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Back in October of 2021, I posted on Instagram about ending my exclusively pumping journey. I had debated posting it but I decided to because I was proud of how long I lasted and how much work pumping was. I was BLOWN AWAY by the response I got… I had complete strangers messaging me tons of questions.
I should add right here at the beginning that pumping IS breastfeeding. People might want to tell you otherwise, but don’t listen to them. One of my favorite things I was told or read (I can’t remember exactly) was “Exclusively pumping is just delayed breastfeeding” and that motto stuck with me.
I knew I wanted to share more in depth about my switch from breastfeeding to exclusively pumping. Pumping is something that can feel lonely but I learned it is a huge community. Keep reading below for our story, schedules, weaning, favorite pumps and pumping items, and my favorite pumping resources.
Exclusively Pumping: Our Story
I always wanted to breastfeed; I imagined it would be a great bonding experience and was the route I had envisioned for us when Kennadi was born. Kennadi was born a few weeks early (full birth story linked here) but latched in the hospital with no issues. About 12 hours after birth, the doctor informed us she had slight levels of Jaundice. Due to this, they wanted to supplement with formula to help break down the Bilirubin levels.
This became really challenging. We had to give her formula through a tiny tube while she was latched on to me. The lactation specialist helped us and by that evening, her levels had dropped low enough for us to be discharged the following day. The doctor informed us we would need to continue with the formula through the tube until she had her first doctor’s appointment a few days later.
When we got home, feeding became even more difficult. This girl was constantly wanting to eat. The problem was, she would be latched on for almost an hour and then be hungry an hour later. As first time parents, we didn’t know better and just thought this was the cluster feeding everyone talked about. In hindsight, there was clearly a latch/transfer issue.
Kennadi had her first doctor’s appointment and everything went great. She was still slightly Jaundice but the levels weren’t concerning and she was the same weight as when we left the hospital (5 lbs. 12 oz.) Her pediatrician wanted us to continue with the formula through the tube to help continue breakdown the Jaundice. Well, feedings became pretty miserable at home; it was extremely difficult to get her to simultaneously latch and suck formula through the feeding tube.
We had another doctor’s appointment a week later and that one definitely didn’t go as planned. She had lost weight (5 lbs. 9 oz.) so our pediatrician scheduled a lactation consultation for us. Her latch did improve after our lactation appointment so we thought we were finally on the road to success with breastfeeding. Her next doctor’s appointment was three days later and she gained 5.5 ounces in three days; we were SO excited! We also FINALLY got to stop supplementing with the formula tube!
Well, the next few weeks didn’t bring much success. Like I mentioned, she would be latched on for almost an hour, just to be crying inconsolably an hour later. We had a hard time believing she was already hungry again but that was the only thing to calm her down. As you could imagine, this made for extremely long days and nights. I felt like she was latched on to me 24/7 and it was honestly exhausting. Her sleep was awful… again, as first time parents, we kind of shrugged it off to the newborn stage.
Her one month appointment came and while her pediatrician said she was “healthy” … she had only gained a few ounces over almost a month of time. When she told us that, we knew there was an issue. I felt completely defeated and my husband and I both agreed we needed to do something different. I was physically and emotionally drained and Kennadi clearly wasn’t getting enough milk.
There were two options for us: formula or exclusively pumping. The only reason I even knew anything about pumping was because my sister in law exclusively pumped for our niece. I knew it was time consuming and a lot of work but I was bummed breastfeeding wasn’t working out and I wanted to still give Kennadi breastmilk. So, I called my sister and she helped walk me through everything I needed to know about exclusively pumping.
I was absolutely overwhelmed at first but also felt a huge sense of relief. A little something about me…. I am a slight control freak. It eased my mind SO much being able to actually see exactly how many oz. Kennadi was getting instead of just hoping she got enough milk to fill her up.
We noticed a HUGE difference right away. For one.. my boobs had never felt empty until I pumped a full day. I had nothing to compare it to but once I started pumping and felt the difference, I realized Kennadi had to have been getting hardly any milk when she was latched to me. When I was breastfeeding, I constantly had clogs and my boobs were in so much pain. Looking back, I laugh at myself and think “no wonder” but in the moment, everything is overwhelming and stressful as a first time mom and I just did not know better.
Kennadi was immediately happier; she was crying and fussing way less. This was such a relief.. for a while, we thought we would just have a really fussy baby! Turns out, she was just starving. Night time sleep immediately improved and since she was taking bottles, my husband and I both also got longer stretches of sleep since we would switch off who fed her. I had to pump in the middle of the night but would do this laying down, half asleep, most of the time (more on that below.) After three weeks of Kennadi taking bottles, she started sleeping through the night. And she has ever since.
I never knew how much of a sacrifice exclusively pumping is until I did it. It is rough but I don’t regret it at all. I didn’t enjoy being hooked up to a wall for hours each day, having to schedule our days around pumping times, and washing a million pumping parts all day…. BUT it was the best decision for us and helped Kennadi grow and thrive. She wasn’t even on the weight chart for the first few months of her life and by the time I finished pumping, she was in the 13th percentile. Nothing made me smile more than this!
Exclusively Pumping: Goals and Schedules
Before I had Kennadi, my goal was to breastfeed until she turned one. Well, about a month into exclusively pumping, I knew I probably wasn’t going to make it a year. I decided my goal was until she turned 6 months old and I ended up being done shortly after she turned 8 months old.
I was a “just enougher” most days but was able to stash enough over the course of the months to be able to feed her breastmilk close to one year. We chose to supplement with some formula for several months to allow me to stash more and be done pumping sooner. I think adding a little formula to each bottle also really helped Kennadi grow and gain weight.
As far as schedules go, I was super hard on myself at first to stick to the highest number of pumps each day for how far post-partum you are based on the charts online. My husband was SO supportive.. like SO supportive I can’t even explain it well enough. He was constantly reassuring me that I was doing a great job and could cut back on pumps even if it meant producing less. Eventually, I started listening to him and it really did help.
So, my pumping schedules don’t match what you see online on pumping websites. But, it worked for us. A big decision I made was to sleep through the night once Kennadi did. I was only 2.5 months post-partum so this was pretty unheard of in the pumping world. Most moms keep their middle of the night pump(s) for twice as long. For me, getting the extra sleep was more important and helpful to my own health and sanity.
I compared it to breastfeeding moms… once their baby starts sleeping through the night, they do too. So why should it be any different for pumping moms? For me, this just meant my morning pump was a lot longer and was the pumping session where I got the most milk.
- 1 Month Post-Partum (7 pumps)
- 8:15 am, 11:30 am, 2:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 8:30 pm, 1:30 am, 5:30 am
- 2 Months Post-Partum (6 pumps)
- 8:30 am, 11:30 am, 2:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 9:30 pm, 2:30/3:00 am (whenever Kennadi woke up)
- 3 Months Post-Partum (5 pumps)
- 8:30 am, 12:30 pm, 5:00 pm, 9:30 pm, 3:30 am
- 3 Months Post-Partum (4 pumps, dropped middle of the night pump)
- 7:00 am, 12:30 pm. 5:00 pm, 9:30 pm
- 6 Months Post-Partum (3 pumps)
- 7:30 am, 1:30 pm, 9:30 pm
- 8 Months Post-Partum (2 pumps)
- 7:30 am, 8:30 pm
- 9 Months Post-Partum (1 pump)
- 9:30 pm
- I chose to drop the morning pump because I didn’t mind the night time pump as much; I always watched a show or worked on my laptop while pumping before bed.
- It took me 9 days to wean completely once I started the one pumping session per day. I chose to decrease my pumping session by a few minutes each day. On my last day of pumping, my session was 10 minutes and I was completely done! Some Moms say you might need to pump another short session a few days later if you are in pain but I was fine and didn’t need to.
Exclusively Pumping: Tips
- Don’t stress
- I know, I laughed out loud just typing this. Easier said than done but stress really does affect your supply! I shouldn’t say I “enjoyed” but rather didn’t mind my morning and night pumping sessions. Kennadi was asleep during these pumps so I got to watch TV, catch up on social media, and work on my laptop. I always felt relaxed during these pumping sessions.
- The middle of the day pumping sessions were the hardest. My Elvies significantly helped as I was able to still do things with Kennadi and around the house. This really helped keep my mind off the amount I was pumping.
- Pitcher method
- I found this to be the best way to store breast milk. You can read more in depth about this process online. I combined all my pumping sessions for the day in a large pitcher in the fridge. Every night, my husband and I prepped all her bottles for the next day and everything that was leftover was then poured into bags and placed in the freezer.
- We decided on “freezer Fridays” (it was easy to remember) … Every Friday, we pulled breast milk out of the freezer and made her bottles for the next day with that. This meant I was freezing all my pumped milk every Friday. We chose to do this so my breast milk in the freezer was never too old and being used each week.
- Use cookie sheets to freeze breast milk
- I didn’t see this tip until a few months into my journey and it was such a game changer. When you freeze your milk, you lay the bags down flat between two cookie sheets. This makes the bags freeze really thin and makes it SO much easier to store them!
- Use the right size flanges and measure yourself regularly
- This was the trickiest part for me when I first started pumping. The hospital had given me size 24 flanges and I thought it worked great so that is what I started with. After a few days, I knew it wasn’t the right size but had no idea how to figure out my right size. No joke, I ordered inserts for size 15 mm and flanges up to 27 mm.
- I eventually figured it out with this ruler. My supply instantly improved and I wasn’t experiencing as much discomfort once I was using the right size!
- Replace your parts on time
- I was really bad about remembering this. I wouldn’t realize I needed to replace my pumping parts until I noticed my supply starting to dip. I kept this chart favorited in my camera roll for reference.
Exclusively Pumping: Favorite Pumps and Pumping Items
- Spectra S2
- I had chosen the Medela Freestyle when I got my pump through health insurance. It worked great for about a month and then the suction just stopped. I read various people complain about this same pump online. The members of the pumping group I had joined all loved Spectra and Motif. So, I ended up just buying the Spectra S2 out of pocket. SO worth it. I loved this pump so much!
- This was a splurge; my husband was so great about it. Once he learned there were two different hands free pumps, he immediately wanted to purchase one to help relieve some stress. After reading about Willow and Elvie, I went with Elvie.
- Honestly, these were worth every penny in my opinion. Yes, your pumping sessions end up being longer with these. But I didn’t care because I wasn’t attached to the wall and had freedom. When I say I pumped everywhere… I mean I pumped everywhere with my Elvies. Poolside on vacation, driving, in restaurants, on airplanes, during game nights, out on walks, etc. I truly could not have lasted exclusively pumping as long as I did without Elvie.
- BeauGen Cushions
- These made the plastic flanges way comfier! I bought a two pack and only went through the two pairs in the 7 months of pumping.
- Maymom Inserts
- I purchased these specifically for the Elvie. Their smallest flange size is a 21 mm but you can use these Maymom inserts to size down. I think these inserts helped hold the flanges in place better as well.
- Legendairy Milk Duckbill Valves
- I kept reading about these valves in the group I was in and I decided to purchase them to test them out. There was a visible increase in suction with these! The pull tabs also made cleaning a lot easier. I recommend purchasing the six pack because they go out of stock often!
- Legendairy Milk Supplements
- Any time my milk supply dropped, I relied on their supplements. There are so many different options but I personally loved Liquid Gold. They are pricey but they always helped increase my supply.
- Sunflower Lecithin
- I started taking this daily when I first started pumping. I had a lot of clogs and my sister-in-law had recommended taking this. You can read more about pros and cons online but essentially, it makes your milk thinner so you reduce the risk of clogs.
- La Vie Lactation Massager
- I discovered this when I was dealing with clogs. This as the best thing to use in the shower to get clogs out! I also liked using it during my morning and night pumping sessions to help get as much milk out as possible.
- Medela Pumping Bra
- You HAVE to have a hands-free pumping bra! I had two of these that way I always had one clean. I can’t even imagine having to sit and hold the flanges the whole time!
- Motherhood Maternity Nursing Tank Top
- This was the best tank top I found for holding the Elvies. If I was going to be pumping out and about, I wore this tank top under all my clothes so I could hold the Elvies in place. When I was at home, I usually just wore a sports bra.
- Nursing Pads
- I was using disposable pads at first but ordered these bamboo nursing pads off Amazon and loved them way more! They were extremely comfortable to wear, especially overnight.
Exclusively Pumping: Resources
I wanted to include some resources that I used during my entire pumping journey!
- Instagram Accounts:
- Facebook Groups:
If you have read all the way through this post, I imagine you are on your own exclusively pumping journey. Or maybe you have already finished (congrats!) No matter what brought you here, I hope you found this helpful and maybe even some reassurance. Remember, at the end of the day, fed is best… no matter how you do it.
You got this Mama. There is no better Mama on this planet for your baby than you; don’t forget it! If you have any other questions or found this helpful, I would love for you to comment below or reach out!
Hello! I just found this post through Pinterest and just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing about your journey!! I am a first time mom to a 4 month old and am also exclusively pumping, and this is the first resource I’ve found online that felt only encouraging and affirming. Pumping feels so hard most days, and I can’t tell you how much it means to me to hear about someone who’s been there and is so encouraging. Thank you so much!! <3
Hi Maddie! I am so happy to hear this! I remember struggling to find helpful stories and just words of encouragement.. and exclusively pumping is not talked about nearly enough! It is TOUGH but you are amazing for sticking to it for your baby! Congrats on entering motherhood <3