Essentials for Exclusive Pumping
I've shared a lot about exclusively pumping for my son on Instagram, and that has led to quite a few questions, so I thought I would answer them all here. Exclusively pumping is really hard, and I certainly don't have all the answers, but I share in the hopes it may be helpful to someone!
Why are you exclusively pumping?
I shared more here about my experience with breastfeeding after birth and how I got to exclusive pumping.
What is your pumping schedule?
Weeks 1-6: Every 2-3 hours.
Weeks 6-12: 1am, 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 8pm
Weeks 12-14: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 10pm
Weeks 13-Present: 2am, 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm
How did you choose your pumping schedule?
In the beginning, the priority is establishing and building your supply. Just like directly breastfeeding, this requires pumping every time baby eats, usually every 2-3 hours.
Many people keep up that schedule until baby is 12 weeks old. I personally could not pump 7-8 times per day once my husband returned to work and the helping hands of family weren't around as much. Ellington would only nap if I was holding/carrying him and he didn't like to be put down when he was awake either. This made pumping frequently difficult. Around week 6, I decided to drop pumps to what I could handle (6x/day) and supplement with formula if needed. My supply actually increased when I dropped pumps (likely from less stress and more time to eat, hydrate and sleep), so I was able to stick with this schedule.
At 12 weeks, I decided to experiment with dropping the middle of the night pump. Ellington hit the 4-month sleep regression early, and I needed more sleep. I recommend keeping records of your pump times and milk volume so you can experiment with different schedules and see how they affect your supply. I use the app Pump Log. When I dropped the middle of the night pump, I did not have a decrease in supply.
However, Ellington then went through a growth spurt. His daily intake increased from 28 ounces per day to 30-31 ounces per day. We had a choice: introduce 1 bottle of formula per day or try to increase my milk supply, which would mean adding back in the middle of the night pump. We chose to introduce formula so I could keep getting additional sleep, but long story short, after lots of projectile vomiting and tears, we discovered supplementing would be a lot harder than we planned.
Turns out Ellington developed an allergy to cow's milk and he refused all other formulas we tried. I decided to try to increase my supply, and my current pumping schedule is designed to maximize milk production. Night nursing is important to overall supply, and I have read that prolactin levels are highest between 1am and 4am so it is always good to try to get at least one pumping session in during that time. Based on my pumping records, I produce the most milk around 2am, so I based my schedule on that pump.
How much milk do you pump per day?
Weeks 6-13: 28-30oz/day
Ellington drinks 28-31oz/day.
What are the logistics of pumping?
Some women pump milk directly to be frozen and feed babies from the freezer stash. Since my pumped volume is pretty close to Ellington's intake, I am feeding him the pumped milk within a day or two of it being pumped.
His feeding schedule is currently 3.75oz every 3 hours for a total of 30 ounces. He usually has bottles at midnight, 3am, 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, and 8pm. Obviously, this varies as sometimes he takes less than a full bottle but more at another feeding, and sometimes his feeding times are off by 30-60 minutes.
The pumps work as follows:
8pm pump = midnight feeding (stays at room temperature after pump so its ready to go, which is key to ensuring Ellington stays as sleepy as possible for easier resettling)
2am pump = 3am and 6am bottles (stay at room temperature after pump)
8am pump = 9am and 12pm feedings
11am pump = 3pm feeding
2pm pump = 6pm feeding
5pm pump = 8pm feeding (bedtime bottle)
Any extra goes into the fridge and is combined usually for the bedtime bottle every 1-2 days to make sure it is used before it goes bad.
Do you have any tips for increasing supply?
The lactation consultants I met with said that 25-30 ounces per day is a full supply. There are women who can pump 40, 60, even 100 ounces per day, but not every exclusive pumper has that supply. If you are attempting to increase supply, here is what helps me produce 30-33 ounces of milk per day.
Find your magic number of pumps per day. I read everywhere that the more you pump, the more milk you will create. This did not prove true for me. When I pumped 8+ times per day, I got less milk than when I pumped 5-6 times per day. I think the reason for this was the stress of maintaining this schedule and trade-offs with pumping this much (less sleep, less time with baby, less time to eat and drink).
Pump long enough at each session to get a second or even a third let down. I often pump for 25+ minutes each time because I found I can get a second and sometimes a third let down. The difference from just pumping longer can be 4-6 ounces per day for me!
Use breast massage and compression while pumping to ensure you fully empty the breasts. This also allows you to detect and unblock clogged ducts early.
Eat enough calories and drink enough water. I don't count calories, but I make sure to have 3 meals and 2 snacks per day and eat to my appetite. I drink at least 80 ounces of water per day in addition to other drinks (tea, smoothies, etc.)
I have oatmeal, flax, moringa, coconut oil, and sweet potatoes as often as possible. I also make lactation bread with brewer's yeast often.
Pump in a relaxed setting. If you are rushed or stressed, this won't help your production. Also try to generally manage your stress. On days I was stressed about my milk production or any other issues, I would see a decrease in production up to 4 ounces!
Early on, visualizing my baby nursing helped me get a second let down!
Fenugreek. When I needed to increase my production from 28 ounces per day to 32, I took fenugreek for 9 days and saw a sustained increase (even when I stopped taking the fenugreek). I will note that the fenugreek made me feel dizzy and nauseous and I realized it was lowering my blood sugar. Once I made sure to take it with food, I did not have these symptoms anymore.
What are your must-haves for pumping?
A hands-free pumping bra. I like this one from The Dairy Fairy because I can wear it all day.
Spectra S-2 pump. I got mine through Aeroflow so they could deal with insurance. Also make sure to have a second set of pump parts just in case, and to replace your pump parts as often as recommended.
I use a scale like this to measure my milk.
I record my pumps using the Pump Log app.
I store my milk in these glass bottles if the milk may end up in the fridge. I found the glass bottles heat faster than storing the milk in the bottles.
I was using a bottle-warmer, but it was taking forever to heat the bottles. Now we just use an electric kettle to boil water. I pour water into a glass bowl and I heat the milk in the glass bottles before pouring into a bottle.
We use ComoTomo bottles.
I use blue painter's tape to label my milk (day & time pumped, amount). It sticks to the bottles and comes off easily!
We use these bags to sterilize the pump parts in the microwave.
How do you take care of Ellington while pumping?
This is probably the hardest part of exclusive pumping. Ellington is a hands-on baby. For months, he wanted to be held for all of his naps. Now he naps on his own, but still likes to be held up sitting or standing to play. Honestly, with Ellington's temperament, I would not be able to pump for him if it wasn't for my support network. My parents come over daily if needed, and my husband takes Ellington for my evening pumps and handles anything that happens while I am pumping in the middle of the night.
Now that Ellington is older, he will play on the ground or sit in an infant chair while I pump as long as I am playing with him. I have pumped while sitting on the floor many, many times! I also usually pump during each of his naps. It is hard not to be able to do much else during his naps, but this comes first for now!
Will you exclusively pump for future children?
I don't know. My first choice would be to directly breastfeed, but I know anything could happen.
I am going to be brutally honest here. Many women say that even with all the struggles, breastfeeding is worth it. And for me, spending 3-4 hours per day pumping (and cleaning, etc.) is worth it over dealing with our formula issues. HOWEVER, for much of my postpartum, I have teetered on the edge of postpartum depression. For me, it feels like the depression and its symptoms (frequent crying, not wanting to leave the house, wanting to escape) are not as much hormone-driven as the result of sleep deprivation and the toll of exclusive pumping (and before that, trying so hard to directly breastfeed).
If Ellington was able to easily transition to formula, I probably would wean at 6 months. I don't say this to discourage anyone from exclusively pumping, but to be honest about how hard it is. Pumping takes 3-4 hours of my day, including 80% of nap times, in addition to the time it takes to pace-feed him bottles. It means I have little time for taking care of myself. It means staying awake in the middle of the night even when Ellington is asleep so I can pump. It means staying close to home so I can stick to my pumping schedule (I just don't pump as much with a travel pump and every ounce counts for me). It means saying no to events and time with friends because of the pump schedule. It means temporarily holding back on my career to devote time to pumping rather than building a business.
I am grateful for the ability to provide my baby with breastmilk. But I know Ellington would also be happy and healthy on formula. if I find myself in this situation again (with a toddler AND a baby no less!), I may make a different decision. And I am okay with that.