Exclusive pumping is a lot of work! Aside from the actual pumping itself, it involves preparing bottles, bottle-feeding your baby, washing bottles and pump parts, caring for your breasts/dealing with bouts of clogged ducts and mastitis, and managing your stash of expressed breast milk. Below are five things that you can do to make life as an exclusive pumper more manageable and make pumping easier.
1. Go Hands-Free and Multitask.
This is absolutely the most important thing. If you’re going to be spending two hours per day tied to the pump, you need to be able to do other things at the same time, whether that’s giving your baby a bottle of milk, driving, working on your laptop, reading a book, or playing with your phone. Invest in a hands-free pumping bra (here is the one that I used) and free yourself to do other things while you pump.
I haven’t mastered this yet, but I’ve heard of women walking around and cleaning up the house while pumping. A hands-free bra is life-changing!
2. Don’t Be Stuck Constantly Washing Pump Parts.
In between pump sessions, put your pump parts in a gallon-size ziploc bag in the fridge so that you don’t have to wash them in between every use. Some people prefer to sterilize pump parts every time they pump; however, if you don’t have time for that, they will be fine in the fridge for 12-24 hours if you just take them out to pump and then put them right back in. [Update: In September 2017, the CDC issued new guidelines recommending pump parts be washed after each use. Here is my take and how to follow this recommendation more easily.]
When you’re at work, an opaque bag like the Pumparoo can be better for storing pump parts if you’re using a shared refrigerator. (If you need to clean breast pump parts at work, keep a wash basin, bottle brush, and dish soap there. The wash basin is safer – no bacteria from food – and if you’re using a public sink, you don’t have monopolize it while you wash your pump parts. When you’re done, you can line the wash basin with paper towels and let you pump parts dry.)
Also, buy extra sets of pump parts. This way you can use clean parts whenever you need them and then wash everything in one big batch. Also, pump parts don’t always work when they are wet, so having multiple sets allows the parts time to air dry after washing.
Finally, if you have a partner, enlist them to help with the washing! For a long time, I considered the pump and everything that went with it “my thing.” Eventually I realized that since I was doing all of the work pumping the milk, he could help out by washing pump parts and bottles. It made things easier for me, and it made him feel more involved. (At least, that is what I tell myself.)
3. Pump into the Bottles That Your Baby Drinks out of.
If you can, pump into the bottles that your baby will drink out out of – it saves so much time in terms of transferring milk and washing two sets of bottles. If your baby won’t take the bottles that come with your pump, see if you can attach the bottles he or she likes to the pump – you might be surprised. Dr Brown’s bottles will screw into the Medela Freestyle pump parts, for example.
If that doesn’t work, keep trying the bottles that came with your pump every couple of weeks. Babies change all of the time, and you never know when they will surprise you!
You should also make sure that you have plenty of bottles – I would aim for twice as many bottles as your baby drinks in a day. That way you have plenty to store in the fridge, plenty to pump into, and you can wash them at all once (like with the pump parts).
4. Have a Pumping Station Set up with Everything That You Need.
I have commandeered a corner of the couch and side table as my “pumping station.” There I have my pump (plugged into an easily accessible outlet), hands-free bra, baby blanket to put on my lap (in case of spills), laptop or iPad, phone charger, TV remote, glass of water, and (when my baby was younger) a bouncy seat that I could bounce with my feet while I pumped.
When it’s time to pump, all I need to do is get my pump parts out of the fridge and grab a few bottles. That way, I don’t get all hooked up to my pump and then realize that the remote is on the other side of the room and also, I’m really thirsty.
5. Try to Get Comfortable with Pumping on the Go.
One thing that is challenging about exclusive pumping is that you can’t just leave the house without a plan for how and when you’re going to get your next pumping session in. You either need to be careful to get home in enough time that you won’t get uncomfortable or you need to be able to pump on the go.
One option is to pump while you drive – this can be done safely as long as you don’t become distracted by the pump and you use a hands-free bra. You can also pump in your car without driving (just sort of use it as a lactation room), or depending on your comfort level, you can try pumping in public. Also, just because you’re an exclusive pumper, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take trips – I wrote up some information about flying as an exclusive pumper and about how to travel with breast milk.
Once I figured these things out, life became a lot easier for me! If you have other tips, share them in the comments!