This is a post that I've been looking forward to writing for a very long time. I know so many new moms who struggle with exclusively pumping and I want anyone who may be in that season to know that you are not alone.
When you're pregnant, especially with your first, you envision how you want your pregnancy and postpartum to go— whether it's continuing to work out, not wanting to be induced, wanting a natural birth, exclusively breastfeeding, and more.
That was me in 2020. I was that mom but my pregnancy and postpartum didn't go at all the way that I intended. I had every intention of breastfeeding my daughter and I was so excited about the bond that we'd form. I stocked up on the best nursing bras, boppy pillow, nipple cream... you name it, I bought it. I ordered a pump through my insurance with the intention of only using it when absolutely necessary, which would be minimal.
With my daughter, I had a rough pregnancy. From conception to delivery, I was vomiting almost daily with about 3 weeks where I felt normal. I was only allowed to work out up until 24 weeks due to my heart rate and then at 36 weeks it all changed. At 36 weeks I went to my weekly OB appointment and I developed preeclampsia. My OB knew I wanted to do as much of a natural birth as possible so they tried what they could but it was clear that my daughter did not want to come out. It resulted in an emergency c-section and she was delivered in under a minute. In recovery she immediately latched and I felt a sense of relief— I felt like I won the lottery. I was so anxious that she wouldn't latch and she did! She was then sent to the NICU for respiratory issues and was given a feeding tube. At that point, I started pumping to supply her with colostrum and milk but started to realize that my breastfeeding journey might not become a reality.
After a week in the NICU she and I were discharged. At home I was determined to make breastfeeding work. I needed it to work. I talked to lactation consultants and even some L&D nurse friends. But after a couple weeks, it kept getting increasingly difficult. Because she couldn't latch well and being larger chested, it made this pretty difficult for the both of us. At that point I needed to make a decision to ensure that she would gain the weight that she needed to. Do I give up and start formula? Did I fail as a mom— this should be natural? Do I keep trying even though her poor latch is making it extremely painful? Then I found this account on Instagram and realized that I could pump and feed her by bottle. This option was never presented to me even though I was struggling— the multiple lactation consultants I saw kept pushing to keep trying breastfeeding and that it would eventually work.
From the research that I did (there wasn't and still isn't much out there for it), I decided that this was the path that I was going to take. Little did I know how much work was involved and how much I would learn along the way. I pumped to supply my daughter enough milk until a little over one.
Fast forward to 2022, I welcomed my son and went into this pregnancy with every intention of breastfeeding— it was something that I wanted to experience and is a bit easier than exclusively pumping. Overall I was more prepared but knew that no matter how I fed him, he'd be just fine. Again, this pregnancy I had the same complications and I had a c-section at 35 weeks. And while my son was in the NICU, he was able to latch successfully multiple times! I was ecstatic. I cried tears of joy. At 2 weeks, I found out that he has a tongue and lip tie that needed to be resolved, but it would improve his latch even more. Here we are now at 3.5 months and I exclusively pump most of the time— between still needing to empty after breastfeeding, extremely large breasts, more prone to clogs if the baby doesn't completely empty you, it was a decision that felt right. I still enjoy the occasional breastfeeding session, but this is what works for us.
Exclusively pumping is something that I have grown very passionate about and it's my home that this will bring awareness, understanding and provide helpful tips to other moms out there. Whether you're exclusively pumping, breastfeeding or doing a combination, this post is here to provide helpful tips.
Exclusively Pumping Is A Full Time Job
It's true when they say exclusively pumping, it's a full time job. But there's not many resources out there for moms that decide to exclusively pump. Most women who breastfeed will still use a pump so these tips are helpful for you too!
- Learn how to fit yourself properly for your flanges. More on this soon!
- Calories are important. Your body burns more calories when producing milk and you need to account for that in your daily intake.
- Eat your carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your friend while producing milk— the lower your carbohydrates, usually the lower your milk production will be.
- Always stay hydrated. Drink tons of water! More than you think you need.
- The emptier your breast, the more milk that is produced. When the breast is full, the milk production slows down. The emptier the breast, the more milk production occurs. That's why it's so important in the first 2 months to remove as much milk as possible to establish your supply.
Common Questions About Breastfeeding & Exclusively Pumping
These are questions that I've been asked and others were submitted to Lee over at Fit Foodie Finds. As more questions are submitted I will add them to this list.
- What is the best time of day to pump? Every pump is important— it's supplying your baby with milk. However, early on during the first 3-5 months, pumping between 2-5AM is the most important. During that time you have the highest prolactin levels which means you will produce the most amount of milk.
- What are the best pumping bras? This is by far the best pumping bra and stays in place.
- How often should you pump? This will depend on how many months postpartum you are. In general, the earlier you are postpartum, the more frequency of pumping is needed to help establish your supply— it's supply and demand. The rule of thumb is every 2-3 hours (7-9 pumps per day) and if your baby is cluster feeding, mimic that with the breast pump. At around 3 months postpartum, move to pumping every 3-4 hours (6-7 pumps per day.) At around 6 months postpartum, you can move to every 3-6 hours (3-6 pumps per day) and holding at that until your baby is done. Usually when you drop to pumping every 4-5 hours it will reflect in your overall output.
- What is the best pump to use? There isn't necessarily a better pump to use but if you're exclusively pumping that you want your primary pump to be something like a Spectra or Medela that is high powered.
- Can you use pumps on the go? Yes, you absolutely can! You don't need a travel/portable pump if you have something like the Spectra S1 (or similar) but having something like the Elvie or Willow can be more convenient.
- How do you prevent your nipples from hurting while pumping? Just like breastfeeding, your nipples will hurt the first 4-6 weeks. Your body needs to adjust to either having a child sucking on your nipple or a pump suctioning your nipple. But there are ways you can help reduce the pain— use nipple cream or coconut oil to lube the flanges and reduce the suction level.
- How do you know if you have a clogged duct? You will feel it. As a clog forms you will start to feel the area become tender and hurt when you press on it. At times the area can become red and warm.
- Does higher the suction mean more milk is produced? No. Depending on the pump that you use, there are various levels of suction. The suction should never hurt you but should be just enough to remove the milk.
- How long should you pump for? This depends on your body but at a minimum 15 minutes per session. The best way to know when to stop pumping is when your breasts feel flat which for most women is around the 15 minute mark but some women it's longer. Once you remove your middle of the night session, your morning session will likely be much longer than any other sessions.
- How do you prevent clogged ducts? There isn't just one way to prevent clogs. You need to make sure that you stick to your pumping schedule, empty completely during sessions, massage your breasts during sessions, taking supplements like Choline or Sunflower Lecithin.
- How do you get rid of a clogged duct? There are numerous ways that you can try to remove a clogged duct, not even woman responds to all methods. The best ways— 4 Tablespoons epsom salt and hot water in the haaka, soak a diaper in warm water and epsom salt and lay it on your breast where the clog is, use a vibrator (with a pointy side) to push into the clog to break it up, use a manual pump, soak your breasts in warm water, massage the clog, dangle feed or pump, use the suction on only one side with the electric pump, and the one that works for most, if not all women... have your spouse or partner suck it out. While trying any of the above also take Choline or Sunflower Lecithin.
- How quickly do I need to remove a clog before it becomes mastitis? Within 12-24 hours depending on the size of the clog. Mastitis can come on QUICK so you need to work fast to get it out. If you get mastitis your supply will take a hit, but will eventually come back. The easiest way is to have your partner or spouse suck it out.
- Should I use a manual pump? The manual pump is great, but it's manual so it requires more work. However, for times that you need a quick session or get out a clog, it's a life savor!
- Can you pump while sleeping? Yes you can. I've done it many, many, many times over the years. Most pumps for safety reasons will turn off automatically at the 30 minute mark to prevent damage to your nipples.
- How do you get the most output from a session? Pumping between 2-5AM, when your prolactin levels are the highest will result in the most output. However, there are other things you can do during sessions like massaging your breasts, placing a warm compress on your breasts or place vibrators on your breasts.
- What's the best way to not lose milk in between sessions? The Elvie Catchers are the absolute best. You can wear them throughout the day or night. The milk that you catch during the day/night, store in a separate bottle and then mix it to other milk— the reason for this is because it will be fore milk that you're leaking which is much less fatty.
- Do larger chested women produce more milk? Usually. Your milk production is dictated by your glandular tissue. When you have larger breasts, you can have more glandular tissue.
- Are larger chested women more prone to clogs? Yes. This is because it can be difficult to fully empty your breast. Most often you need to assist by massaging or using a vibrator. Typically larger chested women will get clogs under their breasts just from the weight and pressure.
- What is strawberry milk? Is it bad for the baby? This is when blood gets mixed into the breastmilk and turns a strawberry color— it can be lighter or darker. It's perfectly fine for the baby drink (if you were breastfeeding, you've never know.) Some babies won't like the taste so you can dilute it with other milk or
- Why do my nipples get cracked? How do I fix them? There are 2 reasons— 1) from your nipples being dry and 2) due to a clog that came through. It's important to lubricate the flanges prior to your sessions to avoid your nipples getting cracked. You can use nipple cream or coconut oil to lube the flanges and reduce the suction level. You can also use saline spray after your session and Elvie Catchers to help with the healing process.
- Can I store my pump parts in the refrigerator? Yes, you can! This is actually something that I wish more would talk about. You can sit your pump parts directly in the refrigerator or in a bag for up to 12 hours. After 12 hours, wash and sanitize.
- How many pump parts should I have? It's always a good idea to have a few sets of parts— this includes flanges, bottles and the parts to the pump itself. Having excess flanges and bottles helps to not have to wash parts so often.
- What's the best way to store the milk I produce? This is up to you. You can immediately put it in a bottle, place into a pitches throughout the day and pour bottles the next morning, or separate AM/PM bottles. This is completely up to you.
- What does "high lipase" mean? There are a lot of women that experience high lipase milk and most babies are OK with it and it's completely safe for baby. There's lipase in all milk, it's enzyme that breaks down the fats in your milk to help baby digest it. When lipase occurs in excess, this process happens much more rapidly and can make the milk taste off, soap like, or sour after a period of time. Some babies don't like this taste, while others don't mind it at all. Your baby will usually only notice this when the milk is pumped. There are ways that you can help with this if your baby doesn't like the taste: 1) scald the milk after pumping it, or 2) add the tiniest drop non-alcoholic vanilla extract for every 4 ounces of milk.
- What if my supply starts to dip? Your supply can dip for various reasons, whether it's due to dehydration, something you ate (looking at you peppermint!), being sick, etc. When this happens it's helpful to get drinking LOTS of fluids and start some power pumping. If you've been dropping pumps and your supply dips too low, add a pump back in.
- What is power pumping? Power pumping is often used when you need to boost your supply. This means that you will pump for 10 minutes, stop for 5 minutes, repeat 2-3 times. This tells your body that your baby needs more milk! What's important to know is that telling your body this means that you may need to add in an extra pump depending on how much your body starts to produce again.
The Best Way To Freeze Milk
You'd think it's easy to just toss the milk in the freezer, but it's not! Keep in mind that milk only stays fresh for up to 4 days in the refrigerator so make sure you're keeping track of what milk was tracked when. Here's some tips for how to freeze milk:
- At the end of each day you have leftover milk, the next morning separate out into 3-5 ounces and freeze. Make sure you remove the air from the bags and freeze laying back in the freezer, then create a brick in a bag to organize.
- Combine the milk over the span of 4 days in the refrigerator (keeping track of that first day), when you hit the 4th day, measure out into 3-5 ounces and freeze. Make sure you remove the air from the bags and freeze laying back in the freezer, then create a brick in a bag to organize.
Helpful Resources & Apps
While lactation consultants are amazing, no matter how many I went to, most didn't have extensive insight into pumping. There were so many resources that I found along the way that were incredibly helpful. Each of these communities are incredible— from the tips, tricks and overall support system!
- Exclusively Pumping on Facebook
- Exclusively Pumping Mamas on Facebook
- Exclusive Pumping on Instagram
- How to Measure Properly from Exclusive Pumping
- Pump Log for iOS — this is awesome because it not only tracks your output BUT it will help you track your stash and gauge when you will be done pumping to get your child to your goal.
How Can My Spouse/Partner Help?
When you're breastfeeding your baby or sitting attached to a pump, there's plenty that your spouse/partner can do to take some of the load off of you.
- Wash bottles and/or pump parts.
- Fill the bottles for the day.
- Freeze leftover milk.
- Make sure you always have snacks.
- Make sure your water bottle is always filled.
- Take some feedings where possible.
Have more questions? Add a comment below with your questions to add to this list!