There are several different ways to feed a newborn. One way that seems to be overlooked though is exclusive pumping.
Most people only consider directly nursing a baby to be breastfeeding, but what they don’t seem to realize that breastfeeding means feeding a baby breast milk. Exclusive pumping can do that.
Helping new moms navigate through this world with some helpful exclusive pumping tips is something that I think more people should be ready and willing to do. So, here’s my chance.
(This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through one of my links I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will never suggest a product or service that I don’t use and love myself because that’s just wrong. If you like reading legal mumbo-jumbo then you can check out my disclosure policy HERE.)
Exclusively Pumping vs Breastfeeding
Exclusive pumping is just what it sounds like. It is breastfeeding by pumping breast milk and bottle feeding rather than directly nursing.
No matter what people may say, exclusive pumping is breastfeeding.
I became an exclusive pumping mom by force rather than by choice. J had a lot of issues with nursing and we were both miserable with trying to make that work.
Once I finally made the switch to pumping exclusively, our entire world changed.
I’m not going to pretend like pumping is easy, it isn’t, but there are several benefits that can make the whole process worth it.
Benefits of Exclusive Pumping
One of the main benefits of pumping exclusively is the fact that your baby will continue getting breast milk even though you are not nursing.
Science has proven that breast milk provides many amazing benefits to babies including antibodies and nutrition that is just not seen anywhere else. (Source)
I’m not saying this because I am anti-formula, I’m really not. I think formula is amazing science milk that has saved so many babies since its creation. The very first thing my baby ever drank was formula and I will be forever grateful at its existence.
But that stuff can be expensive. It also doesn’t have the ability to grow and evolve as your baby ages like breast milk does. There are just some added benefits there.
Pumping breast milk rather than moving to formula can also help a new mom bond and connect with her baby in another way.
Some women have dreams of being able to breastfeed and then run into problems when it actually becomes time to do so.
Exclusively pumping breast milk can still allow those women to breastfeed. They can still feel the joy of knowing that their bodies continued to provide for their babies. That is a strong feeling.
Common Pumping Questions
When I was considering switching to exclusive pumping, I had SO MANY questions. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you do too.
When I was pregnant I focused all of my efforts on figuring out how to directly nurse, not pump.
I got a breast pump (thankfully), but I thought I would only use it when I went back to work. I never thought that she and I would become so close. (Yes, she. Her name is Barb.)
Can pumping decrease your milk supply?
Yes and no.
Pumping itself cannot decrease your milk supply, but if you are not pumping until empty then you are sending signals to your body that you don’t need the milk.
Those signals are what will decrease your milk supply.
As long as you are pumping until empty, and then some, then you will not have any problems.
A good rule of thumb is at least 20 minutes (or until the milk stops flowing), plus an extra 5 minutes. That extra time will signal to your body that you still need more milk.
If you tell your body that you need more, then your body will start making more. It’s as simple as that.
Does breast milk change when exclusively pumping?
There are a lot of theories about this, and you’ll hear several people say that it is a baby’s saliva that causes the milk to change, but that just isn’t true.
Just being around your baby will cause your milk to change based on what your baby needs. Such as increased antibodies when your baby is sick.
There is no need to nurse or rub any saliva on your nipples to stimulate this change.
Your milk will also change as you get further away from birth. The milk that you make the first month will be vastly different than the milk that you make 6 months later.
Your body knows that your baby is getting older and will change the composition of the milk to support that growth and development.
Do I need to pump at night?
Unfortunately, yes, at least in the beginning.
Just because you are not nursing your baby, does not mean that you don’t still need to pump as often as your baby is eating.
Only by pumping and actually extracting the milk will your body know that it needs to continue producing it.
Pumping at night continues that.
Now, once your baby gets older and begins sleeping through the night, as long as you aren’t having supply issues, then dropping your nighttime pumps is absolutely possible.
Go ahead and get that sleep, Mama!
How much milk should I be producing when exclusively pumping?
Many people believe that you need to make a certain amount of milk every day or it just isn’t enough. That isn’t the case.
The goal is to make enough milk to feed your baby. That’s it.
Some people will develop an oversupply and will be able to build a freezer stash, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
The average baby drinks between 19-30 ounces of milk a day. As long as you are producing enough to feed your baby, then that is enough. (Source)
The goal is to feed your baby, not your freezer.
How do I increase my milk supply while pumping?
There are several ways to increase your milk supply. One of the easiest ways to do that while pumping is to power pump.
Power pumping mimics cluster feeding and helps tell your body that you need more milk.
It is a series of pumping for 20 minutes, resting for 10 minutes, pumping for 10, resting for 10, and pumping for 10 more.
The whole process takes an hour, but it definitely works.
No matter what, there are always things that you can do to increase your milk supply.
Can you exclusively pump from birth?
So many times I hear of women being bullied into nursing after birth when they really want to just pump.
Pumping right after birth is completely possible and if that is what you want to do, then don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t.
Exclusive Pumping Schedule
Some people will tell you that you have to stay on a very strict schedule to be able to make exclusive pumping work. I don’t believe that.
While I do think that having a schedule can make things easier, I don’t think that it has to be as strict as most people would lead you to believe.
I have always found that the number of pumps that I was able to do in a day was more important than the actual time in which I pumped.
Do what works best for you though.
In the beginning though, you will need to be pumping between 8 and 12 times a day. This is the amount of times that your newborn will be eating a day, and you want to mimic this to build up your supply.
Around 12 weeks postpartum, your supply will regulate and become more supply and demand based rather than hormone based.
Your supply will not fluctuate as much and will remain more consistent and it will be much easier for you to begin dropping pumping sessions.
It’s important not to drop too many pumps too quickly. One a week is typically safe.
Dropping too many can lead to a decreased milk supply or clogged milk ducts. Just do it slowly so you can see how your body will react to the change.
If you notice that your supply has decreased too much, then you can always add the pump back in.
Typically, anything less than four pumps per day will trigger weaning, so just be careful dropping below that.
Other than that, just do what works best for you and your family.
How to Make Exclusive Pumping Easier
Get a Good Pump
I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a good quality breast pump if you are going to do this exclusively.
The good thing though is that most insurance companies will pay for one, so definitely check with them first. Just fill out this form with Aeroflow to see if you qualify.
If you can’t get a free one, there are places where you can find one second hand. You’ll just have to get new parts for it, but that’s much better than having to buy a whole new pump if you don’t have to.
There are so many options available these days, but I would suggest either a hospital grade pump or as close to it as possible.
If you can, also get a double electric pump. Being able to pump both sides at once will save you so much extra time and hassle.
I personally have a Medela Pump in Style Advance. Though it isn’t a “hospital grade,” it’s a great pump.
I pumped for an entire year with it and didn’t have any problems with it.
It would be nice to have a little more flexibility.
Get a Pumping Bra
One of the best things that you can do for yourself is to get a pumping bra. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be an actual pumping bra. I’ve seen women just cut holes in an old/cheap sports bra.
Pro tip: Cut the holes slightly off from your nipple so that your nipples won’t poke through when you aren’t pumping.
If you don’t feel brave enough to try making your own (I don’t blame you), I have heard AMAZING things about the Simple Wishes SuperMom pumping bra.
I wish I would have known about it before I bought others. It would have been SO much better.
Having a pumping bra will free up your hands to do other things. I like to feed J while I’m pumping so that he is distracted and more likely to let me finish a session.
Buy a Manual Pump
It will happen. At some point you will forget your tubes, your power cord, your pump, something and you will freak about how you are going to pump.
Go ahead and get a manual as a backup. I’ve used mine a good deal more than I ever expected and I am so glad that I have it.
I have the Medela Harmony and it’s great. It has also become my clog buster because it gets them out so much better than my electric.
Stay on a Schedule
Contrary to popular belief, pumping is hard work. A baby will always be more efficient at getting milk out of your boob than a pump will. So that means we have to work a little harder to get things going. Staying on a schedule helps with that.
During the first 12 weeks you should be pumping between 8 and 12 times a day. You’re trying to mimic your little one’s feeding schedule.
If you were nursing, this is how often you would be doing it. Same rules apply.
You also want to make sure that your supply establishes at a high enough amount. Before 12 weeks, your supply is all hormone based. Your body really wants to make milk.
After 12 weeks, the hormones mellow out and your production becomes all supply and demand based. That means that you can start dropping pumps without dropping ounces. It’s so nice.
Find a schedule that works for you and stick with it. Incorporating pumping into your normal routine will make the whole process less intrusive.
If you feel like you constantly have to stop what you’re doing to pump, then you’re less likely to stick with it. You need to be comfortable with your pump. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together.
Pumping, especially exclusive pumping, can be hard on your nipples. Even more so in the beginning since you’re still trying to get used to the level of torture that is breastfeeding.
So be nice to your girls and apply a little coconut oil before your pump sessions. Not too much because you still want a little friction for stimulation, but enough to keep the tugging to a minimum.
Don’t worry, the oil is safe for baby. Just keep an eye out for allergies, though I’m pretty sure that allergies to coconut oil are pretty rare.
Drink ALL the Water
If you thought you needed a lot of water during pregnancy, it is nothing compared to breastfeeding.
Breast milk is 88% water. If you aren’t drinking enough then your supply will suffer. Exclusive pumping means you’re going to notice a drop in your supply immediately.
I typically fill up a gallon sized pitcher each day and refill my cup from that. It helps me to have a visual. I also hate having to count ounces. I do enough of that with milk.
I also love my Hydroflask water bottle. I carry it with me everywhere!
Eat More Food
In addition to needing more water, you also need more calories.
Each ounce of breast milk takes 20 calories to produce. If you’re pumping 35 ounces a day, that’s an extra 700 calories you’ve burned.
Now is not the time to worry about the baby weight. Though it is possible to lose weight while breastfeeding, cutting calories isn’t the way to do it.
Join the Facebook Group
There is an amazing Facebook group called Exclusive Pumping: Breastfeeding Without Nursing that I would strongly recommend joining.
The ladies in that group are an amazing wealth of knowledge and experience. I don’t know if I would have been able to go as long as I did without them.
The group requires approval to join and there are some rules to follow, but it’s totally worth it.
Get an App
There are a few pumping friendly apps these days that you can look into. I personally love Baby Log (I believe it’s Pump Log on iPhone).
You can use it to keep track of pumps, feedings, diaper changes, your freezer stash and more. It will even calculate how long you’ll need to pump for to get to your goal age for feeding breast milk.
It’s awesome and makes keeping track of your newborn’s information so much easier.
Forget the Numbers
I know I just told you to track your ounces, but hear me out.
As an exclusive pumper, you will see the exact amount of milk that your baby is drinking every single day.
You’ll also see exactly how much milk you’re making every single day. It’s hard not to get caught up in the numbers.
You’ll have a great day one day with amazing output and then the next you might drop a few ounces. It’s easy to stress out about those little changes, but it’s normal.
Your baby will also adjust how much he eats on a daily basis. Today it may be 25 ounces and tomorrow it might be 35.
There are several factors that come into play that determine how much he eats and how much you produce. The big thing to remember is to relax.
Levels fluctuate all the time. If you were nursing you wouldn’t ever know it, but since it’s easier to see the differences it’s hard not to pay attention. Just remember that it’s okay.
You Can Survive Exclusive Pumping
I’m not going to lie to you, exclusive pumping is hard work, but the payoff can be huge.
When I found out I couldn’t nurse my son, I thought that our breastfeeding journey was over. It wasn’t though. Exclusive pumping allowed me to continue feeding my baby breast milk and I am so happy that I found that solution.
Whether you have chosen exclusive pumping, or are having the decision made for you. Just know that you are not alone. You are doing what is best for your baby and your family and that is what matters.
Though it can be tough, with the right support, you can make your breastfeeding goals a reality. Besides, it’s still breastfeeding. It just looks a little different.
Are you thinking about becoming an exclusive pumping mom? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!