Exclusive Pumping 101


Breastfeeding: the most natural thing on the planet, according to many loud opinions on the internet. Right?

What happens when breastfeeding proves to be a challenge? Some families turn to exclusive pumping as a means to feed their babies. Can we tell you a little secret?

It’s still breastfeeding.

You are providing your baby with breast milk that you made. You’re doing what you believe to be the best for your baby and family. Celebrate that. You’re doing great.

Exclusive pumping isn’t typically something people prepare for. It is sometimes chosen when your baby is separated from you (for example: during a NICU stay) or when breastfeeding just isn’t working for whatever reason. It can be a surprise and because of that, sometimes leaves you unprepared.

Your Pump + Parts

Since you’ll be exclusively pumping frequently, it’s usually recommended to buy or rent a double electric breast pump like this one or this one. It might be a good idea to invest in a closed system as well, which is one that cannot get contaminated with breast milk backflow. Your pump should come with all the parts you need but it’s a great idea to purchase backups so you aren’t spending hours upon hours at the sink washing things.

Ensure your flanges fit properly to avoid unnecessary problems and pulling. (Here’s why you should and how to do that!)

For quick sanitization, there are quick sprays you can use. Simply rinse first and then spray with sanitizer. This is great for on the go. For home sanitization, you can boil parts, run them on a sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher, or use a sanitizer. They make them for the microwave and ones that sit on your countertop!

In between pumping sessions, you can also leave your parts in the fridge until you’re ready to wash and sanitize them. Gallon-sized bags are great for this use!

Your Milk + Storage

Thankfully, breast milk storage guidelines are pretty straightforward! According to the CDC, freshly expressed breast milk can sit on the countertop for up to 4 hours, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, and in the freezer for up to 12 months. Thawed, previously frozen breast milk can sit on the countertop for 1-2 hours and in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. 

Remember, previously frozen breast milk should never be re-frozen. If you can’t use it in time, it can always be used in a milk bath for your baby! Always use bottles that your baby has started within 2 hours and discard the rest. 

The best practice for freezing milk is to freeze your milk in smaller portions than you think you’ll need (1-2oz portions for a younger baby, 4oz for an older baby.) To prevent wasting your breast milk, thaw only what your baby will need within the following 24 hours.

Your Bottles

Having a baby switch from the breast to a bottle and back again has been a source of concern for many parents. In your case as someone who is exclusively pumping, you don’t have to worry about that! Choosing bottles for your baby, however, can sometimes be daunting. Remember that all babies are different and may need a differently shaped bottle. Have your little one on the slowest flow nipple necessary so as to not overwhelm them. (You also might want to check out: There’s No Perfect Bottle for Your Baby.) 

In general, the slowest flow nipple is good from 0-3 months, medium from 3-6 months, and fastest from 6-12 months. However, always keep in mind that your baby is an individual! Sometimes your baby needs to be switched earlier or later than the guidelines. 

If you choose a nipple that is a bit too quick it may cause your baby to choke or struggle with feeds. Return to a slower flow nipple or hold your baby upright with the bottle at a 90 degree angle so milk fills the nipple and allows no air to be swallowed.

How do you know it might be time to introduce a faster flow nipple? If your baby sucks hard, flattens the nipple, hits the bottle, takes an exceptionally long time to complete a feed, or gets aggravated (pushes bottle away, squirms, unlatches.)

Paced Feeding

Paced feeding is a great idea for any and all babies, especially if you notice your baby not pausing when using traditional bottle feeding methods. It helps to mimic the way a baby normally feeds at the breast. Paced feeding also allows them to regulate their feeds based on their hunger levels instead of finishing ounces they may not need, which can cause spit up and discomfort from overfeeding. This method can be used when you are exclusively pumping, with breastfed, combo fed, and bottle fed babies. Here is a good, short video on how to do paced feeding

Start with your baby in an upright position. Use a slow flow, wide-based nipple. Keep the bottle horizontal with the nipple half full at all times. Allow the baby to take the nipple into their mouth themselves instead of putting it in their mouth. After 20-30 seconds lower the bottle without taking the nipple out of babies mouth. If the baby wants to continue she will start to suck on the nipple again. Then you lift the bottle back up to a horizontal position so baby can continue feeding. After 20-30 seconds lower the bottle again and repeat the same steps. Continue until you notice that baby no longer wants to feed when you lower the bottle. This allows the baby to decide when they are done with their meal! 

Parents want what is best for their babies.

Those who choose to breastfeed but encounter struggles can sometimes feel as though they don’t have the options they thought they did. Exclusive pumping can be a great choice for parents who want to give their babies breast milk but cannot feed directly from the breast for whatever reason. We acknowledge this route can sometimes feel difficult and overwhelming, especially when a wrench was thrown in your original plans. Exclusive pumping is breastfeeding! It’s just a different way and comes with its own set of hurdles to jump.

You’re doing great. With a few tricks and some know-how, you and your baby will be on your way to a unique feeding relationship all your own.

For more tips on bottle feeding (and some info on using formula) check out our article: Newborn and Infant Bottle-Feeding | Formula Fed Babies.

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading