Exclusive Pumping Tips and Tricks

In this blog post, two moms share about their experiences with exclusive pumping, their favorite products, pumping schedules and best tips.

One of the many feeding options for babies that is not commonly discussed is exclusive pumping. Exclusive pumping is a form of breastfeeding in which the baby feeds only from bottles, which contain pumped breast milk. (Or a combination of breast milk and formula.)

I have been exclusively pumping with my third child, Poppy, since she was born 4 months ago. I also exclusively pumped with my first two children once I went back to work. This approach has worked really well for our family! 

Yani Bryant, RN, BSN, owner of Baby Bear Consulting and Certified Moms on Call Consultant, has also been exclusively pumping with her 6 month old son, David. In talking with Yani, we realized that although we’re both exclusively pumping, we’re doing things differently. So, I asked Yani to join me for this blog post to bring you two different perspectives and options related to exclusively pumping. (Thank you, Yani!)

In this post, Yani and I will both answer 5 questions about exclusive pumping:

  1. Why are you exclusively pumping?
  2. What pump do you use?
  3. When do you pump?
  4. How do you prepare bottles?
  5. What are your top 3 tips for exclusively pumping?

There are so many different, wonderful ways to feed your baby and if exclusively pumping is part of your family’s feeding journey, we hope that our stories, tips and tricks will be helpful in supporting you on your journey! 

Why do you exclusively pump?

Yani:

Despite a lot of tears and heartache, I was only able to exclusively nurse both of my children for about four months each. My daughter, Lena, had trouble latching so I did a mix of nursing and pumping with her until she was four months old before switching to exclusively pumping. I exclusively pumped for her until she turned one. Then I had enough frozen breastmilk to last until she was 14 months old. 

My son, David, had difficulty with a deep latch and would constantly fall asleep at the breast. We had him evaluated by two different specialists for tongue and lip ties. They each determined that he had both a tongue and lip tie so those were revised when he was a few weeks old. I worked closely with an IBCLC following the procedure to help retrain his latch. Sometimes he would nurse well and other times he wouldn’t. The stress both physically and emotionally of getting him to nurse became too much, especially when also trying to care for my three year old. After talking it over with my husband and several close friends, I made the decision to exclusively pump again. The decision to quit nursing was very emotional for me, but I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders. 

While my nursing journey did not pan out the way I had hoped, I am grateful that I am able to exclusively pump. Is it tiring? Yes. Is it time consuming? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, it is right for me and my baby. The best part of all is: exclusively pumping is still breastfeeding. 

Morgan:

Poppy made the decision for me and, looking back, it’s exactly what our family needed! 

To be perfectly honest, I had been on the fence my entire pregnancy about whether I wanted to attempt breastfeeding for a third time. It was incredibly stressful with my first two kids for various reasons. And knowing what a labor of love breastfeeding is, I was nervous about missing time and not being present with my older two kids. I had so many friends who loved breastfeeding and made it look so easy; I decided that I wanted to try again, hoping for that “effortless”, beautiful experience.

Poppy had a posterior tongue tie and a lip tie. She also has a high palate. The combination of the three made it impossible for her to create suction at the top of her mouth to properly latch. We had her tongue and lip ties revised when she was 1 week old which gave her the ability to create suction. However, she really liked the immediate gratification of the bottle and had no interest in sucking hard enough or long enough to induce a letdown while breastfeeding. Continuing to try to force breastfeeding would have been a very tedious, stressful and un-enjoyable process for both me and Poppy. She’s our perfect, lazy baby. (Which I mean in the most loving and endearing way possible!)

Because I’m fortunate to have a good supply and have figured out how to pump efficiently, I decided to exclusively pump until it becomes stressful and/or my supply drops. When that happens, I’ll switch to formula. I already have formula on hand at home so there’s one less decision to make. 

Using bottles and pumping have given our family of 5 so much flexibility. I feel like I’m able to be present with all 3 of my kids. Poppy’s weight gain has been fantastic. We know exactly how much milk she’s taking and, when she started sleeping through the night at 6-7 weeks, were totally comfortable because we knew she was getting enough calories during the day. Yes, it’s a lot of work and parts to clean, but it’s been my most enjoyable and least stressful feeding experience.

What pump do you use?

Yani: 

Until very recently, my primary pump has been the Spectra S2. I love how Spectra pumps allow you to adjust both the suction level and cycle speeds. A dear friend just gifted me her S1 that is basically brand new. I am excited to test out the portability of the S1. If you do have an Spectra S2, do yourself a favor and purchase a car adapter. It has allowed me to pump on the go between feedings and has been a lifesaver while out running errands. 

Regardless of which pump you decide to use, familiarize yourself with your pump! Read the manual and play with the settings. These are both necessary steps to establishing supply if you decide to exclusively pump from the very beginning or maintain your supply during your pumping journey. 

Morgan:

I have used 3 different pumps with each of my 3 children.

Important: Health insurance covers breast pumps!! Make sure you take advantage of this. Even if they don’t offer the pump you want, they will often subsidize other models.

My two priorities are suction strength and portability. The Baby Buddha pump that I am using now is small but mighty and my favorite of the pumps I’ve tried. It can be “hacked” to work with all flange models and collection cups. It comes with its own flanges too, but I was used to my Spectra flanges and decided to just keep using those with the Baby Buddha. I also use Freemie Collection Cups with the Baby Buddha when I am on the go because the cups just tuck into my bra and the tubing can be hidden under my shirt.

When do you pump?

Yani:

My son is six months old and I pump five times during daytime hours and sleep through the night just like he does (Thank you, MOC 🙂 ) My supply is well established and I actually have an oversupply. This schedule keeps my little guy well fed and allows me to donate milk to a local mama. 

It can be tricky to exclusively pump with a toddler and a young baby. My current pumping schedule is usually 6:30 AM, 9:30 AM, 1 PM, 5 PM, and 9 PM. With this schedule, both of my kids are asleep for three of my pumping times. I pump for about 30 minutes during each pumping session. Having a great pumping bra is essential. I have used this brand while pumping for both of my kids and it is my favorite. The price point is also reasonable so you can have an extra to keep in a pumping bag for pumping on the go. 

Please note that this schedule may not work for everyone! Establishing and maintaining supply is important so five pumping sessions per day may not be enough for your situation personally. Partner with a lactation consultant if you have questions about how often to pump and when to drop pumping sessions as your baby gets older. 

Morgan:

When Poppy was a teeny tiny newborn, I mostly pumped while I fed her. I laid her on a pillow in my lap and used a side-lying feeding position.

Now that she’s bigger, it’s harder to pump and feed at the same time because there’s less space available between my chest and her legs.

I’m an early riser, so I pump right when I wake up, before anyone else is awake for the day. It’s my best pump of the day in terms of production and makes mornings much less stressful as we’re trying to feed everyone breakfast and get them off to school. 

I work full-time and Poppy is with a nanny during the day, so I try to pump around the times she feeds. It’s not always perfect, but consistency keeps my supply stable! My last pump of the day is after the kids go to bed.

How do you prepare bottles (e.g. fresh milk or previously pumped)?

Yani:

Because I have an oversupply, I am able to pump and offer fresh milk for my son’s feeding times. He eats four times per day on the 4-6 month schedule and averages 6-7 ounce bottles. As my supply dips toward the end of the day, I sometimes have to warm up an ounce or two from the fridge to add to his bedtime bottle. 

Morgan:

All of my pumped milk gets combined in the fridge in a large pitcher. The combined pitcher of milk makes her bottles for the next day. After I pump in the morning, I make all of her bottles for that day. I’ll freeze leftover milk every 4-5 days.

What are your top 3 tips for pumping exclusively?

Yani:

Tip 1: Stick to a schedule

Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. In order to be successful at exclusively pumping long term, you need to have a consistent pump schedule. Implementing the Moms on Call schedule in our house provides predictability and stability to our day. I know when my son is going to be eating and napping so I can plan my day and pumping sessions accordingly. Just like MOC schedules, there is a bit of grace and wiggle room if it’s been an especially crazy day. However, setting the time aside to pump regularly is the best way to maintain your supply and continue your breastfeeding journey. 

Use the advice from the tip below to help keep you on track with your pumping sessions! 

Tip 2: Stay organized

Exclusively pumping is time consuming. Staying organized helps me be efficient with setting up to pump so I can pump as quickly as possible. I keep everything that I need to pump in the same two central locations. I keep my pump parts, bottles, and nipple cream in the kitchen. My pumping bra and pump are stored in a basket near my sofa. By keeping everything in the same place, I am able to set up and take down quickly. 

Organization is also key to pumping on the go. I have a designated pumping bag (nothing fancy, just a medium sized bag with a zipper) that I keep in the pantry. Inside the bag, I always have my spare pumping bra, nipple cream in a tube*, two pumping bottles, pump wipes, and a nursing cover**. If I need to pump on the go, all I need to do is throw in my pump and pump parts in the bag before I head out the door. Life can be unpredictable so I always take an extra set of pumping bottles and an extra bottle for feeding in case I stay out longer than anticipated. 

*Since I generally have to rely on hand sanitizer while on the go, I don’t want to risk contaminating a jar of nipple cream when I go to lubricate my flanges. Using a tube reduces the risk of contamination. 

**If I am pumping hands free while driving, a nursing cover makes me feel a lot more comfortable when stopped at a traffic light or going through a drive thru. 

Tip 3: Maintain your parts 

Familiarize yourself with your pump manufacturer’s recommendations for replacing pump parts, especially the valves, membranes, and duckbills. It is essential to replace certain pump parts regularly to ensure that you are adequately and efficiently draining your breasts. It is also important to read the manual to know which pump parts should be washed/sterilized and how often. 

I like to have brand new spare pump parts on hand for quick and easy replacing. Iif a duckbill is worn out or a flange somehow cracks, I don’t have to run to the store in a panic. Lastly, setting reminders in my calendar helps me to know when my pump parts need to be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

Morgan:

Tip 1: Make pumping as efficient as possible. 

  • If I’ll be in the car for 15-20 minutes, that’s a great time to pump. Bring a small cooler bag and ice pack with you to put the milk and your flanges in when you’re done. 
  • Do not wash your flanges in between each pump! Just stick them in the fridge in between pumps and wash them at the end of each day.

Tip 2: Make pumping as comfortable as possible.

Tip 3: Have a good milk storage and freezing routine.

Here’s what works for me:

  • Combine all of your milk into one pitcher that you keep in the fridge.
  • Every few days, freeze extra milk in 5oz portions.
  • To freeze, lay the bags flat. I stack my bags in a rectangular or square Tupperware container to freeze. 
  • Once frozen, you will have “breast milk bricks”. Put all of your “bricks” from that date into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.
  • Pick 1 day a week that’s your “frozen milk” day and use the oldest dated milk in your freezer first. This ensures that you’re using up frozen milk before it goes bad and cycling your inventory.
  • Pro tip: If your baby is a little finicky with the frozen milk, do ½ fresh and ½ frozen.

If you’re looking for more information on the different feeding approaches for your baby including breastfeeding, formula feeding, breast milk storage and introducing solids, visit our Knowledge Center. Our podcast episode, “How is Feeding Going?”, is also a great listen for an inclusive perspective of the modern-day feeding journey.