Exclusive pumping

Sometimes babies are not able to latch at the breast straight away after birth, and this can cause a great deal of distress.

However, it’s worth knowing that it is possible to exclusively pump your milk to cause your body to make milk while you’re working on the attachment issue.

It may be that your baby has been born prematurely or has been unusually sleepy after the birth.

Some babies have a tongue tie, which impacts on their latching, but whatever the reason, exclusive pumping can be a way forward.

In all these scenarios, it’s good to know that they are usually temporary situations, but you may need to double pump your milk for a few days or a few weeks, or in some circumstances, a few months until things start to improve. 

It’s also worth knowing that pumping your milk will tell your body to make all the milk that your baby needs, and your baby can have all the benefits of receiving this milk, due to the vast array of antibodies and other protective mechanisms.

If you are exclusively pumping your milk, it’s still possible to have an excellent close bond with your baby by doing lots of skin to skin.

Knowing that your body is producing milk and giving protection to your baby is an amazing thing.

So what about the pump itself? What kind of pump will help you make all the milk that your baby needs?

Many women believe that any breast pump will be adequate to build up a good supply of milk, but in reality, there are a great number of pumps that aren’t adequate enough to produce all the milk your baby needs.

However, a hospital-grade double pump IS usually adequate, as you could call it ‘industrial strength’!

They are straightforward to assemble and use, and because you pump from both breasts at the same time, this means that double the amount of hormones are involved.

Consequently, your body will usually make more milk in less time, compared to a regular shop-bought pump.

Breast pump and full bottles

For the majority of you, you’ll find that you won’t have to pump any more than 15 minutes maximum.

It can, of course, be a strange concept to think that you are using a machine to help your body to make milk, but it’s okay!  

One of the first things that you can do to help this process work better is to be as relaxed as you can be beforehand.

To relax, keep your baby as close as possible, and if that isn’t possible, then a photograph of your baby can also help.

Some women find that it is good to distract themselves with television or music.

Some may find that a neck rub from somebody who they know may also help!  Massage, warmth, all of those things will help too.

A fantastic way to boost your supply before you pump is to have your baby near to you with skin to skin, and do it for a couple of hours a day if you can, throughout the day, boosting that supply.

Time spent doing this before the pumping session will increase the hormones, particularly prolactin, that makes milk, which means that later when you come to pump your milk, there will be more available milk because of the skin to skin you did earlier!

Even if your baby isn’t latching, all of this skin to skin and closeness will help your baby to get more milk, ultimately.

There is some recent evidence to show that using a hospital grade pump, coupled with hand expression, can produce more yield of milk, sometimes as much as 20 percent.

It’s important to start the pump on the lowest setting and to ensure that the breast shield that attaches to yourself is the right fit.

Your nipple should not be stuck in the funnel or touching the sides of the funnel when the pump is working.

If this is happening, it means that you may have the wrong size breast shield, which could make the pumping of your milk uncomfortable, and you may sustain trauma or soreness to your nipples.

Breast shields come in various sizes, so ensure you get the right size

While pumping your milk, try to massage your breasts at the same time, if possible.

At the end of the pumping session, keep the pump working for another minute or two (as long as it is still comfortable) even when the last drop appears to have come out.

You may be tempted to think that there is no more milk available,  but this technique will tell your body to make that extra bit of milk.

At the end of a couple of minutes, you can also use hand expression (with your hand), which has been shown to increase the yield of milk potentially.

Other studies show that newborn babies feed anywhere between 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.

If you are exclusively pumping, this means that you will need to pump every two to three hours, certainly in the day and once at night. It can be hard to pump every couple of hours overnight.

So if you can, get as many pumping sessions in like this. The more pumping sessions, the better!

Breast pump and bottles

By pumping like this, you tell your body to make a little extra milk each day until you are producing, on average, around 750ml per day.

The sooner you can reach that mark, the better, because studies show that between one month and six months of age, 750ml is the average amount of milk that the majority of babies need.

There will be some variations, of course.

If you can aim to make that amount of milk, this is a great goal.

It’s a big commitment and it can be hard to pump your milk like this, but it certainly can help to increase your chances of getting a greater supply of milk for your baby. However, please be reassured that if you are unable to get all of those pumping sessions in, there is still potential to reach your goal of fully breastfeeding.

Also, be encouraged that once your milk supply is established, you may be able to reduce some of those pumping sessions, but not always the case.

Understanding how milk is made is a beneficial use of your time and will help you to understand just what the body is doing.

It may surprise you to know that it’s better to pump more frequently (and shorter pumping sessions) to boost your supply rather than waiting a long time between pumping sessions, spending more time pumping in that session. 

You may even need to consider doing some extra frequency pumping sessions as well. Just as babies do cluster nursing where they do a lot of frequent feeding over a period of time, then it’s the same using a pump too.

When your baby is feeding at the breast, you may generate anywhere between three to five letdowns of milk, on average, as your baby works through those cycles.

So when you are pumping with a hospital-grade pump, when the flow starts to slow down, this is the end of one let down. You may need to increase the cycle and speed to generate another letdown.

To replicate this natural feeding, aim for around three to five releases of milk if you can.

Baby looking at a breast pump with full bottle attached

It was mentioned earlier that 750ml is an average daily amount of milk to aim for when pumping, but another equation that you can use to give you a gauge as to how much milk your baby may need in 24 hours, which is two and a half ounces of milk per pound of body weight over 24 hours. 

It’s also important to look out for your baby’s feeding cues when feeding your baby with expressed milk so that your baby gets all the milk that is needed.

When babies feed from a bottle, this is not a natural biological way to feed. There is evidence to show that they can override their feelings of fullness and take in more calories than they needed. So if you do plan to use a bottle when feeding your baby, consider doing it in the most biological way possible.

If you have successfully put in all this hard work by pumping to get your supply established, there is potential opportunity to reduce some of the pumping sessions later on.

This however might not be the case, and some women find the opposite is true, that they need to INCREASE the pumping sessions to maintain their supply.

So once again, it is very variable from woman to woman, because we all have a different interplay of hormones.

Please bear in mind that throughout the whole of this exclusive pumping experience, it is ALSO important to use hand expression if you ever feel uncomfortably full to help prevent a blocked duct.

Clogged ducts can lead to mastitis, so it’s essential to avoid this by preventative measures.

Finally, pumping can take its toll at times. It’s very intensive, and it does take a tremendous amount of commitment, although it’s a fantastic thing to do.

So be kind to yourself and when you do want to stop pumping your milk, be kind to your body by pumping less and less frequently so that gradually your body will produce less milk. However long you’ve pumped your milk, whether it has been days or weeks or months, it is a fantastic achievement – congratulate yourself.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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