Exclusively Pumping

Advice for mothers interested in exclusively pumping

Not all mothers have a personal lactation goal of breastfeeding, but they do want to provide their baby with breast milk for a period of months, a year, or longer. The positive health outcomes for both mother and baby are often the driving factors behind this decision, as breast milk is proven to build your baby’s immune system and lower a mother’s risk for postpartum depression and certain types of cancer. For mothers interested in an exclusively pumping relationship, these tips from our Resident IBCLC will show you what to expect when getting started and help you decide if this is the right decision for your lifestyle.

Katie McGee’s tips for exclusively pumping mothers

When should a mother who wants to exclusively pump start?

Start early and pump often. If you can, try to pump within the first hour after delivery. The first two weeks are a critical period of lactation establishment, and once this time passes, it is a lot harder to boost supply. If a mother is exclusively pumping, she is pump dependent. The pump is essentially “tricking” a mother’s body into milk production, establishment, and maintenance of the established milk supply by mimicking the newborn’s stimulation and removal of breast milk during breastfeeding.

What kind of pump should an exclusively pumping mother use?

Exclusively pumping mothers should start with a hospital-grade rental that has an initiation pattern to establish supply at the beginning of your pumping relationship. Pumping both breasts at the same time is both a time saver and sends a bigger surge of milk making hormones throughout your body than single pumping. You should be able to rent this pump from your hospital. After the first month or so, your supply should be well-established enough to transition to a personal double electric pump.

How else can exclusively pumping mothers do to prepare?

Know your pump top to bottom. Know how to set it up, practice assembling and disassembling all of the pieces ahead of time, and get a second or third complete kit of pump pieces—you’ll be glad you did. Also, know how and when to wash and sterilize the pieces. Your pump’s manual or YouTube channel will be an excellent resource here. Make sure you understand the settings and how to best use them in order to maximize the stimulation and emptying of your breasts. Doing everything right in the first two weeks is important to maximize your ability to make enough milk long term.

How long should each pumping session last?

Never pump for more than 30 minutes per session. If you are using a pump with an initiation pattern like the Medela Symphony, your pump will automatically shut off at the 15-minute mark. With other pumps or with the Symphony standard pattern, it is up to you to end your pumping session. It is okay to plan daytime sessions closer together early on to allow for a stretch of four or five hours of sleep at night. Sleep is important for new mothers, but know that going longer without pumping causes your body to protectively slow milk production. A long break from pumping, especially in the first two weeks, may negatively impact the establishment of your supply.

Do exclusively pumping mothers have to follow the same feeding schedule as their baby?

After the first month, when lactation is considered fairly well-established, the lactating breasts are more forgiving when a mother varies her pumping routine slightly. Most women can switch up the timing of daily pumping as long as about eight pumping sessions per day are completed in 24 hours. For example: If a mother has plans in the afternoon, she can squeeze her morning pumping sessions closer together and stretch out the afternoon sessions. There is flexibility in the timing of sessions, but the number of pumping minutes at the end of the day should stay about the same.  For a mother who is completely pump-dependent—without nursing the baby at all—pumping less than six times in a 24-hour period will generally not be adequate for maintaining milk supply.

After the first two weeks, how should exclusively pumping mothers adjust their routine in order to see continued success?

A lactating breast is never totally empty, so a mother can maximize her chances of success by continuing a pumping routine that regularly empties her breast as completely as possible. The “empty” breast is the trigger for more milk production once lactation is established. A hospital-grade pump rental for at least the first month is a good investment for mothers with the goal of exclusive pumping without nursing. After that, most women can transition to a double electric personal pump and return the rental.

A pump assessment from an IBCLC can also be extremely helpful to a pump dependent mother. She will receive feedback regarding the type of pump, sizing of breast shields and other equipment, and timing of sessions that is right for her specific situation, which will help make the most of her pumping sessions.

It is not easy being a pump dependent or exclusively pumping mother. It takes a level of commitment and the knowledge that her pump will be her permanent side-kick until lactation is over. If exclusively pumping sounds like the lactation route you would like to take, Ashland Women’s Health can help get you started. From baby bump to breast pump, we have the resources to help all mothers achieve breastfeeding success.