Exclusive pumping can have a big learning curve. There are a lot of dos and don’ts, hacks, and tricks to figure out when you first start pumping. Here are the top 10 mistakes that exclusive pumpers make, so that you can avoid them!
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1. Using the wrong size flange
Pumping with the correct size breast shield is essential for both avoiding nipple pain and maximizing breast milk supply. However, often pumping moms don’t realize that breast shields come in different sizes, and just use whatever comes with their pump.
If you are having discomfort while you pump, this diagram can help you determine the best flange size for you. Alternatively, you can buy several different sizes (or a set of Pumpin Pals) and see what size is most comfortable for you.
2. Not making sure your baby will take your milk before building up a big freezer stash
Some breastfeeding mothers have excess lipase in their breastmilk. Excess lipase causes the taste of breastmilk to change more quickly to sour or soapy, causing many babies to refuse to drink it.
If you have excess lipase, they are ways to work around it! If you scald your breastmilk before it goes off, it’s likely that your baby will take it without any issues. However, once it’s gone off, there isn’t anything you can do.
Many exclusive pumpers have built up a large freezer stash, and THEN realized that they had excess lipase.
Therefore, make sure that your baby will take frozen breast milk early on, so that if you need to scald your breast milk before freezing, you can do so.
3. Limiting the length of your pumping sessions to 10 minutes (or 20 minutes) or less
Pumping moms are often given the advice that they shouldn’t pump longer than x number of minutes – often 10 minutes or 20 minutes.
The intent of this advice is to prevent nursing moms from developing oversupply, and it doesn’t apply to you as an exclusive pumper. Nursing moms are already spending time nursing and then pumping on top of it, whereas you’re just pumping. Feel free to ignore this advice!
If you’re exclusively pumping (unless you’re weaning), you should be pumping for a total of two hours per day. To determine how long your sessions should be, divide 120 by the number of times that you pump per day.
If you find that you’re getting an additional letdown near the end of your pumping sessions, it’s okay to keep pumping if you have time, are comfortable, and don’t mind. Don’t pump so much that you burn yourself out, but it won’t hurt anything to keep pumping for longer.
4. Focusing too much on building a freezer stash
“Feed your baby, not your freezer.”
Building up a freezer stash can be great for peace of mind, especially for exclusive pumpers that have anxiety around having enough breast milk to feed their babies.
However, it’s easy to get a little obsessed with how much milk you have stored up and growing your stash. If you find you’re worrying about this – meaning that the milk in your freezer becomes a source of stress rather than peace of mind – try to focus more on feeding your baby and on today rather than preparing for tomorrow.
5. Not prioritizing your mental health
If you are really struggling with pumping – the time it takes you away from your baby, the need to figure out how to get your pumping sessions in, the mental load – it’s okay to drop pumping sessions or wean. (You can always start dropping pumping sessions and reassess with each dropped session how you’re feeling and whether you’d like to drop another one or stay where you are.)
The most important thing that you can give your baby is a happy YOU, not an extra 2 oz of breast milk.
(Also, see your doctor if you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety. They can help! I speak from experience.)
6. Not using a hands-free pumping bra
If you’re exclusively pumping, you need to be using a hands-free pumping bra. You get so much of your life back when you’re not sitting there holding your breast shields in place for two hours every day!
7. Taking a medication that impacts your supply
There are some medications – such as oral birth control that contains estrogen or certain decongestants – that can decrease breast milk supply.
Before you take any medication, ask a medical professional about its safety with regard to breastfeeding. Your best bet is to call the Infant Risk Center or use one of their apps. They use an evidence-based approach to give you the risks of taking any medication while breastfeeding, including the risks to your supply.
8. Frequently skipping pumping sessions
Sticking to your pumping schedule is important for two reasons. First, regularly removing milk from your breasts helps you establish and maintain your milk supply. If you are often missing sessions, you’re telling your body that you don’t need as much milk anymore, and your supply may drop over time.
Therefore, stick to your schedule as much as you can. (If you do miss a pumping session every now or then, it’s no big deal. Just get back on your schedule and make up the time later than day if you can.)
9. Dropping pumping sessions too quickly
Dropping pumping sessions can sometimes have an impact on supply. This is especially true if you’re going longer periods of time without lactating (such as overnight), as you can sometimes get your period back.
If you’re not weaning, it’s a good idea to wait at least a week or two in between dropping pumping sessions so that you can see if dropping the first session has any impact on your supply before dropping the next one.
10. Weaning before you were ready
Exclusive pumpers who decide to wean and then change their minds halfway through may have a difficult time bringing your supply back up. (The older your baby is, the more likely it is that it will be a challenge.)
If you decide to start weaning, make sure that you’ve thought it through and are sure. Also, make sure that your baby will take the milk you plan to transition him or her to before you start. You can always take it slowly and reassess after dropping each session, as described above.
Did you make any exclusive pumping mistakes when you started out? Tell us about them in the comments!