The Ups and Downs of Exclusive Pumping

by Katie Saltz

Pumping milk is hard work for a nursing mother. That workload increases substantially when you feel your child prefers the bottle to the breast.

Some mothers worry their infant isn’t getting enough milk from the breast, that their child favors of a bottle, or they never become fully comfortable breastfeeding.

Whatever the reason, many mothers end up exclusively pumping breast milk, meaning even when they are home with baby they still pump and prepare a bottle instead of bringing the baby to the breast.

A pump can never completely replicate a hungry baby on your breast, but this method of expressing milk can be successful. Doraine Bailey, the Breastfeeding Support Services Program Coordinator at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said there are ways to maintain your milk and ease your baby back to the breast.

There are a lot of women who exclusively pump. Ultimately we get back to the issue of maintaining milk supply. And the answer is the same – use it or lose it.”

If the baby isn’t doing the work of removing milk, the pump has to. And that means that mom has to be increasingly diligent about doing enough pumping.

For a 3-month old baby, a mom still needs to be moving milk 8-12 times a day (about three hours spent moving milk over 24 hours.) At least three of those times would be during an eight-hour shift if mom works. The rest would need to be while she’s home, which means she’s incorporating pumping into all other infant-care and homemaking work. That means at least 5 pumping sessions at home.

Here’s a theoretical pumping schedule:

  • 5 a.m. pump
  • 7-8 a.m. pump
  • 10 a.m. pump
  • 12 p.m. pump
  • 2 p.m. pump
  • 4-5 p.m. pump
  • 7-8 p.m. pump
  • 10 p.m. pump

A major challenge to exclusive pumping is doing it enough to maintain the milk supply your baby needs. Skipping pumping sessions will cause your supply to decrease. If the demands of exclusive pumping seem out of reach, Doraine suggests ways to get your baby back on the breast for when you are home.

It is totally probable that a baby who spends a lot of time bottle feeding will be more used to that than breastfeeding. After all, they have to do different things with their mouths while bottle feeding, and the milk flows immediately and fast – things that are different from breastfeeding.

To get your child back into the swing of eating from the breast and lessening your pumping burden, Doraine has the following tips:

  • Bottle feed a 1-ounce “appetizer” to cut the edge off the hunger, then offer the breast.
  • Lie down and snuggle with the baby.
  • Nurse when baby is sleepy/not fully awake.
  • Nurse during the night.
  • Nurse early in the morning
  • Nurse over the weekends.

Offer smaller snack nursings frequently when together.
Snuggle with baby skin-to-skin – they may “forget” they “prefer” a bottle and will go to breast.

Doraine gives new mothers one key tip for breastfeeding: “YOU are the mom- therefore, you’re smarter and wiser than your baby.
“You have the capacity to help your baby build, or rebuild, the behavior of breastfeeding, though you may need to dig deep into your creative, emotional and energy reserves after a long day at work to do it.”