Are you thinking about exclusively pumping breast milk for your baby? When I started out, I had no idea what I was doing and pieced together information from internet searches. Here is all of the information you need in one place – what exclusive pumping is, the pros and cons of exclusive pumping vs nursing, and how to exclusively pump breast milk.
What is Exclusive Pumping?
Exclusive pumping is breastfeeding using a breast pump and bottle.
Exclusively pumping moms pump breast milk around the clock to feed to their babies via a bottle. They do not nurse their babies for true feedings, though they may comfort nurse.
Exclusive pumpers may supplement with formula or feed their babies solid foods. “Exclusive” doesn’t refer to the baby only getting breast milk, like it does in the phrase “exclusively breastfeeding.”
The term “exclusive pumping” means that the baby is not nursed but is fed breast milk, and is meant to differentiate exclusive pumpers from (for example) moms that mostly nurse but pump at work.
Why Exclusively Pump?
Moms exclusively pump for many difference reasons. Some of the more common reasons for exclusively pumping include:
- Having a baby that refuses to nurse
- Difficulty with weight gain/baby doesn’t transfer milk well while nursing
- Physical reasons (such as cleft palate)
- Baby was in the NICU after birth and then had difficulty establishing nursing
- Baby has gotten teeth, and biting has become an issue
- Desire to provide baby with breast milk but aversion to nursing (sometimes due to sexual abuse, sometimes just personal preference)
Exclusively Pumping vs Nursing (aka Exclusively Pumping vs Breastfeeding)
First, exclusive pumping IS breastfeeding – it’s just not nursing. When you pump and feed your baby the milk you pumped, you are feeding from your breasts – just not directly. However, when people are asking this question, they often say “breastfeeding” when they mean “nursing.”
So – is it okay to just pump and not nurse?
Yes. Exclusive pumping is a perfectly valid option for feeding your baby.
However, there are advantages and disadvantages. Here are the exclusively pumping vs nursing pros and cons.
Exclusive Pumping Benefits
- You always know how much your baby is eating (so no “is she getting enough milk?” worries) – when you’re nursing, you have to guess unless you weigh your baby before and after feedings.
- You know how much milk you are producing and can see trends over time (especially if you track this data in an app). This way you can take action more quickly if your supply starts to drop. Nursing moms have to guess if supply is an issue or their baby is fussy for other reasons.
- You don’t have to worry about your baby biting, because breast pumps don’t have teeth!
- You are more in control of deciding when to wean, as breast pumps tend not to be as attached to the breastfeeding relationship.
Exclusive Pumping Challenges
- It’s a big time commitment – exclusive pumping requires about 120 minutes of pumping per day, in addition to the time you spend bottle feeding your baby breast milk. With nursing, the milk production and feeding steps are obviously combined.
- Pumping when you have a baby to take care of can be challenging.
- It requires a lot of energy and effort to wash all of the bottles and pump parts. Nursing moms have nothing to wash; formula feeding moms only have bottles.
How Does Exclusive Pumping Work?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how to go about exclusively pumping, here is what you need to know.
How often should I be pumping? And for how long?
This depends on how old your baby is.
When you’re exclusively pumping, you should be pumping for about 120 minutes per day (this is a minimum – you can pump more if you want to).
However, if your baby is a newborn, you’ll want to pump more often and for shorter periods of time than if you have an older baby. Read this if you have a newborn (0-3 months old), and this if your baby is older. Here are some sample pumping schedules.
Once you’ve expressed your milk, here are guidelines for storing and using it.
What do I need to exclusively pump?
Other than that, some great investments include:
- Extra sets of pump parts
- Breast pads
- A nursing cover (so you can pump outside your house)
- A lactation massager (in case of plugged ducts or to help with letdowns)
I’m not pumping enough milk. What should I do?
Fear not! There are lots of things that you can do to get your milk supply up. I wrote up a long post about what you can do (what you can eat, herbs you can take, etc.) to increase your supply one about how to get the most milk out of each session (compressions, etc.), and one about how to get additional letdowns.
At a high level, some things that you can try include:
- Herbs (such as fenugreek or blessed thistle)
- Eating oatmeal
- Medication (such as domperidone or Reglan)
- Lactation cookies
- Power pumping
If you’re experiencing supply drops when you get your period, here are some things that you can do to try to mitigate the issue.
If you need to supplement with formula, here is how to do it if you are exclusively pumping.
I’m having nipple pain or breast pain. What is going on and how can I make it stop?
Having breast pain as an exclusive pumper is the worst since you can’t take a break from pumping – you have to keep doing it every couple of hours regardless.
If you’re having breast pain related to pumping, the first thing that I would check is your breast shield size. Pumping with the wrong size breast shields can damage your nipples. Here is a great sizing guide from Medela that can help you determine if your flanges are too small or too big.
Here are some tips for how to treat and prevent a variety of issues that can occur when you’re breastfeeding:
- Clogged milk ducts
- Milk blisters (otherwise known as blebs)
- Nipple vasospasms
- Cracked and Bleeding Nipples
- General nipple pain
This is really hard. How can I make my life easier?
It is hard, but there are so many little things that you can do to make it easier.
Some of the things you can do include: seeing if your baby will take the bottles that you pump into, setting up a “pumping station” so that everything you need is in one place, and getting comfortable with pumping on the go so you can get out of the house. (Speaking of getting out the house, you should also know how to pump and drive, travel with breast milk, and pump and fly.)
As your baby gets older, one thing that can make exclusive pumping easier is to drop pumping sessions. Here’s how to do it without losing your milk supply.
I want to stop pumping and wean from the pump.
When you’re wean from the pump, you’ll want to gradually drop pumping sessions – first you’ll go down to three sessions about eight hours apart, then to two pumping sessions 12 hours apart. Then you drop either the morning or night session – whichever is more annoying to you, and reduce the last remaining pumping session by time or volume. More info here.
Here is information on transitioning your baby off of breast milk when you wean.