Are you struggling with nursing and thinking about switching to just pumping? Not sure how to start exclusively pumping breast milk? Here is everything you need to know.
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How to start exclusively pumping breast milk? It depends what you’re doing now
The steps you take will be different depending on whether you’re currently pregnant, nursing and pumping, or just nursing.
1. You’re pregnant and plan to exclusively pump from birth.
If you haven’t had your baby yet and you decide to exclusively pump, in most cases you’ll want to start pumping as soon as you get the okay from your provider after your baby’s birth. You should try to pump every 2-3 hours for 15 minutes.
Pumping colostrum (the thicker milk that you produce immediately after delivery) can sometimes be challenging, and you might have better luck using a Haakaa or hand expressing versus an electric pump.
After your milk comes in 2-5 days later, pumping with an electric pump should be more straightforward. You should continue to pump every 2-3 hours (though it’s okay to do a slightly longer stretch – like 4-5 hours – at night).
Note: Before your baby is born, you’ll want to make sure you have pumping gear that you’ll need when you get home from the hospital or birthing center (more on this below).
2. You’re currently “triple feeding” your baby.
Triple feeding means that at every feeding, you’re doing three things – nursing, pumping, and bottle feeding your baby. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen in that order, though most moms nurse first. (With a hands-free pumping bra, you might even be able to do the pumping and bottle feeding steps at the same time.)
Moms often triple feed when their baby is a newborn in order to work on nursing while also building up a supply (using the breast pump) and keeping baby fed (via bottle feeding) when their baby isn’t nursing or transferring milk well.
However, triple feeding is a lot of work, and it’s not something that most people can do indefinitely. At some point, you’ll want to transition to nursing or exclusively pumping (or formula feeding).
So, how to start exclusively pumping breast milk when you are triple feeding? This is pretty easy – you just drop the nursing part of your routine.
Depending on your reasons for switching to exclusively pumping, it might not be a bad idea to keep one session either a nursing session or a triple feeding session. Exclusively pumping can be harder than nursing over the long term, and keeping one nursing session might allow you to switch back later if your baby gets the hang of latching or transferring milk.
(I should note that I had every intention of doing this when I switched from triple feeding to exclusively pumping for my son, but I dreaded nursing so much that I just couldn’t. That’s fine, too!)
3. You’re currently just nursing or only occasionally pumping.
Sometimes, you can have a situation where nursing is going well – until it isn’t. For example, maybe your baby starts biting, and the usual strategies to fix this don’t work.
You have a couple of options to switch from nursing to exclusively pumping:
- Cut over to exclusively pumping cold turkey. That means at one session you nurse your baby, at the next, you bottle feed and pump.
- Switch over gradually. To do it this way, you would replace one session at a time with pumping and bottle feeding. This would allow you to try exclusive pumping out and see if you like it before committing to it full time. Of course, this only works if the reason you’re thinking of switching isn’t urgent.
For both of these, you’ll either need to be one feeding ahead, which means you have at least one bottle of breast milk pumped already, or supplement with formula for one feeding. This is so that you have a bottle ready to go to feed. Then when your baby eats, you’ll pump again, and use that milk for the feeding after that.
(I don’t recommend waiting until your baby is hungry or about ready to eat and then pumping, as it’s too stressful. It’s best to have a bottle of milk ready to go and then pump for the following feeding around the time your baby drinks the first bottle.)
If you decide you want to try to pump enough to get one feeding ahead of your baby, you can do this by pumping 20-30 minutes after your nursing sessions until you have enough milk stored to cut over.
Preparing to exclusively pump: what you need to start exclusively pumping
To start exclusively pumping, it’s a good idea to have the following things at a minimum:
- A double electric breast pump. If you’re nursing, a single or manual pump can work pretty well. If you’re exclusively pump (or pumping at work), a double electric pump will save you a lot of time and hand cramps. (Here’s how to get one free through insurance.)
- A hands-free pumping bra (or a hands-free pump). Most exclusive pumpers pump for at least two hours a day (which is what I recommend). No one wants to hold up pump parts to their breasts for two hours a day, so going hands-free is a big help.
- Spare pump parts and bottles. Having lots of extras will save you from having to constantly wash them.
Other pumping gear that might be helpful is outlined here.
Figure out your pumping schedule
Obviously, when you nurse, your schedule is your baby’s schedule. When you’re exclusively pumping, you can continue on that way – you can pump whenever he eats, which is what I chose to do at the beginning – or you can have a set schedule of times that you pump that are independent of when your baby eats.
If you decide to pump on a set schedule, the number of times you should pump in a day depends on how old your baby is. You can see some sample pumping schedules broken out by baby age here.
Here is more information about exclusively pumping for a newborn:
I hope this helps you figure out the best way to start exclusive pumping! Let us know what questions you have in the comments!
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “When Baby Bites.” https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/biting/
- Desfosse, Rebecca. “How to Balance Breastfeeding and Pumping.” https://www.care.com/c/stories/4419/how-to-balance-breastfeeding-and-pumping/