Ultimate Guide to Exclusive Pumping: Best Breast Pumps, Tips and Schedules
Exclusive Pumping, or commonly known as EPing, is for more mothers who are having difficulty breastfeeding and still want their to baby to get the full benefits of the nutrition that mother’s milk can offer.
When nature does not come to the party, we have to look at alternative solutions to give your baby this opportunity.
This is where technology steps in to simulate what remains a very natural process, and act as an intermediary.
What is Exclusive Pumping (or EPing)?
Exclusively pumping is the decision to pump breast milk for a baby rather than feed directly from the breast.
It may require feeding from bottles, but it still means that babies are getting the superior benefits from breast milk rather than formula.
Many women who exclusively pump receive a lot of criticism from others who believe that they aren’t properly bonding with their babies or that they are taking the easy way out.
However, making the decision to exclusively pump requires the same time and commitment as the decision to feed a baby directly from the breast.
Why Would Anyone Need to Exclusively Pump?
There are several factors that can contribute to a woman’s decision to exclusive pump. Some may be voluntary, but others are often due to the mother’s or baby’s medical condition(s).
Some of the common reasons women choose to exclusively pump include:
- A premature or ill baby
- A baby who cannot latch onto the breast
- Inverted or flat nipples
- Painful breastfeeding
- Returning to the workplace
- Low milk supply
- Aversion to breastfeeding due to personal beliefs or psychological experiences (i.e. abuse)
- The desire to share feeding responsibility with family members or caregivers
- Medical issues involving medications
When Can I Start Pumping?
No matter your reasoning, if you have decided to exclusively pump, there is nothing that prevents you from being able to start immediately after birth.
However, most professionals recommend that if you are able to breastfeed you should establish a breastfeeding routine first.
This helps your baby to establish a good latch and prevent nipple confusion, which is necessary should you decide to breastfeed on occasion.
If you are breastfeeding up until you return to work, you should start pumping no later than 2 weeks before your return date.
You want to make sure your supply is up and that you give yourself time to relax and build your stock.
What Should a Pumping Session Look Like?
Every woman is different and so is her milk supply.
Your breasts create milk based on supply and demand, and if you have a baby that is smaller and doesn’t eat as much, your supply will be smaller than the woman with the 10-pound baby who has a hearty appetite.
As a result, this also means that a pumping session will look different for every mother. Some woman are able to pump out an entire bottle’s worth of milk in one sitting whereas it may take another two or three.
However, there are general guidelines you can follow to ensure you are getting the most out of your pumping sessions.
Frequency of Pumping Sessions
Babies eat often which means your milk supply is replaced at the same rate that it’s drained. When you are first starting, you should plan to pump anywhere between 8 and 10 times in a 24-hour period.
Start first thing in the morning – when you have the most milk – and create a schedule from there that allows you to fit all of these sessions in.
Don’t worry; I’ll talk more about schedules in a bit.
Duration of Pumping Sessions
You need to allow yourself enough time to drain the breast. You also need to be relaxed in order to allow your hormones to work properly for milk let down (stress combats the release of oxytocin).
Find yourself a comfortable chair, and keep some water, a snack, and a good book nearby.
Give yourself at least 20 minutes to pump at each session at first until your milk supply is established. Continue to pump about 2 minutes after you see the last drop to ensure your breast is completely drained.
Once your milk supply is established, you will likely be able to have shorter pumping sessions about 10-15 minutes each.
Volume of Milk to Produce
This is where it differs a lot from mother to mother, and it is also where mothers can become discouraged, believing they are not producing enough milk.
Rather than focusing on how much is pumped at each session, set yourself a minimum goal for the entire day. This should be around 25-35 ounces in a 24-hour period.
Know what times are best for you to pump for optimum milk expression. As I mentioned before, most women have the most milk in the morning, and that supply continues to decrease as the day goes on.
Be sure you don’t skip or miss any pumping sessions. You need to keep to your scheduled production to maintain your supply.
What You Need to Get Started
Now that we’ve established how to pump, we need to talk about what you need for successful pumping.
Double Electric Pump
Exclusive pumping obviously starts with a good breast pump. A double electric pump is the way to go for the best results.
They are fast and easy to use, and having the option to pump both breasts at once increases efficiency and saves time at each session.
Manual Breast Pump for Backup
There are times you may find a manual pump more useful than an electric one, but they are not intended for primary use.
If you find yourself somewhere with limited space, no access to electricity, or simply wanted to pump a small amount between sessions, a manual pump will be handy to have around.
If you are exclusively pumping, you are doing do to create a back stock of breast milk.
You can’t store your milk in the collection bottles long term. They are expensive, don’t hold up well in the freezer, and take up a lot of space.
Instead, you will want to transfer your pumped milk to storage bags. They can be purchased in bulk for very little money and they take up very little space in the fridge or freezer.
Storage bags also have labels for you to write on to keep track of the date, time, and amount you pumped. This eliminates confusion and prevents you from giving milk to your baby that has “expired.”
Cooler or Fridge Access
Speaking of keeping your milk cold, you need to be aware that your milk will not keep for very long at room temperature after it has been pumped.
If you are pumping away from home, be sure you have access to a fridge or that you bring a cooler with ice packs to keep your milk cold until you are able to get it home to the freezer.
Obviously, your baby can’t drink milk directly from the storage bags, so you will still need to have some bottles around.
The type of bottle you choose is up to you. There are several types available now with nipples of different shapes and textures.
You will probably want to try several different types to find the one that your baby responds to best.
How to Take Care of Your Body
While you are EPing, it is a must to take care of your body. Avoid ingesting too much caffeine in the body as caffeine can affect the mood and behavior of your child.
The next thing that you need to take note of is the type of medication that you are taking, if any. There are some medications that can affect milk production.
Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables as well as fruits and nuts to supply you with the nutrients that you need to support your body during milk production.
What to Look for in an Electric Breast Pump
Now we come to the foundation that exclusive pumping rests on: the pump.
It is not enough to say that you should go with a double electric pump; you need to know which ones are the best and what features you should be looking for to ensure your success.
Compact and Easy to Assemble
If you are exclusively pumping, that means you are going to be pumping everywhere. Portability is going to be a key deciding factor for you.
You are going to want something lightweight and small enough to fit into your purse or diaper bag for on the go use.
Some breast pumps come with a lot of parts, which means more for you to clean and assemble. Fewer parts will save you a lot of hassle.
Adjustable Suction Speed
The suction and speed of your breast pump’s motor will determine how efficient it is, or how quickly it can drain the breast. However, a strong suction right off the bat every time is not the most efficient for pumping.
For your body to effectively release milk, you not only need a strong enough suction but you also need to relax, and you won’t be able to fully relax if you’re in pain from your breast pump.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” suction speed, so you will want a breast pump that is adjustable so you can find what works for you.
Multiple Pumping Modes
In order to drain the breast completely, you also need to know how breastfeeding works in the first place (I will touch on this more later).
Your baby usually has two sucking patterns: one that starts the flow (stimulation) and one that keeps it going (expression).
A good breast pump should mimic these patterns with dual-phase suction settings.
Backup Power Source
If you are out at the park with no power source or if the electricity in your home is out, you will need a backup power source for your pump.
It is better to have a pump with a battery option in case there’s an emergency.
Open vs Closed System
There are two types of breast pumps: closed system and open system.
Closed means there is an additional diaphragm or membrane that blocks milk flow from backing up into the tubing, and open is – well – the opposite of course.
Milk that collects in the tubing not only makes it difficult to clean but it also creates a breeding ground for mold and mildew due to the moisture buildup.
You will either have to buy new tubing or a new pump if the growth is not dealt with quickly enough.
To prevent pain and ensure optimum breast draining, you need to use the correct shield (or flange) size just the same as you need to have a proper latch with your baby.
This flange should be measured against your nipple and areola size, not your breast size.
Most breast pumps only come with one size (usually 24 mm or so), but additional sizes are typically available for separate purchase if needed.
Best Breast Pumps for Exclusive Pumping
Medela is the #1 recommended breast pump in the USA, and for good reason.
They have really put a lot of thought and effort into their breast pump packages, ensuring that women have everything they need for pumping success.
The Pump in Style Advanced is the perfect all-in-one system for exclusive pumpers. The kit includes a microfiber tote bag (other options available on the Medela website), small cooler with contoured ice packs, 4 storage bottles with lids, and pump and flanges.
The 2-phase expression technology and adjustable suction speed allow for double pumping and optimum breast draining. All plastic parts that touch the breast milk are BPA-free and there is also an option to use batteries rather than the AC adapter (8 AA batteries not included).
There is only one flange size included – 24 mm – but other flanges sizes are available on Amazon or through Medela directly.
It does have an open system (the only one on my list that does), so you do need to be conscious of moisture buildup in the tubing and clean it regularly along with the other parts.
The motor is also very loud, which may be a deal breaker for moms who plan to pump in the nursery where baby may be asleep.
Coming in a close 2nd on most pumping moms’ lists is the Spectra Baby USA – S2 Plus. It is an affordable hospital-grade pump that makes pumping easy, day or night.
The lightweight (only 5 pounds!) and compact pump has a digital display for easy reading and push buttons rather than dials for speed and suction adjustment. It also employs 2-phase expression technology to mimic your baby’s eating patterns.
This pump is perfect for use in the nursery no matter what time of day or night it may be. The motor is extremely quiet, there is a built-in nightlight, and it even has an auto power-off feature that trigger after 60 minutes of inactivity in case you fall asleep after pumping.
Along with the pump, you get 2 wide neck collection bottles (which are BPA/DEHP-free) with lids and two flange sizes – 24 and 28 mm.
The biggest downside to this pump is that there is no battery option to use it unplugged.
The BelleMa Effective Pro breast pump is a great alternative for the bigger name brands.
It has several features that are similar to the Spectra S2, including a closed system, dual-phase expression, quiet motor, and LCD screen display.
However, there are a couple of great features that are unique to this pump.
First is IDC technology. This allows you to control each side of the breast pump individually, giving you three pumping methods to choose from: right, left, or both.
This also allows you to adjust the suction for each side individually for a customized pumping experience.
The second is a memory feature that remembers your preferences and prior settings. This saves the hassle of trying to reset or adjust the default settings back to what you need.
Along with these features, this pump kit comes with 24 mm flanges with comfortable silicone cushions, two wide neck bottles with converters to allow it to fit regular bottle neck sizes, and a 10V AC adapter.
There is no built-in option to run this pump on batteries, but there is a battery pack that is available for separate purchase as well as a USB charger.
Be forewarned that several users have said that the pump stopped working after 3-4 months of heavy use (10-12 times a day; more than likely due to exclusive pumping).
There is a warranty on the motor for a year, which will give you a replacement unit, but you only have 30 days to return the product for a full refund.
Lansinoh is well known for their breastfeeding products, particularly their lanolin cream, so it is only natural that they would have a breast pump as well.
It doesn’t have as much suction power as some of the higher-end models, but it is a great choice if you are looking for something more affordable (it’s half the price of the Medela).
It features a closed system, 3 pumping styles, 8 suction levels, 2-phase expression technology, and a backlit display.
The breast flanges come in 25 mm size and are soft-rimmed for maximum comfort when pumping. It also includes 2 bottles with nipples (all plastic parts are BPA and BPA-free) and a handy tote bag for travel.
The pump is also small enough and light enough to put in your purse or diaper bag if you don’t want to use the tote that comes with it.
Besides the lower suction power, which may not be the most efficient for everyday use, the other downside to this pump is the loud motor.
The Philips AVENT Breast Pump is designed to give a comfortable pumping experience.
They have modified the neck of the pump so you can pump with your back resting against a chair, so you can pump without having to lean forward.
It also features massaging petals that gently massage your breast while pumping.
The kit comes with all the accessories that you will need, but if you need an additional bottle, you will find the nozzle is compatible with most AVENT bottles.
The pumping action simulates a nursing baby which in return, can stimulate milk production.
Our Top Backup Manual Pump
It’s always a good idea to have a manual breast pump as a backup. You may find yourself in a situation that doesn’t allow you space to set up an electric pump, or you may not have access to an electrical plug.
If I had to make a recommendation for a manual pump, I would choose the Medela Harmony, hands-down, which has over 2,100 positive reviews on Amazon.
Medela took the basic features of their electric pumps – 2-phase expression technology, custom-fit flanges, and BPA-free bottles – and put them into the Harmony, their lightweight manual breast pump.
Without a motor, this pump is very quiet, allowing you to be discreet at work or in close quarters. The ergonomic swivel handle allows you to find a comfortable angle to avoid hand cramping.
The kit includes the pump, two collection bottles, and a bottle stand to keep your hard work from spilling all over the floor.
Keep in mind, this pump is not intended to be one that is used full-time. Hand-pumping is tiring work, and you can only pump one side at a time which isn’t the most efficient when exclusively pumping.
How to Take Care of Your Body
In order to produce milk in order to take care of your baby, you have to first take care of yourself.
Without proper attention to your body’s needs, you will find yourself exhausted and stressed, and as a result, you will find your milk supply beginning to dwindle.
- Rest when you are tired. Have someone watch the baby or simply take a nap while your baby is sleeping.
- Don’t skip meals. Your body needs calories to create milk, and skipping meals will leave you feeling weak and low on milk.
- Hydrate. Dehydration can cause your milk to dry up, not to mention the other negative side effects that negatively affect your body.
- Focus on you and your baby. Let the housework go for a day. A little dirty laundry never hurt anyone.
- Find ways to relax. Your body needs to relax in order to produce oxytocin, the hormone responsible for milk production and let down.
- Ask someone to watch your baby for 20 minutes so you can take a walk or enjoy a nice warm bath.
Exclusive Pumping Schedule
As promised, I am going to touch on pumping schedules to help you build and maintain your supply without feeling as if you have your breast pump attached to you 24/7.
The goal is to pump around 25-35 ounces in a 24-hour period. At first, this may be 8-10 sessions about 20 minutes each. On the low end, this means pumping about every 3 hours or so (for 8 sessions in a day).
Start first thing in the morning and schedule your pumping sessions for about every 2-3 hours. Yes, this means you will still be setting an alarm to get up during the night, but it won’t be like this forever.
As your baby gets older and your milk supply is established, you can get away with fewer pumping sessions throughout the day. You will be able to pump more at each session and your baby will not need to eat as often.
Around the age of 6 months or so, you can expect to start sleeping through the night again.
When you are ready to start weaning, you can slowing cut your pumping sessions back. It is important to remember that you need to wean yourself too, as quitting cold turkey will cause painful engorgement and possible mastitis.
Helpful Pumping Tips
Breast pumping is hard regardless of whether it is occasional or exclusive. It takes a huge commitment, hard work, and diligence in order to be successful.
It is important that you seek help or support if you need it.
It is also important you set yourself up for success by reducing frustration and maintaining your pump.
Understand How Breastfeeding Works
The more knowledge you have of how your milk is produced and let down as well as your baby’s sucking patterns, the better you can adjust your pump to produce the same results.
Choose Appropriate Clothing
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to breastfeed or pump in public with the wrong outfit on.
If you are pumping at work on a regular basis, invest in some clothing or nursing cover that is especially designed expose the breast easily for feeding or pumping.
Get a Hands Free Bra
There are some generic brands as well as pump manufacturers that make bras that fit your pump for hands-free double pumping.
It may seem a bit strange as first, but if your pump is small enough to carry around, you will be thankful to have your hands free to roam the house and get things done without having to hold the flanges to your breast.
Clean Your Pump Pieces
Even if you have a closed system pump, you need to clean the components on a regular basis.
The bottles and membranes shouldn’t be left overnight with milk residue; this can create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.
If you need to, purchase extra tubing, bottles, and membranes to ensure the pieces are cleaned regularly.
Breast Pumping FAQs
Are used pumps ok?
The short answer: NO.
Even if you know the previous owner or the pump is “cleaned and sanitized,” there is still a risk for bacteria that can be trapped in the pump or tubing.
There are some hospital pumps that are designed for multiple users (each with their own set of accessories), but be sure to do your research and talk to your doctor before renting or purchasing something used.
How can I make pumping easier?
The best thing you can do is make sure you are comfortable.
Find a cozy chair, a quiet spot, some peaceful music, a good book or TV show, or even close your eyes for a nap if you’re using a hands-free bra and a pump with a timer.
You also want to make sure your flanges fit properly, and if you have the option with your pump, find a flange with a silicone cushion.
When can I drop a session?
This is going to vary from person to person, but generally, once your supply is established, you can begin to drop a couple of sessions throughout the day.
At that point, some women find they can get away with pumping a full supply in 3-4 sessions while other women will still need to keep to 6-8.
Just find what works for you.
Where can I pump at work?
Many employers are required to provide a space that is safe and acceptable for breast pumping in the workplace. It shouldn’t be a bathroom, as that is unsanitary.
If your employer doesn’t have a place, speak with HR about the company’s policy.
You can also look around to see if there is a way you can create space either using a room partition or a spring-loaded rod and curtain.
When will I establish my supply?
An established supply means that you can pump 25-35 ounces of milk in a 24-hour period on a regular basis.
Though you should strive for this from the beginning, you likely won’t be fully established until around 12 weeks after you start pumping or breastfeeding.
How long does pumped milk keep?
According to the CDC, fresh breast milk can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours, in the fridge for up to 4 days, and in the freezer up to 12 months (within 6 months is best though).
For thawed (previously frozen) milk, only 1-2 hours at room temperature and up to 24 hours in the fridge. Thawed breast milk should never be refrozen.
How can I increase my supply?
If you are worried about low milk supply or want to try to temporarily increase it, you can try a galactagogue.
Certain herbs – fenugreek, blessed thistle, fennel – as well as foods – oats, brewer’s yeast, dark leafy greens – can help to boost lactation.
A mother who chooses to exclusively pump is making a huge commitment, sacrificing her time for the sake of her baby’s health and well-being.
She should have all the tools she needs in order to be successful, including a good breast pump.
If I had to choose one, I would definitely recommend the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. The kit comes with everything you need to pump on the go, including a tote bag, cooler with ice packs, storage bottles, and optional battery compartment.
Many mothers swear by this pump, praising its strength and durability as well as the Medela name.
Even though the initial price tag may be a bit of a shock, it is well worth the investment for the amount of use you will get out of it.