Beginner's Guide to Exclusive Pumping

There are different reasons why women choose to feed their baby exclusively with pumped breast milk.  Some pump because of personal preferences.  Others choose exclusive pumping because their baby has had issues with breastfeeding such as not latching, tongue tie, cleft palate, or other problems.  Giving your baby breast milk, whether it is from breastfeeding or pumping, is one of the best ways to give your baby a healthy start.  Breast milk provides your baby with the best nutrition and has many other benefits including boosting his immune system, lowering his risk of obesity, cancer and other diseases, and possibly improving his IQ.  If you have made the choice to provide your baby with breast milk, you may have a lot of questions.  We’re here to help you get started. 

Exclusive pumping supplies:

  • Double electric pump
  • Hands-free kit (not necessary, but nice to have)
  • Breast milk storage bags
  • Bottles
  • Nursing bra and nursing pads

Because exclusive pumping is more demanding than just pumping on occasion, you really need a good quality pump to be successful.  Most moms use a double electric pump like the Medela Pump in Style or Freestyle, or the Ameda Purely Yours.  You can also rent a hospital grade pump like the Medela Lactina.  Some women are able to pump with a manual pump or a single electric pump.  The Avent Isis and Medela Harmony are both good manual pumps.  However, most women who pump exclusively don’t pump enough milk with a manual pump.  When it comes to pumping for your baby, the pump truly makes a difference.  A quality pump can allow you to pump significantly more.  Take time to research how each breast pump works, how closely it mimics breastfeeding, and what other moms have to say about it.

Pumping routine:  How often and how much?

Pumping should simulate breastfeeding as much as possible.  You want to empty your breasts as frequently as you would if your baby was nursing.  Emptying your breasts frequently is the best way to establish and maintain a good milk supply.  Breastfed newborns nurse every 2 to 3 hours (around 8 to 12 times a day).   They can nurse for as little as 10 minutes at a feeding to as long as 40 minutes, or more.  Thus to mimic your baby’s feeding patterns, you will want to pump for around 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day and every 3-4 hours at night. 

It’s difficult to say how much you will pump per session.  Some women have a larger storage capacity than others and store more milk between feedings.  The average woman can expect to pump around 3 to 5 oz per session, for a total of around 24 to 40 oz per day.  Your baby will need around around 25 to 30 oz per day until he is around 6 months old.  After 6 months, your baby may start to take less expressed breast milk once solids are introduced.  You can use JM’s breastfeeding calculator to estimate how much breast milk your baby will need.  (*JM’s breastfeeding calculator is intended for baby’s six months or younger.)

Pump settings

In order to maximize the amount of breast milk you pump, experiment with your pump settings.  You want to mimic baby’s breastfeeding patterns.  Babies suck really fast at the beginning of a feeding to stimulate a let down, so you should start off with the speed set to high and the suction set to low.  Once you feel a let down and your milk starts flowing, slow the speed of your pump down and increase the suction to a comfortable level.  If your milk output slows down, change your settings back to a faster speed to stimulate a second let down and decrease the suction.  Then lower the speed again and increase the suction once your milk starts flowing again.

Dropping pumping sessions

Once your milk supply is well-established, usually around the time your baby is 12 weeks old, you may be able to decrease the number of times you pump in a day.  There is more than one approach to dropping sessions.  Some women simply skip a pumping session.  Others gradually increase the length of time between pumping sessions.  While others reduce the amount of time pumped during a session until it is completely eliminated.  You can use whichever approach works best for you but make sure you eliminate sessions gradually.  Once you eliminate a session or make changes to your pumping routine, evaluate the impact it has on your milk supply.  If you find your total output hasn’t changed much, you can continue decreasing the number of times you pump gradually.  However, if you see that your milk supply has decreased, you may need to increase the number of times you pump per day.  Some women can produce the same amount of milk in 5 or 6 sessions, where others may need to continue pumping every 2 to 3 hours.

Storing breast milk

Breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 8 days, in a traditional freezer for up to 4 months, and in a deep freezer for as long as a year.  You will want to feed your baby fresh breast milk as much as possible, but any excess can be stored in the freezer and thawed later.  It’s a good idea to store your breast milk in 3-4 oz bags.  If your baby takes more than 4 oz at a feeding, fill your bags to around the amount he would take in one feeding.  Keep in mind though, that once it is thawed it cannot be refrozen.  (See JM’s Breast Milk Storage Guidelines for more information on storing breast milk.) 

To thaw frozen milk, you can either leave it in the fridge overnight or run it under warm tap water.  Do not microwave as the microwave does not heat liquids evenly.  This creates hot spots that can scold your baby’s mouth and throat.  The microwave also destroys some of the immunological properties in breast milk.

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