If you’re pregnant and thinking about exclusively breast pumping from birth, here’s everything you need to know about what you’ll need, how to manage pumping in the hospital, and what happens when you get home!
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What to Buy Before Your Baby Is Born
If you are planning on exclusively breast pumping from birth, you should definitely have some pumping gear on hand before you have your baby.
I would recommend having the following:
1. A Breast Pump
If you’re exclusively pumping from birth, you will need to start pumping soon after your baby is born. If at all possible, you’ll want to get a double electric breast pump. (It is possible, though difficult, to exclusively pump with a single electric or manual pump, so I recommend getting a double electric one if possible.)
Many women don’t need a hospital grade pump, though others prefer to rent one. Here is a list of breast pumps that I think work well for exclusive pumpers.
In the U.S., you should be able to get a free breast pump through your health insurance, if you have it. (I recommend going through Aeroflow Breastpumps; it’s super easy.)
2. Extra Sets of Pump Parts and Bottles
Having extra sets of pump parts and bottles means that you don’t have to wash everything every time you pump. It’s MUCH easier to do it once in a batch.
You may want to get multiple breast shield sizes to try in case yours aren’t the correct size. (The best size for you might not the same size that comes with your pump, and using the wrong size can cause pain and damage to your nipples.) This way, you don’t have to wait to get a larger or smaller set.
3. A Hands-Free Pumping Bra
If you don’t have a hands-free pump, a hands-free pumping bra is essential!
It will allow you to use your hands to do things besides holding your breast shields up to your breasts while you pump. This is life-changing when you are spending two hours a day pumping, and will make the first weeks (and your entire pumping “career”) much easier.
(More on hands-free pumping bras here.)
4. A Wash Basin
The CDC recommends washing breast pump parts and baby bottles in a separate wash basin rather than in a sink to avoid bacteria.
5. A Few Nursing Bras or Tanks
Even if you won’t be nursing, nursing bras are designed for lactating breasts (meaning there are usually no seams or underwires), and they allow for easy access for pumping.
6. Breast Pads
Once your milk comes in, it’s possible/likely that your milk will let down unpredictably and you’ll leak all over your shirt. Breast pads can help prevent this.
Additional breastfeeding products that might be helpful are discussed here.
What to Do Before Your Baby is Born
After you’ve got everything you need, there are a few things I would suggest taking care of before you have your baby.
- Practice putting your pump parts together and get familiar with the buttons and settings on your pump. (I have guides on the Medela Pump in Style, Medela Freestyle, and Spectra S1 and S2; if you have a different pump, your instruction manual will tell you everything you need to know.)
- Sterilize your breast pump parts and bottles.
- Consider practicing hand expression (after checking with your doctor), as it can help you express colostrum both before and after your baby is born.
- Create a pumping station where you can keep your pumping gear (you can use a rolling cart or a caddy if you will need to move around).
- Make a tentative plan for your pumping schedule. (Here are examples and different ways of doing this.)
Game Plan for Pumping in the Hospital
Exclusive pumpers are often unsure of how to start pumping and feeding their babies in the hospital. Here’s what you need to know.
Before Your Baby’s Birth
If you give birth in a hospital or birthing center, you’ll probably be asked while you’re in labor whether you plan to breastfeed your baby. This can be a surprisingly hard question for an exclusive pumper!
Tell your provider about your plan for feeding your baby immediately after birth (whether you’d like to nurse at just that first feeding, or if you’d rather use formula), and let them know that you will need to pump when possible.
(Note: Some providers might give you a hard time or question your decision to exclusively pump. If you’re sure it’s what you want to do, stand firm. Lots of women exclusively pump and while it can be challenging, it is possible.)
Immediately After Your Baby’s Birth
If you have a vaginal delivery and you both are doing well, you will probably be offered your newborn to nurse. You can either just do this one nursing session, or you can decline and start pumping when your provider is okay with it.
Once you’re in recovery, you’ll want to pump about every 2-3 hours.
(Not sure how to use your pump? Here’s a beginner’s guide.)
Usually, with a newborn, I would say to pump about as often as your baby eats, but my babies all conk out for 24 hours after birth, which would be way too long to not pump! Try for every few hours, but it’s also okay if you need to take it easy on that first day to recover from childbirth or surgery.
If you’re not able to get any milk with your electric pump, you can try hand expression or using a Haakaa. Sometimes that can work better with colostrum, which is thicker than mature milk.
If you’re able to pump some colostrum, that’s great! Feed your baby whatever you’re able to express.
You might want to be prepared to supplement with formula in the hospital. Obviously, you’ll want to talk to your baby’s pediatrician in making a decision.
(Note: Some women – myself included – have a really hard time pumping colostrum. I never got more than a few milliliters in the hospital. This led my baby’s pediatrician to say the soul-crushing words – “that is a very small amount to have pumped” – to my postpartum self.)
More on feeding your baby before your milk comes in here.
Going Home With Your Newborn
Your milk should come in about 2-4 days after you give birth. Since you’ll be pumping, it should be very clear when this happens! In my case I went from getting a few drops of milk at one session to a few ounces of milk at the next one.
When you get home, you’ll want to get on a schedule of some sort.
I started by pumping whenever my baby ate, but other women prefer to have set times to pump. Everything you need to know about exclusively pumping for a newborn (how long and how often to pump, how much milk to expect, etc.) is outlined here.
If you find you have an oversupply in the first few weeks, don’t get lazy and start to skip pumping sessions. I did this, and it was not a good idea!
When my supply regulated, I went from easily making over 35oz a day to exactly 24oz, which was barely keeping up with my baby. I had to work hard to get that supply back, so I would not advise following in my footsteps. Stick to your schedule as best you can.
Make Sure that You Are Sure about Exclusively Breast Pumping from Birth
The last thing I would recommend is to make sure that you’re sure about exclusively pumping.
Deciding to exclusively pump can be a big decision, because if you decide later you’d rather nurse, it can be hard to get your baby to cooperate.
Many moms nurse during maternity leave, and then their baby refuses to take a bottle when it’s time for them to go back to work. The same thing can happen if your baby becomes used to taking a bottle; some babies will just refuse milk that’s not offered in the way they prefer.
There are tons of good reasons (for example, being a sexual abuse survivor, or just really not liking the idea of nursing) to decide before your baby is born that you definitely want to exclusively pump from birth.
If you’re on the fence, you may want to give nursing a try. I personally found it easier than exclusively pumping. However, if you do want to exclusively pump, know that it is a valid decision and many women are successful at it.
More on the pros and cons of pumping vs nursing here.
Obviously, whatever you choose is the right decision for you, and you are going to be a great mom!
Want checklists to keep track of all this information? Grab your free Exclusively Pumping from Birth Starter kit here!