Exclusive Pumping is a thing.
I wish they would tell you that in the breastfeeding preparation courses. Hopefully, they do, and it was just my experience that lacked. The two classes I took happened to have instructors who were knowledgeable about nursing but taught nothing about exclusive Pumping.
Had I been prepared, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a stressful experience. One that was thrust on me as a brand new mom with a newborn who would not latch.
To set the record straight.
You can pump exclusively and maintain a milk supply.
It is not as easy as nursing (although nursing is freaking hard as well), but it is maintainable. For more information, please read my comparison between my nursing and exclusive pumping experience.
Another option if you are having trouble latching is that you can pump to bring your milk in and then work with a lactation consultant to transition your baby back to the breast. This is what I did successfully with my second born. I can’t imagine that everyone is successful at this, but it is a possibility. If you want to nurse, don’t rule this out.
For the sake of this article, let’s assume that you are considering the Exclusive Pumping route.
What I wanted to give you today is my full knowledge dump of what I learned along the way during my 11-month Exclusive Pumping journey. Today’s article is Jam-packed with game-changers that took me from minimal ounces and discomfort to my maximum output and comfort.
If there is anything below that you want to know more about, please reach out.
All of the information found within this article is based on my opinions unless otherwise noted. All information is derived from my experience and is intended to motivate readers to make their own decisions after consulting with their health care provider. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
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Exclusive Pumping Equipment
Getting the right equipment is critical. I started pumping one side at a time, and while this enabled me to focus on compressions throughout, it also took ages. The first game-changer for me was getting myself a hands-free pumping bra, which allowed me to pump both sides at a time. And the second game-changer was finding the right flanges to reduce nipple damage. Here is the equipment I recommend:
- Double Breast Pump – I’ve used both Spectra S1 and Medela Freestyle (seems to have been replaced by the Medela Freestyle Flex). It was important for me to have a portable option. The freestyle was more portable of the two; I could clip it to my pants and move around. But the control that the S1 offers eventually won me over. You can control the suction strength and frequency completely.
- Hands-Free Pumping Bra – Simple Wishes is by far my favorite pumping bra. It holds the flanges firmly to your chest, so they don’t ‘drupe’ – I can’t think of a better word. You can also get your hand in there for compressions 360 degrees.
- Pumpin Pals – These are brilliant. The flange has a gradual angle the whole way through as opposed to the sudden straightness of traditional flanges. Pumpin Pals are the only flange to date that has not caused blisters. (Knock on wood!)
- Coconut Oil – Coat your nipples pre pumping and prevent chafing. I use Fractionated Coconut Oil for quick and easy application. I’ve also used Earth Mama Organic Nipple Balm for after when the nipples need a little extra TLC.
- Bottles/Bags – I’ve always pumped into Medela Bottles because they are so compact (probably also because I started with a Medela pump). But also because I love the Medela Cool Box. I learned that there are narrow mouth bottles and wide-mouth bottles and you can pump into either with a simple converter (this one is for the wide pump (Spectra S1) to narrow bottles (Medela) which I use).
Pain Prevention and Relief
Even with putting coconut oil and or nipple balm on the nips, especially in the beginning, those puppies will get sore and potentially blistered. The biggest thing is to make sure you have the right size flanges. If you are having trouble (like me), invest in those Pumpin Pals.
When…if you get blisters, the advice I got and followed, was to do a wet bandage. You can do this a couple of ways:
- Cover your nipple with some nipple balm, cover a breast pad with the same, and then place them against each other in your bra.
- Medela Soothing Gel Pads are so relieving.
- The mother of all fixers are Silverette Nursing Cups – I held out on these, but in the end, it was between quitting or trying these from a recommendation. Life-changing. It helps heal damage quicker. But even without damage, while those nips are sensitive, it acts as a nice barrier between your nipples and shirt.
Exclusive Pumping Schedules
It’s important to pump at least eight times a day in the beginning. Admittedly I maxed out most days at seven unless making a big effort, which I had to do at times to give my supply a boost. If you can stick with 8, do, even if the duration is less. A great pumping schedule would be something like:
8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm, 4am, 6am
You should ideally keep this up until your milk regulates.
What is this with milk regulation?
From what I understand, before your milk regulates, you produce more than usual due to hormones. After regulation, it goes entirely off of supply and demand. So, for example, if you pump less than eight times a day, you might make a good amount in the beginning due to the hormone boost, but after regulation, your body defaults to supply and demand, and you weren’t demanding often enough to keep a good supply. Here is an excellent article by Exclusive Pumping that goes into way better detail than I do.
You can always (almost always) boost a supply back (section below), but it takes work.
What the heck is with the middle of the night pumping? This is when your prolactin levels are highest, so your output volume will be the greatest. I get it; it’s not easy. Love our Littles has an excellent read for you to help ease it.
Here’s the good news. After you regulate (12 weeks for most people), you can start slowly dropping pumps and slightly increase durations.
So lets say:
- 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm, 4am, 6am [through 3 months] – 10-15 min sessions
- 7am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm, 4am [4 & 5 months] – 12-18 min sessions
- 8am, 12pm, 4pm, 8pm, 11pm, 4am [6 & 7 months] – 15-20 min sessions
- 8am, 1pm, 6pm, 10pm, 4am [8+ months] – 20-25 min sessions
You can drop further, but for me, I started to lose supply at this point. I aimed for one year and made it to 11 months pretty easily. For me, dropping the middle of the night pump was the most significant supply dropper.
Recognizing and Relieving a Clog
By far, the most annoying part of pumping (maybe nursing too, but I haven’t encountered it yet) is getting a clog. If not relieved, a clog could lead to mastitis.
I always caught my clogs early (because of I massage/compress while pumping), which was key in getting them out in time.
If you do have a hard, red, hot spot on your breast and you have a fever, it’s probably already mastitis, and you need antibiotics. Call your doctor right away.
If you’ve just noticed, but there is no fever, you might be able to get it out. Here is what I tried in order of how I’d go about it.
- A warm washcloth or heat pad on the area before and while pumping with compressions. Gently dig your knuckle in there to help break up the clog.
- Use a vibrator to massage the area while pumping.
- Lean forward, think cat/cow pose. It could get messy depending on your pump setup, but the gravity helps some clogs break free
- Warm water in a Hakka, preferably with Epsom Salt. Let the nipple soak then hand express into Hakka.
- Warm Eason Salt bath, let your body relax (I know it’s hard if your at this point because it’s getting painful and you are scared it will turn into something more). Dip your affected boob in the water to warm up then hand express.
- Stay hydrated and take Sunflower Lecithin, which helps to reduce the ‘stickiness’ of the milk. If you are prone to clogged ducts, you probably should take Sunflower Lecithin regularly.
- Check nipple for a bleb. A little white dot or blister. If you find one and pop it (although best to let a doctor I was always too anxious and would do it myself with a sterilized needle), then the milk should start flowing.
If you got it out. Phew, it is such a relief. If not and you’ve tried all of the above, consult your doctor.
Kelly Mom is my go-to resource for everything pumping. This is their article on breastmilk storage and handling. I followed:
- Four hours at room temperature
- Four days in the fridge
- Four months in the freezer
Four, four, four, was easy for me to remember and explain. But Kelly Mom does an excellent job going into details and edge cases.
We didn’t have a huge fridge or freezer, but I felt I had to produce as much as possible.
In hindsight, I should have relaxed. Perhaps I would have lasted a bit longer (although I am very proud of 11 months). But I did sustain quite a bit of nipple damage and clogged ducts from pumping too long a session and taking too long to find Pumpin Pals. Perhaps reducing pump durations, a bit could have prevented those.
With baby number two, right now, I’m not even building a freezer stash. I just pump enough for a day or two of daycare bottles partly because I have confidence that I can keep it up. And that if I did drop ounces, I could use formula until I recover (see the section on recovery). But partly because I found with my first that I had a high lipase.
I highly suggest testing for high lipase before dedicating yourself to building a high freezer supply. High lipase causes your milk to take on a soapy or metallic taste. It does not hurt your baby, and some babies take it no problem, but others won’t take it.
You test by freezing some milk for let’s say two weeks, taking it out and trying it out. If it’s normal (smells normal, tastes normal and baby takes it) try again for one month, then two months, etc. mine was fine at two weeks but went metallic at one month so somewhere in there my high lipase kicked in.
For more information, check out La Leche League’s article here.
The biggest question I see on the forums is how to increase output. Before I jump into what worked for me, I want to set expectations. I’m not sure you can define normal, but 0.5-2oz (both sides total) an hour is brilliant. So if you haven’t pumped in 4 hours, somewhere between 2-8 oz is on target.
To optimize your session, this is what helped me:
- Make sure you have a healthy diet, do not restrict calories too much, but you certainly don’t need to overindulge.
- Hydration is key. Half your body weight (lbs) in ounces is the target.
- Have a comfortable environment. A comfortable chair and some water. Playing music or even better, being near your baby, or having a video of your baby will help.
- Before Pumping, give your breasts a little message, a warm compress will help here as well.
- Make sure you have the right flange size. Try Pumpin Pals (I really could not be any happier with them).
- While Pumping, compress your breasts as much as you can. Focus on any harder areas. Careful not to put too much pressure or rub your skin too much.
- If you need more ounces, wait for a second letdown. Keep going after the first flow stops for about 5 mins, and you should have a second letdown. I rarely do this now (the second time around), but if I’m behind, I will pump through two letdowns.
- After pumping, hand express for a couple of mins each side. This nipple stimulation will trigger more milk production going forward.
- Some ingredients that help me – oatmeal, flaxseed (I prefer ground), and brewers yeast. With these, you could make your morning oatmeal, smoothies, cookies, and energy bites. Watch the calorie consumption.
- Reduce stress. This was the biggest killer for me. I was so stressed about having to supplement with formula that my output dropped. After I read about all the benefits babies get with minimal ounces of breast milk, I relaxed about it and bought a bunch of formula. Low and behold, just the act of relaxing boosted my supply right back up again. Here is a great article talking about the benefits of minimal breastmilk for your baby.
- Power pumping is when you pump for an amount of time, take a break, then pump again for a couple of cycles. I found better results when I dedicated a couple of days to pumping for 10 mins every 2 hours.
- Skin to skin, just like the newborn days. Get that oxytocin boost by snuggling skin to skin with your baby.
That’s the list of things that help me keep my supply up. Give them a go, and if they work for you, keep them going.
A couple lessons learned along the way:
- Sometimes a sudden reduction in output is due to an issue with your pump parts. Check all parts thoroughly and replace them when needed. I usually replace my duck bills every other month.
- While fenugreek boosted my supply, it is not recommended for consumption if you have thyroid issues, which I unknowingly had at that time.
Exclusive Pumping in a nutshell.
Well, there you have it, my Exclusive pumping knowledge on a page and what worked for me. I hope that you have a successful journey and are incredibly proud of yourself for pumping whatever breast milk you can for your little one!
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