Many parents across the world decide to exclusively pump for their babies. However, this feeding method isn’t as widely discussed as breastfeeding or formula feeding. Receiving information about exclusively pumping (EPing) during pregnancy can be a huge relief for moms. One study found that women who knew about this method prior to giving birth reported feeling less stressed, guilty, and defeated about EPing. This might be the solution you’re looking for so that you can feed your baby breast milk without breastfeeding. I’m all for reducing feelings of shame, guilt, and defeat for moms, so let's dive into the ins and outs of EPing.
What is exclusive pumping?
Exclusive pumping involves only feeding your baby pumped breast milk. This includes using bottles, feeding tubes, or syringes to feed your baby instead of directly from your breast. The word “exclusive” in this case doesn’t mean that parents won’t supplement with formula at all. It simply means that any breast milk their baby receives will be pumped.
Why would you exclusively pump?
There are a number of reasons you may choose or need to exclusively pump. Some of these include:
- Baby has difficulties latching
- Issues with latching related to the mother’s nipples
- Mother’s work or school schedule
- Baby born prematurely unable to breastfeed
- Breastfeeding is physically painful for the mother
- Nursing is emotionally painful for the mother due a history of trauma
- Giving birth to multiple babies at the same time
- Mother doesn’t want to breastfeed
- Baby struggles to gain weight and the mother wants to know exactly how much their baby is eating
- Mother wants their baby to have breast milk for a longer period of time, but breastfeeding for an extended period isn’t feasible for their family
There isn’t one right reason to exclusively pump for your baby. Do what works best for you, your baby, and your family. There are times when women don’t breastfeed and they feel shame or guilt. It may be internally or directed at them from their community. I’m a firm believer that a fed baby and a healthy mom are best. Your mental and physical well-being are important and also enable you to be a present mom for your little ones.
Is exclusive pumping harder than breastfeeding?
It can be more time-consuming. If you’re pumping at a different time than your baby feeds, your schedule will be filled with more tasks. Some moms have worked it out so that they give their babies a bottle while they pump. Others coordinate with their partners to give the baby a bottle when possible while they pump. If you pump while at work, it can take a chunk of your time during the day. Some find this a needed reprieve from the workday, while others work while they pump if their type of position allows for that. This is likely easier for those working on computers. However, there are some wireless machines that allow for discreet pumping, which you could use while on the job.
How do you exclusively pump?
You can begin pumping right after birth. If you plan on EPing let your healthcare team know ahead of time. The hospital lactation consultant can show you how to hand express your colostrum to give to your baby within the first hour after delivery. You can also ask them for an electric pump to use. They'll help you set it up and show you how to use it. Make sure to request dish soap for your room, so that you can clean the pump parts.
I pumped at the hospital with my second child. My nurse walked in on me trying to use the soap dispenser on the wall to clean the parts. She gently instructed me not to use that soap because of the residue it would leave and brought me dish soap.
In the beginning, pump once every one to three hours. You'll need to pump about eight to 12 times a day to establish your supply and keep it up with your baby's appetite.
How much milk do I need to pump?
Newborns have tiny stomachs, so they don’t need a lot of milk at the very beginning. As they grow, the amount of milk they need will increase. Infants under a month take an average of one to two ounces per feeding. One to three-month-olds take three to four ounces each feeding and three to six months olds drink about six to eight ounces per feeding. On average, babies usually need anywhere between 25 to 35 ounces of milk per day.
How often should I pump?
When you begin exclusively pumping, aim for those eight to 12 sessions per day. Newborns eat every two to three hours, so this amount of pumping will help you keep your milk supply up. As your baby gets older, you can evaluate when to drop some of those pumping sessions.
The main thing to keep in mind is to pump at least 120 minutes per day per breast. That's why expressing both breasts simultaneously is such a time saver.
Products that make pumping easier
Pumping bra - Pumping 120 minutes per day is a long time to not be able to use your hands. A good bra that holds the pump parts for you is crucial. Below you'll find two highly-rated pumping bras:
Portable breast pump - Many exclusively pumping moms use a portable pump. Standard pumps are covered by health insurance, while portable pumps are typically only partially covered. However, these can be a great investment that makes pumping away from home a lot easier. Check out some highly reviewed portable pumps below:
- Elvie pump - This pump is small, portable, and wireless. It fits inside your bra and is very quiet. I’ve had multiple friends use these to pump during work meetings!
- Baby Buddha pump - This is a hands-free, wireless, and small pump. It includes a remote control you use to operate the two pumps.
Pumping bag - EPing requires a good pump bag that can fit all of your pump parts and personal items, as well as store expressed milk with ice packs. Here’s two of my favorites that are stylish yet practical.
- Norah Backpack/Tote by Sarah Wells - With consistently high reviews and a lifetime warranty, I understand why moms love this bag. It can be carried as a tote or backpack and includes cold storage, plenty of room for your pump, and space for a laptop.
- 2-in-1 Provisions Backpack and Pump Kit by Petunia Pickle - This bundle includes a highly rated backpack and pump kit. The pump kit fits inside the bag to organize and hold your pump parts and keep your milk cold with an ice pack.
Pumping-friendly clothes - If you're pumping throughout the day, you don't want to deal with taking your top off every time. Investing in pumping-friendly clothes can help lighten the load that comes with EPing. You also don’t have to settle for basic maternity clothes. Romantic designer pieces are here to stay for nursing and pumping mothers. Check out two of our favorites:
- Sophia Nursing Shirt - This beautiful and elegant shirt makes pumping simple with two hidden zippers. There’s no need to take the shirt off and on during sessions. Simply unzip the zippers on the chest and you’re ready to pump.
- Barbara Nursing Dress - You’ll find our smartly placed hidden zippers on this dress as well, making it easy to pump in. This romantic dress also has a self-tie belt for an adjustable waistline and pockets. You know I love a dress with pockets!
Silicone breast pump - It’s a good idea to keep a non-electric pump with you wherever you go. There will be times you need to pump just a little to prevent engorgement. But you won't have the time or the ability to get your electric pump set up or complete a full pumping session.
- Haakaa Breast Pump - This is a non-electric pump, but doesn’t require consistent manual pumping either. Once you get the pump attached, it will suction out the milk.
Bonus Tips for Exclusive Pumping
- Invest in portable batteries and car chargers specific to your pump - You aren't always near an accessible outlet when you need to pump. Portable batteries and chargers are helpful when pumping in the car or away from home. Many cars nowadays have USB outlets and cigarette lighters. You can get a power cord that fits with your pump and aligns with the outlet in your car.
- Store your pump parts in a clean ziplock bag in the fridge between pump sessions. Then you only need to wash the pump parts once a day.
- Look at photos or videos of your baby while you pump if you aren’t with them.
- Select flanges/breast shields that fit your nipples well.
Several of my close friends exclusively pumped or are currently using this feeding method. It's a time commitment, but it's doable! EPing is a good option for a lot of families, so figure out what works best for you and your baby. Remember, a fed baby and a healthy mother are what's important.
At Ellie and Becca, we want mothers to feel beautiful and confident in their postpartum bodies. That's why we create pumping and nursing-friendly dresses and shirts that you can wear long after you're finished with that phase of motherhood. Discover our collection today!
Jardine FM. Breastfeeding without nursing: "If only I'd known more about exclusively pumping before giving birth". J Hum Lact. 2019;35(2):272-283. doi:10.1177/0890334418784562