Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC

The decision to be an exclusively pumping mom comes from a variety of reasons. Breastfeeding doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes babies won’t latch. Some babies are too sick to breastfeed. There are moms who don’t want to breastfeed but do want their baby to get their breast milk.

Whatever the reason, exclusively pumping moms have their own unique needs and concerns. If you are struggling with breastfeeding issues, the thought of being an exclusively pumping mom may sound like the perfect answer to your problems.

However, the reality is that it is time-consuming and a lot of work. These tips and tricks will help the exclusively pumping mama make the milk she needs while maintaining her sanity.

How To Have a Good Milk Supply 

Follow these rules to build and maintain a good supply of breast milk:

  • Have a good breast pump! – This cannot be emphasized enough. 
    • A hospital/rental grade pump will be the most effective and efficient to establish a full milk supply.
      • Examples: Medela Symphony, Ameda Platinum, Ameda Elite
    • After the first 4-6 weeks, many moms can transition to a personal pump.
      • Well reviewed personal pumps: Spectra S1 or S2, Medela Pump In Style
    • Personal pumps are not like the Energizer Bunny. They won’t last forever and may need to be replaced after being used for many hours of pumping.
    • If your supply starts to drop, your pump may be to blame. See below, “Pump Troubleshooting.”
  • For the first 4-6 weeks pump at least eight times every 24 hours
  • If you are not making enough milk, add one or two pumpings per day.
  • Pump until the milk stops flowing plus two additional minutes.
  • Pump both breasts at the same time. This results in higher prolactin levels. Prolactin is one of the essential hormones responsible for making milk.
  • Pump at least once during the night (midnight to 5 am). Prolactin levels are highest during these hours.
  • Hands-on pumping helps build a better milk supply (Source). This is a technique where you massage and compress your breasts during pumping sessions.
  • If your supply drops and you are confident, your pump is working well use tips for increasing your milk supply.

Pump Troubleshooting Checklist

Milk supply drops are often due to pump problems. 

  • Are there parts in your pump that are supposed to be replaced regularly?
  • Are all the connections and seals tight? 
  • How many hours has the pump been used? 
    • If you are using a personal pump, try renting a hospital-grade pump. If your supply increases, a new pump may be needed. 
      • Call the pump company for a replacement if your pump is still in warranty.

Pump Kit Cleaning Tips 

One challenge of exclusive pumping is the fact that you have to pump, feed your baby the pumped milk, and you also have to clean your pump parts after each cleaning. The CDC recommends thoroughly cleaning your pump kit after each time you use it. 

These pump cleaning hacks can help save you some time.

  • Have multiple pump kit pieces. This way, you do not have to wash and dry your kit every single time. 
    • You need the breast pump shields and connectors (sometimes these are one piece).
  • Pumping directly into bags means no bottles to wash.
  • Use breast pump wipes or sanitizers for cleaning when you are out and about. 
  • Use breast pump kit steam bags to sanitize your pump parts.
  • Put your pump parts in the dishwasher.

Miscellaneous Tips for Exclusive pumpers

Have a supply of spare parts for your pump. Some things need to be replaced regularly. But even a brand-new part can be defective.

Always have a manual pump on hand for emergencies.

  • Power outages 
  • Pump failure.
  • Keep a manual pump in your diaper bag as a back-up when you are out.
  • You may not be able to find a convenient place to plug in your electric pump.
  • A battery pack may have lost its charge. 

If your budget allows, have a hospital grade pump for use at home, and a personal pump to take when you are on the go. 

Time Saving Tips for the Exclusively Pumping Mama

  • Hands-free pumping bra – moms swear by these. It will free up your hands to do other things while you are pumping.
  • Hands-free pumps like the Willow and El Vie allow you to pump while you are doing other things. You can pump while you are feeding your baby a bottle, or even while you are in the car.
    • These pumps plug into an outlet to charge and fit into your bra.

Exclusive Pumping Schedules

The number of times a day a woman must pump to maintain a full milk supply will vary from mom to mom. Some moms have breasts that can store a lot of milk and can pump less frequently. Other moms need to pump more often because their milk production will slow down if their breasts get past a certain point of fullness.

Experiment to determine the number of times you need to pump. 

  • Start with eight times a day.
  • Decrease to seven times and wait three days to see if your supply decreases.
  • If your supply stays the same, try decreasing by another pumping.
  • Continue until you see a decrease in supply. At that point, you would go back to the number of pumpings that produces the amount of milk you need.
  • Some moms can pump as few as four times a day and still produce e full milk supply. Other moms may need to pump 10-12 times a day.

Exclusive pumping may be a lot of work. However, giving your baby the gift of your breast milk is worth it.