Exclusively pumping can be a challenge, but we've got your back! Check out our top 14 tips for exclusively pumping in this survival guide for moms.
Exclusively pumping, or feeding baby pumped breastmilk without having them physically nurse from your breasts, has many benefits.
- Gives baby the immune-boosting benefits of breastmilk, without having to nurse
- This works well if baby has trouble starting to nurse or getting enough milk, including if they were in the NICU.
- It's also a good option if you prefer not to nurse (for any reason) but strongly desire to give baby breastmilk instead of formula
- Easy to keep track of how much milk you produce --- and tell whether your supply is consistent or lowering
- Easy to keep track of how much your baby is consuming
- Easier transition when you return to work outside the home --- baby is already used to the bottles
- Easier to have others feed baby
- Easier to wean when you want to, as baby isn't attached to and comforted by a nursing routine
But even with all these benefits, exclusively pumping can be time-consuming and very tiring.
It usually takes at least 120 minutes per day to pump all the milk baby needs --- and that's on top of caring for baby (and possibly working outside the home).
You'll also need to clean your pump and its parts often, since you're using it so regularly.
But you've got this, mama --- and we've got your back! Today, we're sharing our top 14 tips for exclusively pumping in this survival guide for moms.
1. Set up your home pumping space
Since you'll be pumping often, you'll want to make sure you have a comfortable pumping space set up at home, with everything you need or want within reach.
The best type of pump for exclusively pumping moms is a double electric pump, which pumps both breasts at once. This saves you lots of time in the long run!
Prepare a comfortable chair or sofa so you can sit down, somewhere to prop up your feet if you choose, snacks and water, and any pumping supplies you may need within reach (including extra pump parts, nipple cream and breast pads). You might also want hand sanitizer and a towel to keep clean.
Ideally, your station should be near an outlet, so you can plug in and recharge your pump if needed.
If you want to bond with your little one during most sessions, choose a space with plenty of room for any supplies they need, too. Bring a prepared bottle if you're going to feed baby while you pump.
If you don't want interruptions, choose a room with a door (and ideally, with a lock) for privacy. A "do not disturb" sign can also help if you don't have a lockable door.
2. Set up your work pumping space, if needed
If you're working outside the home, you'll also need a clean, comfortable space to pump at work, available anytime you need it. This could be anywhere apart from a bathroom.
Your pumping space at work could be:
- Your office space with a privacy curtain installed
- A private room with a lockable door
- A closed space created with room dividers or partitions
- A storage closet or file room with a comfortable seat brought in
- A shower tent
- Your car, if you find your car most comfortable
Ideally, you should have two different pumps --- one at home and one at work --- so you don't have to lug your pump back and forth every day. Having two pumps may sound expensive, but you can get a breast pump for free on most health insurance plans.
(For more tips on pumping at work, don't miss our guide to breastfeeding and returning to the workplace.)
3. Go hands-free
All the pumping you're doing will be tiring enough, so don't add to the exhaustion by having to hold your flanges every time you pump!
Instead, invest in hands-free pumping bras.
A hands-free pumping bra is a must for all exclusively pumping moms. It frees you up to hold baby, feed yourself and hydrate, read, use your phone, stream a movie or TV show, or even drive while pumping.
For more tips for exclusively pumping, watch this video from childbirth educator Bridget Teyler:
4. Pump consistently--- keep a schedule
Whether you're nursing or pumping, producing breastmilk comes down to supply and demand. Milk needs to be removed from your breasts for you to maintain your milk supply.
Pumping consistently helps your body get into a rhythm and produce the milk your baby needs, by mimicking what would happen if baby nursed directly from your breasts.
As a general rule, if you're exclusively pumping and baby has not yet started solids, you'll need to pump for at least 120 minutes per day.
You can choose to pump "every x hours," with the window between each session getting larger as baby gets older. Or, you can always pump at the same time baby gets hungry and wants to drink from the bottle.
For a newborn, you should pump about 8-10 times a day, for around 15 minutes per pump. This comes out to pumping about every 2-3 hours, including once in the middle of the night.
As baby gets older, drop the number of pumping sessions but lengthen each individual session. For example, at 3 months, you might pump 6 times per day, in 20 minute sessions (meaning you're pumping every 4 hours).
Once baby starts solids, you can drop the pumping sessions to around 4 sessions that last 20 minutes apiece, as baby starts to need less breastmilk. After that point, continue to modify your schedule as you determine what's best for you and baby.
Find the schedule that works for you, and pump consistently!
5. Try giving baby milk out of the pumping bottles
You'll probably store or freeze most of the breastmilk you pump until baby needs it. But one time-saving hack involves feeding baby breastmilk out of the same bottle type you pump into.
You can feed baby the milk right away, leave the bottle at room temperature for up to four hours, or refrigerate the bottle for up to four days.
Just make sure baby is hungry when you give a bottle, and that the pump bottle is the proper size for a feed. If baby starts drinking and does not finish the bottle, they will need to finish it within two hours, or else you'll have to discard the milk.
Be sure to follow other safe bottle washing and storage practices while pumping!
6. Get familiar with pumping on the go
One way to save time when exclusively pumping is by pumping on the go. This is especially vital if you'll be away from home (or work) for longer periods.
Pumping while driving is a great way to multitask, if you're comfortable with it. Just plug the pump in using a car adapter, attach your pump flanges to your hands-free bra, and start your pump before you drive to your destination.
Boom --- you've reclaimed valuable time!
If you decide to pump on the go and outside of the car, but you would like more privacy, a pumping cover (nursing cover) may do the trick.
Whatever way you choose, you'll always need to bring a cooler and ice packs when you pump on the go, to safely store your breastmilk. And you'll need a way to power your pump, or a charged battery.
7. Choose the right breast shield size
Since you're pumping so much, the last thing you want is sore nipples. But if you don't have the right breast shield size (flange size), your nipples could get sore --- and you might not remove milk most efficiently, either.
You can consult your pump's manufacturer or a lactation consultant for help in determining your shield size. And keep in mind that the right size for you may change as you continue to breastfeed. So, if things start to get uncomfortable, rechecking your size is a good practice.
8. Have emergency backup
It's essential to have at least 1-2 full sets of extra pump parts on hand, in case something breaks or goes wrong. After all, you're using your pump more heavily than many other moms, so replacements will likely be more frequent. No need to stress when you have a Plan B!
But what if the power goes out, the batteries die, or you otherwise have no place to plug in or charge your pump?
A manual pump is essential to have on hand for backup in these situations.
9. Be smart about washing
Investing in several sets of extra pump parts, especially the flanges, also means you won't have to wash pump parts as often. Just switch to clean parts, then wash all your sets of pump parts at once when they're all dirty (along with baby's bottles).
To make more time for yourself, ask your partner to do the washing. Since you made and prepped the meals for baby, it's a lot fairer to ask your partner to share the load and do the dishes --- including pump-related dishes.
You might have also heard of another "hack" to save you washing time. This "hack" explains that you can store used pump parts in the fridge, in a zip-top plastic bag, for up to 8-12 hours between washes.
Although the "hack" seems efficient, it definitely isn't safe for all babies and situations. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends cleaning pump parts "as soon as possible after every use" to reduce the risk of infection.
Still, that doesn't mean every exclusively pumping mom has to rule out the "fridge hack."
Dr. Anna Bowen, epidemiologist and CDC medical officer, told Parents, "Although refrigerating used pump parts between uses might be OK if the pump kit is not contaminated, cleaning the pump kit after each use is safest and is particularly important for babies who are younger than two to three months old, were born prematurely, or have weakened immune systems."
In other words, if your baby is over three months old, was born full-term, and doesn't have a compromised immune system, you could consider the "fridge hack," but with a few caveats.
Be sure to keep your hands clean while handling the pump and bottles. Also, only use the hack if you and baby are both healthy, and if the pump will remain at home the whole time.
And remember: the hack isn't the safest option, so you need to weigh the risks, especially in the current health climate.
10. Make time for yourself!
Exclusively pumping is hard work --- be sure to take care of yourself!
There are plenty of ways to treat yourself while you pump. You could:
- Enjoy a special snack
- Watch a movie or show
- Read a book or magazine you enjoy
- Diffuse relaxing, kid-safe essential oils
- Listen to music
- Use your phone
- Snuggle with baby, or even
- Ask your partner to massage your feet or legs.
Also, plan some self care time outside of pumping time, whether it's taking a walk, going to the gym, hanging out with friends, spending time with your partner, or enjoying another favorite activity.
And of course, make sure you're eating and drinking well. Your body needs plenty of nourishment when you're feeding your little one.
11. Find pumping support systems
You're not alone on this journey --- many moms have exclusively pumped before. If you need assistance and support related to the process, there are plenty of digital discussion groups for exclusively pumping moms.
Many lactation consultants also offer support for exclusively pumping parents --- look for a mention of exclusive pumping support in their online materials or brochures.
12. Ask for help at home
Family, friends, or hired community members can help you take care of cleaning pump parts, cooking, and/or house cleaning.
And of course, having plenty of pumped breastmilk means your partner can feed baby whenever needed. This includes in the middle of the night, so you can catch up on sleep. In fact, anyone can feed baby, so you could have another family member (or a sitter) give the bottle while you spend time with your partner.
This way, you can focus on pumping and caring for your little one --- and also reclaim time for yourself.
13. Wean off the pump whenever you are ready
It's okay to stop exclusively pumping whenever you want, even if you or your body seem ready to stop sooner than you expect.
If you're ready to wean baby off of pumped breastmilk --- and move yourself off of the pump --- gradually drop the number of pumping sessions and increase the time in between them. You might pump three times per day (every eight hours), then move to two sessions (12 hours apart), and then pump only once per day.
Also, keep in mind that if baby is too young to transition fully to solids, it's best to gradually transition them to formula as you wean them off of breastmilk.
14. Be gentle with yourself
You're doing the best you can, and every bottle you're able to give your little one is a success. Exclusive pumping often gets easier the more you do it, especially after the first few months.
And even if things aren't going how you originally envisioned, or you end up stopping sooner than planned, be proud that you've done what you could to feed baby the breastmilk you wanted to feed them.
This may be hard to keep in mind when you're tired and you've spent lots of time on the pump, but keep reminding yourself how amazing you are!
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