So you’re thinking about trying exclusive pumping, but have no idea where to start.
Adjusting to a new baby can be hard enough without then worrying about getting to grips with breast pumps, bottles, and pumping schedules.
Although it can be hard work, particularly in the beginning when you’re getting your supply up, exclusive pumping does work for lots of mummies.
I pumped for my first daughter for around 24 weeks. In that time I tried out a lot of different routines, schedules and systems to keeping myself organised.
In this post I’m going to share with you the secrets to successful exclusive pumping, also known as “EPing”. This post will give you all the information you need about starting out, what kit you need, routines to follow from the early weeks and beyond plus what to do with your baby when you’re attempting to get your pumping done.
This will be the ultimate resource for exclusive pumping. But if you have any other questions at the end, please leave a comment or drop me a message.
Why choose exclusive pumping
Breastfeeding just doesn’t work out sometimes. While of course it is a completely natural act, for many it doesn’t come naturally. Most women struggle at getting to grips with it.
Reasons for breastfeeding not working out include:
Difficulty latching on.
Complications arising from a C-Section.
Baby has tongue tie.
Mummy needs to return to work soon after giving birth.
However just because you haven’t been able to breastfeed your baby, doesn’t mean you can’t provide them with breast milk.
Not only does exclusive pumping mean you can continue to offer your baby all of the benefits that come from having breast milk, but you can also save a lot of money.
Of course you do have to invest in some products to get you going. You will need a good pump, bottles and breastfeeding tops – because it saves a lot of time if you can just pump wherever you happen to be without having to whip your top off completely.
However I worked out that after around eight weeks I had paid for the pumping gear with the money I saved on formula, so it does work out in the end.
Although exclusive pumping is more common than you would think, there still seems to be quite a lot of stigma surrounding it. I was told by breastfeeding consultants that a breast pump would not be able to “access all of my milk” and so my baby would lose out on some nutrients.
I had only just had my baby when this comment was made to me, so I didn’t know better to question it. I think she meant that the breast pump would only access my foremilk – the milk that comes before the fattier hind milk when you’re breastfeeding. Your baby needs both, and in my experience the breast pump gets both out just fine!
When you leave breast milk in the fridge for a few hours, the milk actually separates into different layers, so you can see the more watery milk at the bottom, with the creamier part of the feed on top.
With misinformation like this flying around, a lot of mummies who try to exclusively pump end up feeling judged. They feel all alone because they don’t quite fit into either the bottle feeding or breastfeeding groups.
Luckily I had a midwife who looked me in the eye when I asked, “is this possible?”, and told me “yes, absolutely it can be done”.
And she was totally right. So please remember that even if people tell you that “you’ll never keep up”, “your baby won’t get the same nutrients this way” and “a breast pump won’t maintain your supply properly”.
You absolutely can exclusively pump if you want to, so please do not give up just because someone tells you this method doesn’t work. Also do not feel guilty that you have chosen this method.
Every person experiences motherhood and infant feeding differently. There is no right or wrong when it comes to feeding, as long as your baby is being fed!
One of the best ways to get through the challenges of EPing is to join one of the many forums online where fellow mummies swap loads of tips. Do check these ones out, they helped me so much in the early weeks:
So you’ve decided you want to try EPing! Now you need the kit. The most important item is a decent breast pump. Do not get a manual pump, you will be wasting hours and hours of your time. Yes, they’re cheaper, but it’s just not worth it.
I love my Medela Swing, and it still worked after I had my second child despite six months of daily, frequent use with my first baby. It works on batteries as well as mains supply.
I also would give a big thumbs up to the range of Medela products that go with the pump. They have bottles big and small, simple teats and their more “engineered” Calma teats, which Medela created to help combat trapped wind and simulate natural feeding for baby.
I found the simple teats brilliant and used them again with my second child.
The one thing I would change if I were to do it all again would be to buy a double pump. This would have halved the amount of time I spent pumping. As it was, I would spend 30 minutes per pump session, switching boobs after 15 minutes.
With a double pump you can save loads of time every day! I would also love to try one of the hands-free pumping bras. These look fab, as they mean you can do the housework, cooking and whatever else you need to get done while pumping milk! Speaking from experience, it would definitely be worth the investment if you can afford one.
There are various different sizes of flange you can get for the pump, try to get one that fits comfortably over your nipple and isn’t too tight or too huge.
How to use your breast pump
As you are going to be spending a lot of time on your pump every day, you need to get in a comfy position! That is really crucial as you don’t want to give yourself a bad back.
That being said, it does help to sit forwards slightly when pumping in my experience as it helps the milk to dribble down into the bottle.
One very important thing to remember when starting out on the pump is that you must not turn the suction up too high. When I was in hospital a nurse turned the pump I was borrowing right up to full and it was agony.
The fact is the strength of suction makes no difference to how much milk you can pump.
Find a suction level that is comfortable for you, and most importantly, that does not hurt. Pumping should not hurt!
With the Medela Swing pump, it first of all simulates the baby’s initial quick sucking action, which stimulates the letdown in the breast.
I found the letdown – where your milk ducts contract to release the milk – felt a bit like a tingly electric shock. It can be a bit uncomfortable in the early weeks but you soon get used to it.
You can help the letdown get underway by relaxing and having a picture of your baby in front of you. This sounds odd but it provokes a hormonal response. I won’t pretend to know the science behind it, but basically that wave of mummy love combined with the stimulation from the pump helps to get the milk flowing.
Once the letdown begins, the pump switches to longer pulls as your baby would also do during feeding.
You should be able to see the milk dropping down into the bottle.
You can speed up matters by gently massaging your breast on the area around the breast pump.
Exclusive pumping routine
In the early weeks you need to be pumping every two to three hours. If you can squeeze in the odd extra pump, that’s brilliant. I would say you want to aim for a minimum seven pumps per 24 hours at the start.
I know this sounds like a lot, however remember it does get easier. After around 12 weeks I had dropped the night pumps and a few of the daytime ones too so I was only pumping four times a day.
What you are trying to do at the start is build up a supply, which is exactly what your baby would be doing if they were nursing.
The more frequently you empty your boobs, the more milk they will produce.
The length of pumping session is a matter for debate and may vary from mummy to mummy depending on how long it takes you to pump a feed. I would pump for 30 minutes, spending 15 minutes on each boob.
However some would say 20 minutes is sufficient.
From around eight weeks, when we had a very vague schedule, this was my routine:
7am – baby wakes up and has a bottle of around 150ml. Mummy has breakfast.
8am – Pump for 30 minutes
9am – baby goes for a nap of around one hour.
10am – Baby wakes up and has a bottle of around 150ml.
10.30am – Pump for 30 minutes
Midday – Baby has a bottle of around 150ml and goes down for nap of around two to three hours.
1pm – Pump for 30 minutes
3pm – Baby wakes up and has a 150ml bottle.
4pm – Pump for 30 minutes
6.30pm – Baby has a 150ml bottle
7pm – Bedtime
7.30pm – Pump for 30 minutes
10pm – Pump for 30 minutes and then go to sleep.
How much breast milk do you need to pump for your baby?
Every baby is different and you need to follow your own child’s queues and patterns to know when to feed them and how much. Some babies are just hungrier than others, while others tend to just snack all day long. However you can follow this as a rough guide.
A newborn will drink about 30ml to 40ml, around eight times a day.
By the end of the first week they will have around 60ml per feed. After about 12 weeks onwards the average baby will have between 570ml to 900ml per day.
This calculator on the Kelly Mom site is fab too.
In my enthusiasm to get a decent supply in the freezer, I over pumped several times. This meant my boobs became engorged frequently and were extremely painful.
I was lucky to not get mastitis, which is a nasty infection of the breast and is very painful.
In order to avoid this, you need to strike a balance between pumping enough and not overdoing it. If you find yourself getting engorged between pumps, gradually cut back on the length of time you pump for. Don’t try to go cold turkey as this will make it worse. I recommend cutting five minutes off of each side and see how you go from there.
Take it easy
Do not pile too much pressure on yourself. Exclusive pumping can be quite gruelling in the early weeks, but it does get easier. If you do want to take a break every now and then by supplementing with formula, then don’t feel bad about doing so!
If you have any questions about EPing I am more than happy to answer them! Just leave a comment below or drop me an email.