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Exclusive breast pumping is when a baby is only fed expressed breast milk through a bottle instead of feeding directly from the breast. You may choose to exclusively pump for many different reasons, including if:

  • you have a premature baby
  • your baby can’t latch
  • your baby has a cleft palate
  • breastfeeding is uncomfortable for you
  • you’re away from your baby for extended periods of time every day

Whatever the reason, it’s important to discuss your decision to exclusively pump with your baby’s pediatrician and your doctor before starting. They may refer you to a lactation consultant, if needed. They can also offer advice to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrition they need and that you’re getting the support you need.

Read on to learn more about exclusive pumping, including benefits, and tips for success.

Exclusive pumping can offer the benefits of breast milk to a baby who might otherwise not be able to nurse. Here are some of the benefits for babies and moms.

For babies

Breast milk can offer a number of benefits to babies:

  • Protection from disease. Breast milk contains antibodies that can help protect a baby from several diseases and infections.
  • May reduce risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Though not focused on pumping, results from a recent meta-analysis found that breastfeeding for 2 or more months decreased risk of SIDS.
  • Nutritious and easy-to-digest. Breast milk may be easier to digest than formula for many babies. It also contains all the nutrition a baby needs to grow and develop.

For moms

Exclusive breast pumping can give you the freedom of being away from your baby for a period of time. It can also make it easier for other caregivers to feed your baby since feeding baby doesn’t have to fall solely on you.

Exclusive breast pumping can also be an option if you’re unable to breastfeed but want breast milk to be a part of your parenting plan.

You may lose some of the weight gained during pregnancy while exclusively pumping. Pumping mothers can burn up to 500 extra calories per day. But keep in mind, you’ll need to eat often to replenish calories lost and keep up your energy levels.

Eating enough calories and making sure you’re consuming a healthy diet are both important for keeping up your milk supply, too.

There may be a few drawbacks to exclusive pumping. Mainly, babies may miss out on some of the physical contact they would experience during breastfeeding. Physical contact is important for mother-baby bonding.

If you’re using exclusive pumping, hold your baby close to your body while offering a bottle so they can still experience close contact.

One study also found that mothers who exclusively pumped versus those who practiced mixed feeding were more likely to stop feeding their baby breast milk earlier. The researchers suspected this may have been, in part, because exclusive pumping requires more support, which a lot of mothers weren’t getting. But more research is needed to observe the differences between exclusive pumping and breastfeeding.

One other consideration is that it’s easier to overfeed a bottle-fed baby than a breastfed one. Babies who are getting breast milk often need less milk per feeding than formula-fed babies. They also drink a bottle faster than feeding at the breast.

Overfeeding baby may lead to your baby gaining weight too quickly. If you aren’t sure how much or how often to feed your baby, talk to your pediatrician. Also talk to them if you’re concerned about your baby gaining too much or too little weight.

Pumping on a schedule may help you to keep up your milk supply. But it might take some trial and error to figure out an exclusive pumping schedule that works for you.

With a newborn, you may start pumping 8 to 10 times per day. That’s how often your baby may need to eat.

As your baby grows, you may go down to five to six pumps per day, expressing more milk per session and relying more on your stored supply.

Some sample schedules are below.

  • Newborn: pump 8 to 9 times in a 24 hour period; try pumping at 5 a.m., 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m., and 12 a.m. or pump on-demand as needed
  • 3 months: pump 5 to 6 times per day at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 8 p.m., and 11 p.m.
  • 6 months: pump 4 times per day at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m.
  • Exclusive pumping for twins: pump every two hours using a double-electric breast pump for the first three months, then pump every three or four hours

Exclusive pumping in the workplace

To help you to stay on a schedule, add your pump times to your work calendar as though they are meetings. Depending on the country where you live, your workplace may be required to provide a private space and time for you to pump. Check your company’s policies to confirm.

In the United States, companies are required to provide a non-restroom, private location for women to pump during the first year of their baby’s life. Employers are required to provide break time to pump as well.

You’ll be pumping every few hours at least to start, so it’s smart to invest in good-quality supplies. This includes a high-quality breast pump.

If possible, consider getting a hospital-grade double electric breast pump. If you’re unable to do so, look for just a double electric pump instead.

A double pump allows you to pump milk from both breasts at the same time. That can save you time and may help you build up your milk supply.

Additionally, you’ll need:

  • Freezer-friendly storage bags or bottles. You may want to buy 12 or more. Bags take up less space than bottles, so you may be able to fit more bags in your freezer than you would bottles.
  • Pump bag and cooler for when you’re away from home.
  • Hands-free nursing bra if you want to keep your hands free while you pump
  • Sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to wipe off your pump and supplies on the go, and clean your hands after pumping
  • Optional: car adapter or extra backup batteries if you’ll be pumping in your car

In addition to setting up a schedule and having the right supplies, you’ll also need to make sure you have enough space to store breast milk. That way, you’ll never need to dump out the work you did to get the milk.

You’ll also want to make sure you bring your pump, a cooler, and storage bags or bottles with you when you’re away from home or don’t have access to a freezer.

If you regularly pump somewhere outside of the house, it may be helpful to keep a backup pump or other supplies at that location. That way you won’t miss a pumping session if you forget something.

If your baby is in the NICU, it may take a few days for your milk supply to come in. It’s fine to just pump a few drops at a time to start. You may also want to try hand expression to start until your supply is built up.

Check with your hospital about breast milk storage options at the NICU and transportation requirements. Each hospital may have slightly different policies for pumping moms.

Staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet may help support your milk supply. Try to manage stress and sleep as much as possible.

You may need to pump more often or for longer periods of time to increase your milk supply.

You can also try adding iron-rich foods like oatmeal and other galactagogues to your daily diet. And you can talk to your doctor about taking supplements, like fenugreek. However, it’s unclear whether these foods and supplements actually increase supply.

If you’re concerned your milk supply is low, talk to your doctor for recommendations that may help.

When you’re ready to wean from exclusive pumping, it’s important to give your body time to adjust. This will help reduce your chance of developing clogged ducts, mastitis, or engorgement.

The first step is to reduce the number of times you pump per day. For example, if you pump three times a day, reduce to twice per day, about 12 hours apart. Then, try to reduce the time spent pumping each session. So if you currently pump for 20 minutes each session, aim for reducing that time to 15 or 10 minutes.

You can also reduce the volume you’re pumping each session. Once you’re down to only a few minutes or a few ounces, try to skip one of your two daily pump sessions.

Eventually, as your body catches up, you’ll only pump a few ounces at a time. Try to skip pumping one day, then on your last day, pump 36 to 48 hours later. If your breasts still feel full a few days later, you can pump again one final time.

The following tips may be helpful for success.

  • Have backup pump supplies on hand. You don’t want your pump to break down or to be missing a part when you need it.
  • Delegate responsibilities. For example, have your partner wash the bottles and pump parts when you need a break.
  • Be punctual. Stick to your pumping schedule as much as you can.
  • Practice self-care. You’ll have better success pumping when you’re relaxed and eating well.
  • Be kind to yourself. Exclusive pumping is hard work. If you miss a pumping session every now and again, or if you need to supplement some feedings with formula, give yourself a break. A fed baby is a happy and cared for baby.

Exclusive pumping can be challenging for new moms. But it can also be a rewarding way to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrition they need.

Talk to your doctor or pediatrician if you need help with exclusive pumping or if you’re concerned you aren’t producing enough milk.

And make sure you’re focusing on self-care and relying on your support system when needed.