How to Succeed When Exclusively Pumping

July 28, 2017

Whether by choice or necessity, for some moms “breastfeeding” means exclusively pumping and bottle feeding to give baby the amazing benefits of breast milk. And, while there are pros and cons to any feeding choice, exclusive pumping comes with a set of unique challenges and considerations that need to be taken into account to be successful.

Reasons some moms exclusively pump

Breastfeeding is a two-person job, and its success relies on the ability and desire of both you and your baby. There are a number of reasons that families may not breastfeed in the traditional sense:

  • Your baby isn’t able to breastfeed: If your baby is born prematurely, sick, or with an anatomic problem like cleft palate, they may lack the tools or energy needed to feed at your breast. Feeding these babies may require specially-designed products to get them the nutrients they need.
  • You aren’t able to breastfeed: Some moms face emotional or physical barriers to breastfeeding that simply can’t be resolved as quickly as needed to breastfeed their baby. Others may exclusively pump while temporarily unable to breastfeed due to illness or undergoing certain medical treatments.
  • By choice: Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. Every parent wants to do what’s best for their baby and their family, and if breastfeeding doesn’t fit into that equation, there’s no shame in using your next best option.

No matter the reason, it’s important for exclusively pumping moms to remember that you’ll need to replicate the natural cues your body would receive from your baby to properly initiate, build, and maintain a strong breast milk supply. Here are the key steps you should take:

Hour 1: A Strong Start

Giving birth is a whirlwind of excitement, joy, fear, change, family, friends, birth teams, and the pure bliss of seeing the human life you and your body created over the last nine months. Once baby has arrived, it is natural to want to relax, take pictures, introduce your loved ones, and snuggle with your new bundle of joy. And you should do all of that! However, in the first hour after birth your body is primed to initiate breastfeeding, and missing this window can have a big impact on your supply throughout your entire pumping journey. Prepare in advance to begin pumping within that first hour, in the event that your newborn isn’t able to breastfeed. Starting right away with a breast pump designed to mimic a newborn’s sucking pattern can help you avoid future supply issues once you leave the hospital.

Week 1: Initiating Milk Production

In the first days post-birth, your hormonal changes and baby’s sucking (or a breast pump mimicking baby’s sucking) are a message to your body to start producing breast milk. In the first week, double pump 6-8 times a day to put yourself on the right track for a strong supply. Don’t stress about the amount you’re expressing in this first week. Newborns’ stomachs are tiny and only need about 15 mL of breast milk per day during this time.

Month 1: Building Milk Supply

In the first month, your body is in training, learning how much breast milk your baby needs. With traditional breastfeeding, your baby’s hunger cues would tell you when and how often to feed and your body would adjust accordingly by producing the amount of breast milk baby requires. For an exclusively pumping mom, however, your body doesn’t get these cues directly from baby, so you need to use a breast pump to replicate them. The goal is to empty your breasts frequently and completely, which tells your body that it needs to produce more milk to sustain your baby.

Months 2+: Maintaining Milk Supply

Once your supply has been properly established, the remainder of your breastfeeding journey will be spent maintaining the work you put in to build your strong supply. Your body will continue adjusting to your needs based on supply and demand: the more often you empty your breasts, the more breast milk your body thinks it needs to produce. This is helpful to remember if you’re planning on building a breast milk stash before returning to work after maternity leave, too.

Our last tip: Most breast pumps are made for moms who are both nursing and pumping throughout their standard day. Exclusively pumping is an entirely different experience which puts added stress and demand on your equipment to meet the same needs without any assistance from baby. To succeed, it’s important that you choose a breast pump designed to withstand this level of use. Even among our own products, the only breast pump we recommend for an exclusively pumping mom is our Symphony® Breast Pump, which has been clinically proven to initiate, build, and maintain breast milk supply for the mom and baby who are unable to breastfeed.

Do you have more tips for exclusively pumping moms? Tell us in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “How to Succeed When Exclusively Pumping

  1. Good article but the 6-8 pumps per day should be until 12 weeks. That whole time is building your stash. PISA can also be great for an exclusive pumper. 14 months of exclusive pumping with one here

  2. I EPed for 17 months using your PISA. My pump was a workhorse, and deserves just as much credit for my oversupply, and thus my ability to not only provide breastmilk to my daughter for more than 2 years, but to also donate and feed 7 other babies.

    While your tips above are great, they oversimplify what it is like to dedicate yourself to Exclusive Pumping. My tips: Find a support system. This maybe your partner or family…many times it is the people you seek out for advice and help that become your biggest cheerleaders. I would not have made it through my journey without the support of a few thousand women worldwide who also EP.

    Aim for at least 10 pumps per day for the first 12 weeks, and make sure you are getting in at least one pump from midnight to 6 am.

    Invest in at least 3 full sets of pump parts.

    Make sure to make time for youself! Between time attached to the pump and everything else that comes along with life with a newborn, it’s easy to lose yourself. Never ever put your mental health below your desire to provide breast milk for your child. You do you first, and everything else will be better for it.

    One last thing, Medela… Pumping IS breastfeeding. Using quotation marks around the word when discussing EPing makes it lesser than nursing. Breastfeeding encompasses BOTH of these things. Nursing is direct feeding, and pumping is feeding expressed milk…the end result is the same.

    Thank you.

  3. i learned the hard way that

    1- use a double pump, i went from pumping 45 min down to 20 minutes.

    2- breastmilk bags are cheaper in amazon

    3- you can store more than 6 oz in them.

    4- use an old sleeping bra or a bra that you don’t use any more, cut a SMALL hole in the middle for shield to fit through.

  4. Anna jablonska boyer says:

    Wish we knew which breast pump to go with before our journey begun. I am a first time mom exclusively pumping with the medela freestyle double pump. My little one is 3.5months old and we have tried to nurse for the first month of his life – i have a burn on the left side of my body making it extremely painful to breastfeed… pumping is uncomfortable however the pain is tolerable. It is so omportant for our little one to have the best start in life that is why i chose to exclusively pump ! My concern is that with each week that passes my milk supply drops – any suggestions are welcome.
    Some feedback about the medela freestyle pump;
    The pump has a fantastic motor and reaches suction up to level 10, i normally pump at setting 3 or 4
    Negatives about the pump attachments – cant move or bend let alone play with little one as the pump will leak everytime
    Must sit in a uptight position
    The connector “suction cord ” that connects the motor to the actual milk jugs detaches with the slightests of movements
    Suggestion; try to make leak proof parts

  5. Beyonica Delone says:

    I have breastfed for 3 months and for several reasons,I have to stop now. I would like to know what’s the proper steps to stop milk supply and how to ease the pain from engorgment while going through the stopping process. Thanks!

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