Exclusive breast pumping guide: All you need to know
Exclusive pumping guide: Expressing all the breastmilk your baby needs
Pumping all day? Plenty of mamas choose to exclusively express milk to feed their babies. If you plan to give it a go, here’s everything you need to know to get started.
What is exclusive pumping?
Exclusive pumping (sometimes called ‘EPing’) is where you exclusively feed your baby breastmilk that you’ve expressed or pumped, rather than feeding them at the breast.
Most parents exclusively feed using bottles, but some babies are fed breast milk via an NG tube, particularly if they’re born premature or have complications at birth.
Some mothers may feed their baby this way long term, while others will only rely on the method for a short time while their baby is unwell or receiving care.
Lots of parents also decide to try combination feeding, where feeds are split between the boob and a bottle.
Reasons to try exclusive pumping
Some people feel there is a stigma around exclusive pumping, but how you choose to feed your baby is totally up to you. It’s time-intensive and can be very tiring but, if you are exclusively pumping, your baby will still be reaping the many benefits of breastmilk.
Parents choose to nourish their babies by exclusively pumping for a whole host of reasons, including:
- Baby is premature, is in hospital or has a low birth weight
- Twins and multiples can be challenging to feed on the breast
- Lack of support around breastfeeding
- Problems with latching, such as tongue-tie, inverted nipples, breast refusal
- Breastfeeding discomfort or don’t want to breastfeed
- Mum has to return to work early or spend time away from the baby
- Parents want to keep an eye on milk intake
- Can be easier to schedule feedings
- Sexual abuse history
When to start exclusive pumping
You can start collecting breast milk before your baby is even born! Colostrum is the first milk you produce and is uniquely tailored to your baby. It can be harvested in small amounts from 36 or 37 weeks of pregnancy onwards.
Even if you’re not planning on exclusively pumping, colostrum harvesting can be a worthwhile investment as, if your baby does have any complications around birth or you find it hard to start breastfeeding, they’ll still be able to benefit from this highly nutritious, newborn elixir.
Once you’ve had your baby you can either start to feed at the breast or, if you’re planning to exclusively pump, you can hand-express colostrum in the first hours after giving birth, and every 1-3 hours after that.
Your milk will change consistency and properly start to ‘come in’ when your baby is a few days old. At this point, you can either continue hand expressing or transition to a breast pump.
Most Hands-free breast pumps including Wren are not designed for exclusive pumping. It is best to do some research around something that would be more robust, such as a hospital-grade pump. That said, whilst some women find that a heavy-duty hospital-grade pump is their preferred weapon of choice, you can use a pump like Wren if you want to go out and pump on-the go. Or if you prefer to be hands-free so you spend less time sitting down, hooked up to a wired device. Wren’s hands-free breast pumps are the ideal in-between option, efficiently filling the gap between feeding and heavy-duty pumping.
How often do I need to pump?
The frequency you’ll need to pump will depend on your individual milk supply. For the first three or four months, you may find you need to express very often to build up your milk supply: this could be anything between 8-12 times a day, every 2-3 hours during the day and every 3-5 hours at night, until you’re sure you have plenty of milk for your baby.
As you find your feet, you’ll get into a routine that works for you. Some mums find they produce more milk in the morning or have one boob that’s more productive than the other…
You can speed things up a bit by using a double breast pump. This will not only help you produce more milk, but the fat (and calorie) content of the liquid you do collect will be higher.
How much should I pump?
There’s no exact science to say how much you should pump, as your supply and your baby’s appetite will be unique to you. But the younger your baby is, and the larger their appetite, the more frequently you’ll need to express. As a rough guide, 1-6-month-olds are likely to need anywhere between 750 - 1050ml of breastmilk a day.
In general, you should aim to pump until your flow slows down. Emptying your breasts will reduce the chance of infection and will help to boost your supply. If you don’t feel like you’re producing enough, you could pump for additional five minutes or so to stimulate a second let-down and signal to your body that it needs to make more liquid gold.
Tips for exclusively pumping parents
There are a few extra things to take into account when exclusively pumping:
Keep those oxytocin levels high
Oxytocin is the hormone that triggers your let-down and gets your milk flowing. It’s just as important when you’re exclusively pumping as it is for breastfeeding mothers. You can raise your oxytocin levels by cuddling your baby or even looking at a picture of them. Some mums find that recordings of their baby crying set them off, too!
An alternative way to stimulate let-down is to gently massage your breasts before and during each expression session and to apply a warm compress.
Storing your breastmilk
Freshly expressed breastmilk can be kept in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4°C or lower. If your fridge is higher than 4°C, aim to use it within 3 days.
In a ice box, it will keep safely for up to 2 weeks, however by popping it in the freezer, you’ll extend the life of your breastmilk for up to 6 months.
How to defrost breastmilk
To defrost breastmilk from the freezer, either thaw the bag in the fridge or submerge it in a bowl of warm water. It’s not a good idea to defrost or warm breastmilk in the microwave. Once you’ve defrosted breast milk, use it straight away and don’t refreeze it.
Some babies are happy to drink milk at room temperature or even fridge temperature, but others prefer milk at body temperature, so you could submerge it or hold it under a warm tap to heat it up a little.
How to sterilise bottles and breast pump parts
A large part of a pumping and bottle-feeding routine is in sterilising! How often you sterilise is up to you and will depend on your usage although we recommend giving everything a rinse and a wash and sterilising after each use.
First, rinse all the washable bottle and pump parts in cold, clean water. Then give them a scrub in warm water with washing-up liquid, before giving them a second cold water rinse.
Sterilise the parts by boiling them in hot water for five minutes, or submerging them in cold water with a sterilising tablet for fifteen minutes.
Feeding from a bottle
If you’re giving your baby a bottle, aim to follow a paced feeding method so you can control how much milk they swallow down. Hold them upright and close to you. Touch the teat to their top lip, so they open wide and start to take it into their mouth. Keep the bottle horizontal when they start to suck, so they have to keep working to get the milk and can stay in control of how much they want. If you hold it upside-down, they won’t have to work so hard, but they may struggle to drink or start to overfeed.
How much should I feed my baby if I’m exclusively pumping?
This is a really common question when parents start exclusively pumping. How much milk does a baby need to drink?
Newborn stomachs are only the size of a marble so if you’re not expressing much in the early days, don’t panic! You’re very likely to be supplying a good amount for them.
Babies don’t tend to drink more than they need, so you’re likely to figure out how much they’ll take after you get into the swing of feeding them. Every appetite will be different, so you may find your baby wants anything from 500ml to 1500ml of milk a day. Some days, they’ll be hungrier than others and may want to cluster feed for hours at a time, as they would at the boob.
You can generally tell whether your baby is full if they:
- Push away from the bottle
- Fuss or show a lack of interest when offering it after a break
- Stop sucking
- Stretch out their arms and legs, or uncurl their fingers from a fist
- Start falling asleep.
As your milk supply builds up, it’s a good idea to express a surplus of milk if you can. This can be frozen ahead of time, for days when you underestimate how much your baby wants to drink or find they have a bigger appetite than normal.