(aka: everything you wanted to know about exclusive pumping but didn’t know who to ask!)
- How Often & When?
- How Long to Pump?
- How Much Milk Per Bottle?
- How to Bottle-feed the Breastfed Baby
- Increasing Supply
- Pumping Tricks: More Tips for Eping Moms by Eping Moms
- Special Thanks
A note about exclusive pumping:
There are occasions that arise which may prevent a mom from being able to nurse her baby. A mother who has a baby who cannot or will not latch, for whatever reason, may assume there is no choice but for her to use infant formula. There is another option however, and one that doesn’t seem to get the support or acknowledgment it deserves – exclusively pumping, also known as “EPing“.
In most cases, a mother who has made the decision to exclusively pump has not done so “lightly”. She is aware of the irreplaceable benefits of her milk, and she wants her baby to have the best, so the most logical conclusion for her is to pump and provide her milk to baby by bottle.
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Sadly, many (including health care providers) will tell mom that this is crazy idea, and “it’ll never work”; “you’ll run out of milk”; or will say “you simply will not be able to keep up”. Without the support and information she needs, a mom may simply give up.
Those who don’t give up often are faced with other issues to overcome. They often feel like they are in a class by themselves, excluded from the usual groups of moms who typically form into “support groups” either for breastfeeding mothers, or for formula feeding mothers.
They may feel they must explain “why” they are “bottle feeding” breastmilk – even to their health care providers who often ask.. “breast or bottle” assuming “bottle” is formula.
While everyone does agree that there are irreplaceable benefits to nursing baby directly from breast, everyone also must agree that breastmilk itself is irreplaceable. When faced with providing breastmilk, or not, then whenever possible it should be breastmilk regardless of the method of delivery.
There is no room or need for guilt here – the mother who has done all she can to bf “normally” isn’t a failure – she is just doing the best she can in the situation she is in. Mothers who choose to exclusively pump are very dedicated mothers – determined to do the best they can for their precious babies, and they deserve respect and support.
Here are some tips and information regarding exclusive pumping:
All About Exclusive Pumping and Tips for EPing Moms by EPing Moms:
The Best… Expressed!
HOW OFTEN TO PUMP & WHEN?:
First and foremost – one should have a good quality, double electric pump. Some mothers rent them, others buy pumps such as the Hygeia EnJoye. The quality of the pump can make all the difference in the world!
A normal newborn baby nurses on average 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period. Most experts suggest it is best if mom can come close to matching what the normal nursing baby would do at the breast, and recommend she pump about every two hours, not going longer than three hours between sessions. Understanding how milk production works can help moms in their efforts to establish good milk supply. The more frequently the breasts are emptied, the more milk mother should have. Therefore, if she were to pump at least every 3 hours, for about 20 minutes, she should establish and maintain a good milk supply. In the first couple of weeks, she may also want to pump at least twice at night, but not all mothers do this.
“It’s insanely hard in the beginning but you need to pump every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. Prolactin levels (the hormone that tells your body to make milk) are highest in the early morning hours so mom would want to make sure she is pumping then as well. This is like the 1am to 5am stretch of time. If mom can at least get one pump in during this time, it will really help.
The main concern is to get enough pumps in per day – a minimum of 7 pumps per day. I will say from experience that when I pushed myself to get in 8 pumps per day, my supply REALLY increased. Most of the time, I just couldn’t push myself and ended up with 7 times. And to create a little bit of sanity, it is the number of pumps per day that you get in and not necessarily the amount of time you wait in between pumps that counts. So, if I needed to run an errand or just wanted to get out of the house without dragging my pump along, I would pump every 2 hours in the morning and then have a window of about 4 or 5 hours in the afternoon to do everything and would then pump again every 2 hours in the evening to get my total of 7 pumps in for the day.
That being said, I did NOT get up to pump in the middle of the night if my baby wasn’t awake. I thought that was cruel and couldn’t do it! Ha! The sleep was more important to me (especially after the c-section). A lot of pumping is trial and error and this is why keeping info in a spreadsheet (or journal) is helpful. If you start sleeping through the night or going longer stretches and see a huge decline in your volume, you can always set you alarm to add another pump back in. I never had to but this can vary from mom to mom. I did the early morning pump as long as I was up feeding the baby, but if she slept 5 hours through the night, so did I! ”
PUMPING – HOW LONG?
Most experts agree that whatever the reason for pumping, moms should pump for about 20 minutes. Most agree its best to pump at least 15 minutes, and to avoid going much longer than 20 minutes. Experts also encourage pumping about five minutes past when the milk stops flowing, often by doing so mom will elicit another letdown, and at the very least will maintain production as well as encouraging increase in supply if needed.
“The standard advice is to pump for 15-20 minutes. Even if you don’t have milk flowing that entire time, you need to pump that long to get enough nipple stimulation. Also pumping at least 5 minutes after your milk stops flowing will tell your body that you need more milk; thus increasing your supply. 15 minutes should absolutely be the minimum pumping time. I’ve talked to women who only pumped for 10 minutes and eventually started losing their supply. They had to work really hard to rebuild it.”
“More is not better” when it comes to the suction settings on the breast pump. Most experienced moms do not set the pump speed on high, but rather keep it on lower setting for comfort.
“This one was a BIGGIE for me and I want to definitely pass this one on! There should be a suction setting on your pump and a speed dial. This is very important, the higher the suction does NOT mean the more milk you make. Your pump will probably have a suction setting of minimum, medium, and maximum. I had mine set on medium when I developed a blister. Once it healed, I turned it down to minimum and have never had another blister or pain again. I keep the speed at 3 but if you feel like too much areola is being sucked into the horn, then turning down the speed will remedy that. If you are in a lot of pain and turn down the settings, you might actually get more milk because you are more relaxed!”
HOW MUCH MILK PER BOTTLE?
Moms may find it surprising that the breastfed baby often takes less milk in the bottle than formula babies take in. This is because breastmilk is so well utilized by the baby’s body that less is needed. Since breastmilk is so easily and completely digested, the breastfed baby needs to eat more often, but they don’t need as much per bottle.
When a baby is nursed from the breast, research shows us that baby will vary their intake of milk from feeding to feeding, and the length of time at the breast doesn’t always correlate with the amount of milk taken from the breast. Overall, the average bf baby takes in between 19 and 30 oz (or 570 – 900 mL) per day (24 hrs), but the amount taken per bottle may vary somewhat from feeding to feeding, just as it does at the breast, depending on baby’s need at the time.
” According to the most current breastfeeding research, exclusively breastfed babies take in an average of 25 oz (750 mL) per day between the ages of 1 month and 6 months. This may vary a little from baby to baby, but the average range of milk intake is 19-30 oz per day (570-900 mL per day).
To estimate the average amount of milk baby will need at a feeding:
- Estimate the number of times that baby nurses per day (24 hours).
- Then divide 25 oz by the number of nursings.
This gives you a “ballpark” figure for the amount of expressed milk your exclusively breastfed baby will need at one feeding.
Example: If baby usually nurses around 8 times per day, you can guess that baby might need around 3 ounces per feeding every 3 hours when mom is away. (25/8=3.1).
NOTE: Current breastfeeding research does not indicate that breastmilk intake changes with baby’s age or weight between one and six months.”
You can find a quick and easy expressed breastmilk calculator here.
HOW TO BOTTLEFEED
It is important to remember that it is very easy to overfeed a baby using bottles. This is because the way a baby drinks from a bottle is very different than how a baby would nurse from the breast. A baby cannot control the flow of milk from a bottle thus experts recommend using slow flow or “newborn” type nipples, to reduce the risk of overfeeding.
The breastmilk should never be warmed in the microwave, since doing so not only creates hot spots that cannot fully be distributed evenly even when the milk is mixed (the heat adheres to the fats which “glob” together, and can result in scalding of a baby’s mouth and throat), but it actually alters the composition of the breastmilk, damaging some of the nutrients. Shaking breastmilk is also not recommended (gently swirl to mix, instead).
Ideally bottlefeeding the baby should mimic how a mother breastfeeds her baby. The baby should be fed on cue, or demand, and not according to a rigid schedule. Breastmilk digests in about 90 minutes, so one would expect the feedings to be anywhere from 1.5 hrs to 3 hours apart. (younger babies often need to eat more frequently than older babies).
The bottle should be offered gently, in a non-stressful manner, with the baby drawing the nipple into the mouth. The type of bottle or nipple is not as important as the manner in which the bottle is offered. A typical nursing session lasts about 15 to 20 min, and care should be taken to allow baby to take his/her time to drink the bottle, not “rushing” through a feeding as quickly as possible. Changing position mid-way through a feeding is often recommended, as is holding baby is a more upright position. Propping a bottle is also not recommended.
INCREASING YOUR SUPPLY
There are wonderful tips on increasing milk supply below – those that work for nursing mothers also work for mothers who exclusively pump, the biggest “difference” is that nursing mothers are encouraged to put baby to breast often, and pumping mothers are encouraged to pump often. Probably THE most important thing to remember is to pump often and pump long enough to soften (or “empty”) the breast.
“Some little tips to help increase your supply if you really need it. It’s nice to have these on hand just in case:
First drink plenty of water. I don’t drink a ton but I make sure to stay hydrated. Check your pee when you go (I know, sounds funny!). If it is light yellow to clear, you are plenty hydrated.
Make sure you eat! While you are pumping, you will keep the weight off, I promise! It can make you hungry as a horse and it does that for a reason. You need the extra calories because you are burning so much off! When I didn’t eat enough, I would get really light headed and feel like I was going to drop my baby…not good! Eventually, your hunger should taper off (mine has).
Eat REAL oatmeal, not the instant. You can eat the quick oats (the ones that cook in 1 minute) or the old fashioned oats (that cook in 5 minutes). You can also make cookies that have oatmeal in them and get oatmeal that way (I prefer this way! Ha!). The way they process the instant oatmeal, it doesn’t give you the same results. No one is sure how the oatmeal works but it does!
Get some rest (yeah, I know easier said than done!) If you are exhausted and have the opportunity to take a nap (even if it pushes your pump back) do it! You will actually get more milk that way! Even if you’re not sleeping, rest by sitting down a lot. Conserving energy is important.
Don’t stress too much. This all depends on how you personally handle stress. I tend to be a thinker, so I think things out a lot. It has to be some MAJOR stressful situation for it to hurt my supply.
Some suggest drinking dark beer, with or without alcohol. Some say it’s the barley in it or something, that helps to increase supply. Plus some women just swear by the relaxation it gives them! You can have 1 or 2 beers without much crossing into your milk. (Note: Most breastfeeding experts do not routinely recommend using alcohol to boost milk supply. More on alcohol and breastfeeding here.)
There is a tea called Mothers Milk Tea and it is supposed to increase your supply if you drink it.
There are herbs like Fenugreek and also prescription medications that will increase your supply if you really need it. I would use these as a last resort but they can be effective and are available!
Most importantly, good pumping habits will keep your supply up and increase it!”
PUMPING TRICKS & More Tips For EPing Moms by EPing Moms
(aka “Tricks of the Trade” shared by Shanna)
“Go hands free! This was the best trick I learned!! I went hands free and set my pump up by my computer and read my pumping board while I pump. It keeps me from looking down into my bottles wondering how much I’m getting, being bored out of my mind, and makes time FLY by! You can use an old nursing bra and just cut slits in the flap. Then you just slide the horns through. I did this for a while but I didn’t want to wear the cut up bra all day long so that meant I had to literally change bras before each pump. At 7 times a day, that was a bit much!! So, I bought a pumping bra and LOVE it! It’s the Easy Expressions bustier.
The best thing about this bustier is that it can be worn over any nursing bra. So, when it’s time to pump, I put the flaps down on my nursing bra, wrap the bustier around, slide the horns through the holes, position them and zip it up. That’s all!”
“The refrigerator trick. This is where you rinse your horns and/or collection bottles after each pumping session. You put them in a ziplock bag (or not, this is optional), and put them in the refrigerator. The idea is that since breast milk is good in the fridge for 5-8 days, any residue left on the horns won’t matter. Then you can wash the horns/bottles once at night. I throw mine into the dishwasher (all except the white membranes) and it’s easy, easy, easy!”
“Storage bags. Many of us started out using the Gerber Seal-N-Go bag but they get very pricey quickly. They are like $5.50 for a box of 25 bags. After researching it online, I found many other women were using regular freezer bags for freezing the milk….MUCH cheaper! Everything I’ve read shows that they are safe to use. From what I have found, I only buy Glad and not Ziploc. Ziploc seems to have a much higher rate of leaks. I write the date and amount of ounces on the label with a sharpie and put the milk in and freeze flat. I then take several of them and put them into a gallon size freezer bag and write the dates that are enclosed on the gallon bag. This helps by double bagging and keeping them grouped. This way the corners on the bags won’t get poked and possibly cause the bag to leak. Also, whenever I want to get a bag, I can just dig through gallon size bags instead of tons of little bags floating around! : I usually put one or two days worth in a gallon bag.”
“Lube Up! It is perfectly safe to put the lansinoh on before pumping and still use the milk. Putting it on before and after pumping really helps to keep you from getting too sore. Purelan100 is also good (and cheaper). I’ve used this from the beginning. You can also rub Olive Oil on the horns and inside the nipple chamber to reduce friction. Olive Oil is antibacterial so it is helpful. This is also safe to use and pump milk with. I’ve done both of these and hadn’t had a problem. There are times when I seem to get sorer than other times with no real explanation. But, it then goes away as quickly as it came! Who knows!”
“Taking Care of Baby When Pumping. Once I went hands free and had to do those early morning feedings by myself, I would sit on the floor and prop my baby up in her boppy pillow on the floor. I would get hooked up to the pump and start it and pump while I fed her. About the time she was done eating, I was done pumping and I would put her back in bed and go to sleep myself. This will cut down on your time tremendously! It also helps to do this if your pumping time happens to correspond to your baby’s feeding time during the day. The bouncy seat is my best friend! I would put her in the bouncy seat and bounce it with my foot while surfing the net and pumping. It made time fly by and she was content. You may find other solutions if you have older children, or extra help.”
“Taking Care of Older Children, and Pumping. You may not need a lot of tricks for this one depending on the age of the child, or children. They will probably understand if you just explain that while you are pumping, they can’t get up and get things without help. Some tricks other moms had mentioned to keep their other child entertained and kind of reward them would be to go shopping and let your child pick out a special toy or video that she really wants. Then when ever it comes time for you to pump, she can play with it. But, she ONLY gets to play with it when you pump. This helps to make pumping time special for her as well and can help prevent any resentment she might begin to feel.”
Excessive caffeine may cause problems (like keeping the baby wired!). I avoid caffeine completely (except chocolate) but even if you have 1 drink a day, it won’t hurt. Just don’t go over board. (More on caffeine here.)
Medications that have Sudafed (pseudoephedrine HCl) in them can affect milk supply! Be careful!
Regular birth control pills will impact milk supply, and some women even have a problem with the mini pill. Breastfeeding (and yes that’s what you are doing even if it’s not from “the tap”) is a good deterrent for ovulation but not 100% so be careful! However, you may find you get hot flashes and things like that. It is normal because your body is acting like it’s going through menopause. This suppresses ovulation and allows you to make milk. I thought I was going crazy until I learned this! Ha! Sometimes if you get your period back while pumping, it can decrease your supply. This can be fixed by taking a calcium/magnesium supplement. (I don’t have mine back yet and loving it!).
“WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER?
Around 3 months your supply will probably be established. This is when you can begin to drop the number of times per day that you pump and not see too much of a decrease in total output (this is again, where the spreadsheet comes in handy). That’s why if you do the hard work in the beginning, I promise it will pay off when this time comes! If you don’t keep up the number of pumps per day in the beginning, you may continue to have to pump a high number of times per day just to maintain a small supply. Of course, this is all dependent on how each woman produces milk. So, you may have such a great supply and so much frozen that you can drop pumps earlier. I began dropping pumps at 10 weeks and by 3 months I was down to 4 pumps per day! I lost a little with each drop but am currently at 50 ounces per day. There’s no way my baby will ever eat that much so I see no reason to pump more. You will have to decide for yourself. Once you start dropping pumps, you will need to pump longer at each session (because you’ve gone longer in between pumps and need longer to empty your breasts). This is also dependent on the woman. I pump about 35-40 minutes per pump now on 4 times because I get another let down at about 36 minutes into it!”
“YOU CAN DO THIS!!!
I firmly believe that pumping is 10% physical and 90% psychological. If you try to view this as positively as possible, I think you will have a better outcome. That’s why going hands free and doing everything to minimize your stress about pumping is important.
A lot of people don’t understand pumping. I still get stupid questions like, “Why don’t you just nurse?” Well, DUH! She won’t nurse! Ha! You should do whatever makes you comfortable. Sometimes strangers ask me if I’m breastfeeding and if I don’t feel like dealing with anything, I just say yes. I am after all! She’s just getting it “to go” instead of from “the tap”! Ha!
Mostly though, I do all I can to educate. I know many women who didn’t know this option was even possible and wished they had when breastfeeding didn’t work out. Don’t listen to doctors or nurses who tell you this isn’t possible. There just isn’t enough wide spread info out there and unfortunately most health care professionals give really bad advice (like only pump for 10 minutes). So, when they hear back from their patients on how they had supply problems or dried up, they just assume it’s not possible to pump long term. On my online group, there are women who have been pumping for a year or longer! It is DEFINITELY possible!
Most importantly, if for any reason you just don’t want to do it anymore, it is perfectly fine! Remember, a happy mommy = a happy baby. You have to do whatever is right for your entire family. Pumping is hard and can take its toll on you. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how you feed your baby! Remember that! We all have days when we want to wean. That’s why support is SOOO important!”
Special thanks to the mothers on the Exclusive Pumping board at Parentsplace (now defunct), and in particular to Shanna and Margaret for sharing their information, and their invaluable help in creating this page.