Tips for Mothers Who Exclusively Pump

10 Mar

A version of this blog appeared on the San Diego Breastfeeding Center blog. Reprinted with permission.

Whether exclusive pumping is a decision or a necessity due to surrounding circumstances, there are several things you can do to make your efforts more successful.

Start early

We know that the earlier after birth you begin expressing, milk production is set up for long-term success.  Hand expression of colostrum is often more effective than pumping in the early days and can increase your milk supply even when you begin using a pump.  You may not reach full production until around 10 days, so be patient as amounts in the early days may be very small. Here’s a fantastic video from Jane Morton at Stanford University, demonstrating Hand Expression

Pump often

In the beginning, plan to pump about 8 times in 24 hours, for anywhere from 15-20 minutes per session.  Once you have reached full production, you can generally decrease your number of pumping sessions to 6 or 7 times a day.  You may also find you can express for 10-15 minutes and be done.

Plan to rent a multi-user hospital grade pump and later purchase a single user double-electric pump to establish and maintain your milk supply.

Initially, a hospital grade pump is key to reaching full milk production.  Let’s put it this way: the hospital-grade pump is like the Ferrari and the double-electric you can purchase is similar to a Toyota.  The motor is far superior in the hospital-grade pump, but it is too expensive to purchase, therefore we recommend renting one.  The double-electric is much more affordable, yet is best for maintaining a supply, rather than bringing one in.

Ensure a good flange fit and consider having more than one flange size available.

A poor flange fit can cause breast and/or nipple damage and pain.  It can also decrease the amount of milk you are able to pump. Check out this article about finding the correct pump flange size.

Pump hands-free

Purchase a hands-free bra or make one out of an old sports bra but cutting small slits where the flanges would fit.  Your hands will now be free to massage that ‘hard-to-get-out’ milk that pools in the periphery of the breast.

Use hands-on pumping

You can maximize your pump output by using breast massage as you pump hands free. We LOVE this video on how to maximize your pumping output using breast massage!

Learn some relaxation techniques to promote milk let-down

Take some deep breaths after you turn on your pump.  Put on some relaxing music.  Think about how amazing your body is as it provides warmth and nourishment to your baby.  If you need a mental break, dive into one of your favorite magazines.  This will help the time fly by!

Focus on your baby

Whether you have your baby near or you have to be away, you can focus on your baby by thinking about him and listening to a recording of him cooing or making sweet baby noises.  Have an item nearby that smells like your baby and place a picture in your pump bag (or on your phone).

Prepare to store your milk

There are a variety of bags and containers to safely store your milk in.  Bags made specifically for milk storage take up the least amount of room and will lay flat in your freezer.  Click here for current milk storage guidelines

Set up a pump station at home and/or at work

Have everything you need for pumping within arms’ reach.  Also have some water available to sip on, the TV remote or a book if that is how you choose to relax, a snack, and perhaps your headphones.

Listen to The Boob Group podcast episode, Maximize Your Breast Pumping Sessions

Sometimes just listening to helpful ideas from other moms can help normalize your situation, as well as motivate you.  These moms have made pumping work for them and so can you!

And finally, keep up the great work!

Remember, whether you baby is going to the breast or not, every drop counts!  You are providing a life-long gift to your baby.  And every minute you spend providing breastmilk to your baby is worth it.

What tricks worked best for you while exclusively pumping?


20 Responses to “Tips for Mothers Who Exclusively Pump”

  1. StorkStories March 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    This IS FABULOUS! I will link to this on my page!

  2. Steph March 13, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    I exclusively pumped with my son and started with a hospital pump in the hospital to help my milk come in and due to latching problems.
    This time I was able to get my daughter latched on immediately and did not pump until I got home using my double pump. I don’t think I’m getting as much milk as I did with my son…is there anyway to make up for not initially using a hospital pump?
    Thank you!!

    • bayareabreastfeeding March 13, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      Hi, Steph, if you are exclusively nursing your daughter and Breastfeeding is going well, your supply is at what she needs and you may not be able to pump as much after feedings. Are you wanting to pump to store milk? The best time of day to pump extra is after a morning feed. Warmly, Misti

      • Steph March 13, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

        Hi Misti,
        I was just breast feeding but have been doing half bottles now or a bottle after each nursing session because it seems like she’s not getting enough (hungry a half hour later) and I’m still having a lot of pain with the latch. I’m currently pumping for bottles and would like to get some milk frozen for storage so I have a good supply when I return to work (she’ll be close to 6 months at that point).
        I’m just kicking myself for not pumping at the hospital this time!

      • bayareabreastfeeding March 13, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

        Do you have access to a lactation consultant?

      • Steph March 14, 2014 at 12:11 am #

        I think I could access a lactation consultant through the hospital? Just not sure of cost. The 10-20 min on each side doesn’t seek to do anything for her hunger as she’ll eat 2-3 oz right after nursing. This is why I was starting to pump more…
        At this point (2 weeks and 2 days old) I’m wondering if renting a hospital grade pump for a couple weeks would help increase my supply…? Is it still early enough that this would help?
        I’m taking mothers milk tea and the pills with fenugreek and blessed thistle. I’m also eating the lactation cookies and drinking plenty of water…
        Thank you for your help!

      • bayareabreastfeeding March 16, 2014 at 11:33 am #

        A hospital grade pump would be a good idea. It would be very beneficial to meet with an IBCLC who can help you figure out why baby is not getting satisfied at the breast. Hang in there, momma!

  3. Jamie March 13, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    I appreciate you providing the information. It is very helpful for those who have to exclusively pump. I have been exclusively pumping my 10 month old since the beginning. However, I do find it offensive that exclusive pumping is presented as something one only does if their baby is in NICU. There are many who exclusively pump due to medical conditions of their infants. My child has tracheomalacia. I felt like a failure by lactation coaches because she could not latch. Cleft palates and tongue ties are other common reasons for the need to exclusively pump. Please provide more support for these mothers.

    Tips that are helpful for this population are how to pump while holding your child. I found that feeding and rocking my newborn to sleep made it possible to pump. As she grew, her exersaucer and play pen became helpful. I have also learned to pump while riding in the car on day trips.

    Also, for exclusive pumpers, it is common to need more that 20 minutes to pump. I have to pump 30 minutes or more. Most importantly, it can be done exclusively for a year or longer. My child’s health concerns is what has kept me motivated to provide breast milk. Breast milk is best for all children. Those who cannot feed directly from the breast still deserve support.

    • bayareabreastfeeding March 13, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. Great point and great ideas! I would love your input on writing a blog post for this population of moms from the point of view of your story! If you would be interested, email us at Would love to hear from you. Warmly, Misti

  4. Lisa March 13, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    I exclusively pumped at first for my three. I found it very helpful to have a mini fridge in my bedroom so that I did not need to go downstairs in the middle of the night. I also found it helpful to either watch tv or read while i pumped. Being distracted helped me relax and get more milk.

  5. katie sargeant March 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    my daughter is 10 weeks old and I’ve been pumping from day 1 and at first it was SUPER hard and VERY exhausting… I did quit for 32 hours and lost my milk production and had to gain it back. i went back to breastfeeding because from the moment i quit i cried and cried i felt so guilty. i breastfeed because my daughter needs the best of the best and my milk is better than formula. formula stinks and its too expensive. why buy it when the liquid gold is free 🙂 i have only actually nursed about a dozen times. she has to use a nipple shield when nursing and she isn’t crazy about it and neither am i. so we just pump and bottle feed. plus daddy can feed her this way. thanks for the info!!

    • bayareabreastfeeding March 13, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

      It seems like you have found what works for you and your family! That’s the most important thing! And what a gift you are giving your baby. Warmly, Misti

  6. Kelly March 13, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I’m so happy to see this article. There is not much out there regarding Exclusively Pumping. I’ve been exclusively pumping since the beginning. My son is 8 months now. The thing I’ve found most helpful is the Exclusively Pumping Group on Facebook. There’s always another mommy there to ask advice or provide support. It’s not an easy task and it’s very easy to get discouraged. In addition to a hands free bra, I recommend coconut oil. It is wonderful for lubrication and anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that help fight thrush. Thanks for posting this article.

    • bayareabreastfeeding March 13, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

      Those are great tips, Kelly. Thank you for commenting!

  7. Jenn March 13, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    I think the psychological aspect of EP’ing is huge. Having nursed my older daughter, I never thought if have to EP for my second child. I went through a variety of feelings of defeat, guilt, fear, and sadness while coming to terms that I was doing all and the best that I could for my baby. The EP Facebook page has been a huge support as well!

    • bayareabreastfeeding March 13, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

      I can imagine that it was difficult for you. Seems like some moms can even experience feelings of grief. I’m glad you were able to get to a point of peace in your Breastfeeding journey. Warmly, Misti

  8. Exclusive Pumpers SA March 18, 2014 at 3:57 am #

    I have EPed for 38 months exclusively, and never had to supplement despite low supply issues, there are some things I do and don’t agree with, but what I don’t agree with is based on my own personal experiences that helped me get as far as I have, but overall some good info 🙂


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