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In December and January, I did a survey of exclusive pumpers – I put a link to a survey on the sidebar and was very pleasantly surexclusive-pumping-adviceprised at how many people filled it out. (If you took the survey, thank you!)

One question that I asked was “[w]hat advice would you give to someone starting to exclusively pump?”

All of the advice was awesome, though today I wanted to highlight some great thoughts that some of the women had that I haven’t covered elsewhere on this site.

The Importance of Habit

Be patient. It will become habit quickly but exclusive pumping is time-consuming at first and has a big learning curve. Pay attention to how much you are producing and how much baby is eating so that you always know where you stand. I keep a notebook next to the sink where I clean the pump parts after each pumping and just write down what I produced, what baby had eaten, and at what time. I total it each day or so, and this has proven really helpful. I also track other things necessary to feeding on this notebook (lots of spit-up, changes in pump supplies, how baby is feeling, if baby is demanding more milk, etc.).

I think that this person hit on something important – a lot of what makes exclusive pumping easier is habit. It is so much easier when you have figured out the learning curve that she mentions – a pumping and feeding schedule that works for you, a way of cleaning pump parts and bottles that works for you, and a way of managing  your milk supply that works for you. Once you have gotten all this stuff down, you’re set, so just work on getting there and know it will be easier.

Keeping track of your milk output and your baby’s needs is also great advice, whether you do this the low-tech way (paper and notebook) or using an app on your phone. Being able to see trends can help you realize whether your supply is dropping, if you’re just having a normal fluctuation, or if your baby is having a growth spurt.

Learn Hand Expression

Learn to hand express and do it after every pumping session. You’d be surprised how much additional milk you can get this way. It’s also extremely helpful if you are out and about and don’t have a lot of room for the pump. With practice, hand expression became more efficient for me than pumping if it has only been a few hours since my last pump (e.g. 2-3 ounces in 5 minutes rather than 20 minutes or more pumping).

I have to confess that I have never mastered hand expression. Once, when I was stuck in a hotel room with an almost dead pump battery and no way to recharge it, I watched a few YouTube videos in a desperate attempt to learn. While I wasn’t very successful, I think that having the ability to remove milk from your breasts without a pump is a wonderful skill to have as an exclusive pumper, because you will never be stuck without a working pump. When my baby is born, I am going to work a lot harder to learn how to hand express, both as a backup and to build supply.

Grieve Nursing (if applicable)

It gets easier once you let go of any residual attachment to the idea of nursing. I was stuck on this notion that I absolutely had to nurse because I had been looking forward to it for so long. Once I realized that nursing was not the path our story was taking (my son refused to latch and attempting to nurse was too emotionally stressful for both of us), and that it was not the only way to feed my baby my breast milk, I felt at peace with exclusively pumping. Now we have a rhythm and routine, and my husband and others can help feed the baby.

If you wanted to nurse your baby and couldn’t, it can be really difficult. When nursing didn’t work out for me, it felt like my body was failing me, like I was failing my baby, and like I wasn’t going to be able to have the bond I wanted with my baby. I needed to let go of what I had expected (that nursing would be a success) to move on and feel proud of myself for exclusively pumping. Give yourself time to grieve what you wanted, and then do your best to embrace your new reality.

Consider Using Pumpin Pals

Use Pumpin Pals as they are more gentle on the nipples. I had been in so much pain with the regular shields and these fixed the problem.

I haven’t mentioned Pumpin Pals on the site before because I personally haven’t used them yet, but I have heard over and over again from other exclusive pumpers (both in this survey and in emails) how great these can be. Aside from being more comfortable on the nipples, they allow you to lean back while pumping (versus sitting up straight or hunching over). I am definitely going to buy some for pumping with this baby – I will report back with a review when I do!

Just Do Your Best

Just do the best you can do. Don’t get caught up on comparing amounts. Don’t get massive anxiety about missing pumps. Don’t freak out about not having a freezer stash. Just do the best you can.

When I started exclusive pumping, I was an extremely nervous first time mom, and I wanted to do everything perfectly for this new baby that I loved more than anything. “My best” didn’t feel good enough – I thought I needed to be perfect, because that’s what my baby deserved.

That baby is now 4, and I have realized that I am, regrettably, not perfect at anything I do, especially parenting-wise. My kids rarely eat vegetables, they watch too much TV when I’m exhausted from being pregnant, and my youngest is still obsessed with her pacifier. While this isn’t necessarily what I’d do in an ideal world, on some days it is my best, and I’m confident that in the end they will be just fine.

As long as you feed your baby, he or she will be just fine too. You may not be able to feed them as much breast milk as you’d like, but they will be okay and grow and flourish. Just do your best.

If you have any other advice to add, please feel free to do so in the comments!


First, I wanted to apologize for my long absence in posting – I found out a few months ago that I am pregnant again (um … oops!), and I have been pretty run down with morning sickness. I’m feeling better now and hoping to post more often now that that’s the case. In the meantime, I’ve gotten quite a few questions and am looking forward to posting them over the next few months. Additionally, I recently did a survey of exclusively pumping women, and I’ll be sharing some results with you.

Today’s first question is about exclusively pumping with a 6 day old baby – how to bring up supply and combine breast milk and formula. (Have a question about pumping breast milk? Ask it here!)

I am six days post-partum and have made the choice to exclusively pump. The doctors were worried about her loss in weight since she had lost 10% in 48 hours, and they were worried about her jaundice levels. They asked us to supplement with formula until my milk came in which it finally did yesterday. (Yay!)

So now I have two questions:

  • So far I’m only able to pump 1 oz (sometimes 2 oz) each time I pump. I know there are a lot of methods to increase milk supply, but is it normal for it to gradually come in? I keep hearing everyone talk about how they are able to produce four oz or more in one pumping session and I am not even close to that. I’ve been trying to stay hydrated, eating oatmeal, taking fenugreek, etc., but doesn’t seem like it’s helping quite yet.
  • Do you have any suggestions for transitioning from supplementing to strictly breast milk? It seems like my milk supply is not enough and she is
    still is hungry after she drinks even just my ounce or two I pump and wants the formula to fill up her little tummy. I’m hoping my breast milk will be plenty for her soon once I can start pumping more!

I think that your supply sounds pretty normal for six days post-partum, and it sounds like you are doing all of the right things with the water, oatmeal, and fenugreek. Regarding the fenugreek, have you noticed whether or not you have smelled like maple syrup? That’s the key to knowing if the dose is right, so if you take it and you do not smell like maple syrup, you may want to consider increasing the dose.

There are a couple of ways to combine formula and breast milk, but I would suggest feeding breast milk first and then supplementing with a formula chaser if necessary. You can also mix it together to get baby used to the taste, but then if they don’t finish it you have to throw the entire bottle out (versus a breast-milk only bottle, which can be saved for the next feeding).

My newborn is 11 days old and won’t latch consistently, so I am having to pump almost exclusively. We have been feeding her using a syringe that holds an ounce, but she is consistently drinking two or three syringes per feeding and she gets frustrated between syringe changes. Do you have any recommendations for bottles or nipples that we can use? I still want to nurse her so I am looking for something that I can go back and forth with.

With my first baby, I started using bottles pretty early with my first baby because I was exclusively pumping, and what I found was that I had to try a bunch of different bottles to find ones that he liked when he was your baby’s age. When he was older, I was able to get him to take the Medela bottles that came with my pump all of the time (which makes pumping and feeding much easier given that you’re using one set for both). Also, I nursed and pumped with my second baby, and I was able to go back and forth pretty easily with the Medela bottles that came with my pump.

I don’t know if you saw this list, but I tried most of these (except the Mimijumi, which is new since I had a baby is looks sort of cool). Maybe try some of these and see if any of them work?

My little one is four months old. I started exclusively pumping when she was in the NICU. (She was born 10 weeks early and spent 60 days in the hospital). During this time, I used a rented hospital grade pump most of the time and my personal pump when I was on the go. Now that she’s been home for 2 months, I’ve used my Medela pump, which I purchased new when she was born, every day 6-10 times a day and it’s starting to do weird things. Have you ever had a pump run down this quickly?

A pump should definitely last for more than a year, and I am almost positive Medela will replace it for you if you call their customer service. I have actually used my Freestyle pump for 27 months (14 of those were as an exclusive pumper, and the other 13 while at work) and it still works.