your plans for weaning to avoid discomfort, clogged ducts, or other complications.
3. Reduce the final pumping session until weaning is complete
Over the course of a few days reduce the time or volume of your last pumping session until you’re getting less than 3 ounces. Then try skipping a day and seeing how you do.
If you need to pump a little in order to be comfortable, do just what you have to do and no more.
Then try skipping a day.
If you’re able to skip a day, try having one last pumping session a day or two later. Then stop pumping.
If you need to pump again to be comfortable, again do just what you have to. Until the day you don’t need to at all.
The weaning process can sound complicated. But once you start the process you’ll begin to produce less breast milk and volume will decrease. The whole process will feel less forced once it starts to work.
And you’ll find you can feel how long you can wait before pumping or when your body is ready to drop a pumping session.
Many moms have mixed feelings during the weaning process. You may feel sad about ending this part of your motherhood journey (and the hormonal shift you experience won’t help this!).
But you may also feel a sense of relief and freedom about no longer being attached to a breast pump every few hours.
Whatever you’re feeling, know that you have done something amazing for your baby. You’re a rockstar Mama!
When You’re an Exclusive Pumping Mom
For some moms, exclusive pumping can feel like a disappointing second best if they wanted to be able to breastfeed their baby skin to skin. It’s ok to be disappointed. But it isn’t something to wallow in or take away from your enjoyment of your new baby and your journey as a new mom.
And maybe you don’t feel like that at all. In which case, great! Maybe this was your plan all along. It works really well for many moms.
No matter how you feel about your exclusive pumping journey, know that I am in awe of you! This journey takes time, effort, and energy like most people can’t even imagine.
Any amount of breast milk your baby gets is an awesome step towards a healthy start in life. And you did that. You’re amazing!
And as an amazing exclusively pumping mama, if you have any great tips on how to be successful at exclusive pumping, please feel free to share them in the comments!
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