I recently posted a poll on Instagram about which topic my followers were more interested in, and tips for exclusive pumping won!
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I’m just gonna start by saying, I don’t think that exclusive pumping for your baby is ever easy, no matter how many tips or tricks you try.
It is a lot of work and takes up a lot of time.
If you are currently exclusively pumping, then I say give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing the hard work to give your baby the good stuff. (By the way, I also think that formula is also good stuff but that’s another post)
Exclusive pumping is different than if you need to pump just occasionally. I’m planning a future post with tips for pumping at work.
There are lots of different reasons that moms may end up exclusively pumping, for me it was because my baby was in the NICU. At first she wasn’t able to feed orally and had to have a feeding tube through her nose. After this, she needed her breastmilk fortified with extra calories since she was still so small, so this meant I had to keep pumping.
I pumped for her for about six months, and I learned a lot over that time. Add in my recent lactation counselor certification, and I now have ideas for how I could have been more successful with exclusively pumping.
So, without further ado, here are my top tips for exclusive pumping in no particular order!
I think that having a support system is crucial, really for any parent with anything, but especially with exclusive pumping. It isn’t the same as nursing your baby and there are unique issues – for example how do you pump and feed your baby at the same time – that those who aren’t pumping won’t fully understand.
Also, support in the home. My husband was a great support and would wash the pump parts for me, he would even get my pump ready for my middle of the night pump!
I found a facegroup group for exclusive pumping that I joined, and this was a great resource. I learned so much and got so many ideas for other moms through facebook.
I wish I did seek out more professional support and used the lactation counselors at the hospital more. I tried going to a formal breastfeeding support group, but I felt like I didn’t fit in there. The other moms weren’t pumping and were dealing with oversupply issues. I’m guessing this isn’t the case with all groups, but unfortunately I had to go back to group and didn’t have time to check out any other support groups.
Skin to Skin
I learned that milk production is all about hormones, and that skin to skin can really help. If you haven’t heard about it, skin to skin is just what it sounds like. Your place your baby, just in their diaper, on your chest directly on your skin.
It is very comforting for babies and has a lot of benefits, one of which is helping with milk production and breastfeeding.
I know some people are able to do skin to skin while pumping, I wasn’t that skilled. But doing skin to skin before pumping would be a great idea. I had this shirt from NuRoo that I used to do skin to skin sometimes. It was very cozy!
Being near your baby
When it is possible to be near your baby, this can help. When my daughter was in the hospital, I liked pumping next to her incubator. Watching her and touching her put me in a better mood and I almost always pumped more milk when I was at her bedside.
I know the NICU can be stressful though, and this may not work for everyone or even be possible depending on your hospital setup.
If it’s not possible, you could try looking at pictures or watching videos. During my daughter’s hospital stay I wasn’t always able to be by her side, so this is what I would do when I wasn’t with her.
Another tip I recently heard that I don’t know why I never thought of is to have a piece of your baby’s clothing or bedding so you can smell your baby. I think this would have been really helpful to remind my body of why I was pumping. When my daughter was home, I would pump with her next to me whenever I could. When I went back to work I always looked at pictures of her.
Mimic baby’s feeding schedule
This is super important when you are exclusively pumping. You want to pump as frequently as your baby eats. Newborns can nurse 10-12 times a day, sometimes even more!
In general, pumping infrequently, even if it is for a longer period of time will make your body produce less milk.
This all relates back to the hormones. Frequent feedings help keep hormone levels up to where they need to be for producing the right amount of milk.
This was a mistake I made. When my baby was just two days old, someone told me I could go for a long stretch overnight and just make up for it during the day. Yes, I could have done this when my baby was older and my milk supply was established, but doing this on day two I think was a big part of why I struggled to produce enough.
As babies get older their feeding patterns change, and this can be true for your pumping schedule as well.
Did you know there’s different sizes for the breast shields? I didn’t know this at first and just used the kit that came with my pump. Then the lactation consultant at the hospital watched me pump and suggested I switch up the sizes on my shields.
It’s important to have a proper fit so that you get appropriate suction and so there’s no damage done, such as chaffing or pinching, ouch! Pump companies give guidance on sizing and as I mentioned, a lactation specialist can usually help you with this. I used Medela parts, and they offer an assortment of sizes for breast shields.
Invest in some good pumping gear
If you are exclusively pumping without gear and clothes that are conducive to pumping, it is going to get frustrating. A hands free pumping bra is key!
While I was on maternity leave I just made my own by cutting holes in an old sports bra. I had reusable breast pads that I would stick in while I wasn’t pumping and I would just wear these bras all day.
When I went back to work though, I wanted something that looked better under my work clothes. There are some corset style ones that you can zip on and off, but I never tried those. I wanted something I could wear all day. There are some different options out there.
My favorite was from The Dairy Fairy. Their bras are actually cute and they were comfortable. If you order one, make sure to check their sizing instructions.
I even found that with some regular nursing bras I could fold the cup of the bra down and tuck the shield in and it would stay in place – make sure things are secure if you try this though, you don’t want any dropped bottles of milk!
In addition to pumping bras, I wore nursing tops too. It made it easier to discreetly pump, this was important to me since I pumped so much. I would pump pretty much anywhere I was and having good gear helped make it easier.
If you are exclusively pumping for the long haul, then I think this is something worthwhile to consider.
Power pumping is something that can be used to help increase your milk supply. I had heard about power pumping through the facebook group I was in, but had never heard about it before.
I wasn’t sure if it was a legitimate thing, and then they talked about it at my lactation counselor training!
It’s like when babies nurse frequently in a short period of time. With power pumping you pump for a period of time and then rest and pump again and repeat until it has been an hour.
Some people will say pump ten, rest ten, but it doesn’t have to be as specific as that – babies don’t nurse on a timer!
As I said, power pumping is intended to increase milk supply. If you are producing plenty of milk, then you don’t have to power pump. Having an oversupply has its own challenges.
I think this is a fairly obvious part of pumping, but it is important to clean your pump parts properly. The CDC has a fact sheet for How to Keep Your Breast Pump Kit Clean.
You should always wash your hands before pumping and wash your pump parts after pumping and then safely store them. As my daughter was a preemie, we were given strict instructions on how to clean and how often to sanitize my parts.
I know some people will say you can store your pump parts in the fridge between uses, but I was taught that you should clean the parts between each use.
So, there you have it, these are my top tips for exclusively pumping.
I’m sure there are many more tips and tricks our there but these are the ones that jump out for me.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of support in this process. I drove myself crazy with exclusively pumping. I do think it was all worth it though, and I am glad that I pumped for the time that I did.
Have you tried any of these tips already? Any other tips you would add to this list? Leave me a comment and let me know!
Any of course, don’t forget, none of this information is meant to serve as medical advice. You should always check with your health care provider if you have questions.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding or pumping you can seek out a Lactation Consultant. Most of the time your local hospital will have resources available!