Exclusively Pumping: What to Know and How to Survive

This post of Exclusively Pumping Tips is sponsored by Aeroflow Breastpumps.
All opinions are always my own. For more information, read my disclosure policy here

If you’ve been following along on my pumping journey, the you know that breastfeeding hasn’t been an easy experience for me. If you’d asked me 11 months ago, if I’d be continuing to exclusively pump for Charlie for her first year of life, I’d call you crazy. Hard pass. Nope. Negative, Ghost Rider. Not happening. Pumping is hard. Too hard, I thought. But here we are. I’ve been pumping for almost a year. The end is in sight! I’ve done it!

Along the way, I’ve picked up a few exclusively pumping tips and tricks to make the whole thing easier, and I’m sharing them with you today, in case you’re a mom who’s on a pumping journey of your own and needs a little (or a lot) of help, like I did!

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Get a good breast pump

The key component to any successful pumping journey is a good breast pump! Lucky for us mamas, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’re able to get a pump for free through our health insurance companies. Hallelujah! That’s were Aeroflow comes in. Aeroflow Breastpumps specializes in helping pregnant and nursing women get their breast pump through insurance. They take care of the entire process, from filing the insurance claim to helping you choose the right breast pump for your lifestyle and shipping the pump right to your door. All you have to do is fill out the Qualify Through Insurance online form to get started. No calling your insurance company. No transferred calls. No run around. No on-hold wait times. They take the hassle and confusion out of the process so you can relax and prepare for your new baby.

A hands-free pumping bra is a MUST

Mom’s are multi-taskers. We all know this. What mom (especially a mom of a newborn) has the time to sit for 30 minutes and hold bottles on her boobs? Ain’t nobody got time for that! A good hands-free pumping bra will hold your bottles in place while you pump, allowing your hands to be free for other things like tickling babies or typing on a keyboard. Trust me! Buying a pumping bra will be money well spent!

Know your flange size

Most pumps come with flanges in the “standard” 24mm size. Just because that’s what came with the pump, doesn’t mean that’s what size you need to use. It’s important to measure your nipple to make sure you’re using the proper size flange. An incorrect size can cause pain in addition to not draining properly. Our boobs work on supply & demand. If we don’t empty the breast completely, our body thinks it’s oversupplying milk, and production can drop. So we want to drain those puppies thoroughly, and a proper fitting flange will help with that! (Aeroflow has a post on helping you find the right flange size)

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Buy an extra set of parts

I’ve always been they type of person who likes to be prepared for everything. I have an extra set of sunglasses in the car in case I forget mine. I have extra diapers in both cars, the diaper bag, and my purse, because, well, you just never know! So naturally, I bought an extra set of parts to keep my pumping journey running smoothly. The biggest plus for me, having a second set, has been on those extra long days where the last thing I want to do is wash pump parts before bed. I can just leave them soaking in the sink and grab the clean set the next morning. Having multiple sets has saved my sanity many a-night! You can buy extra parts and pump accessories through Aeroflow too! (Talk about one stop shopping)

Store pump parts in the fridge

Guess what! You don’t have to wash your pump parts after every. single. use. Yay! This information has been a game changer for me. I probably would have quit pumping if I had to wash bottles and parts all day, every day! Now, I just toss my parts in the fridge until my next pump session, and wash everything once a day, in the evening, after my last pump. Sanity saver!

Lube your flanges

I didn’t learn this trick until I was several weeks in to my pumping journey and I don’t know how I did life without it! Lubing your flanges before pumping helps prevent friction which in turn can prevent pain (and potential nipple damage). Some mamas use a little bit on lanolin cream. Some use coconut oil. I opted for olive oil. Use whatever you prefer, but do yourself a favor and lube those babies up. Your nipples will thank you!

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Pump 10 minutes past empty

I’ve heard of many lactation professionals telling mamas to pump for a set amount of time (i.e. 15 mins), but in reality, all moms are different, so our pumping times will be different too. The general rule of thumb in the pumping world is to pump 10 minutes past empty. So whenever you notice that no more milk is coming out, continue to pump for an additional 10 minutes. Babies natural suction is much more efficient at emptying the breast than a pump is. So by pumping a few extra minutes, we’re not only ensuring that our breasts are completely empty, we’re signaling for our body that it needs to make more milk, which helps in maintaining (or even boosting) your milk supply. For me, this meant 30 minute pump sessions. But, like I said, every mom is different, so just watch what your own body does.

Power pump to boost supply

If you’re looking to increase milk production, adding in some power pump sessions can be the way to go. A power pump is a pump session that mimics the cluster feeding of a baby. This on again/off again feeding, signals the body that baby needs more milk, so your body needs to ramp up production! It goes like this:

  • Pump for 20 minutes
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes
  • Done!

When I struggled with low supply and the beginning of my pumping journey, I would use the last pump session before bed as my power pump session and, over time, my supply increased enough that I was able to stop supplementing Charlie with formula. It takes time, but it can definitely help.

Know how to combat clogs

I hope and pray that you never have to experience a clogged milk duct (or worse, mastitis), but if you do, it’s good to know how to help break it up as quickly as possible. I had clogs frequently early on in my pumping journey, so I picked up several different tricks for dealing with them pretty quickly. Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Heat. Before and during pumping. Lansinoh makes hot/cold packs specifically for your boobs. They’re awesome. They can even be wrapped around your flanges while pumping, which is super helpful. Sometimes I would just jump in a hot shower before I pumped. That helped too.
  2. Cold. While heat can help unclog your duct, a cold compress between pump sessions will help reduce inflammation. Inflammation could cause trap that clog even further and that is the last thing you want.
  3. Dangle pumping. It’s just what it sounds like. Pump while leaning forward with your boobs dangling towards the floor. Gets gravity on your side.
  4. Manual pump. I had a manual pump on hand at all times strictly for clogs. The suction on those puppies is way stronger than an electric pump, so they can be better at sucking those babies out. It can hurt a bit to use (because the suction is so strong), but it’s totally worth it to get that sweet relief of getting the clog out!
  5. Massage, massage, massage. It’ll probably hurt like a sonofabitch, but its so necessary to help break that sucker up and move it out! Some mamas even swear by taking an electric toothbrush (or anything that vibrates) to the exact spot of the clog to shimmy and shake it out.
  6. Lecithin. It’s a supplement that can help decrease the stickiness of the milk, letting it flow out easier. When clogged ducts were a regular problem, I took a couple capsules a day to help prevent clogs. If I a clog popped up, then I’d pop a couple more. Lecithin comes in sunflower or soy varieties and both work the same, however, soy can cause gassiness or a bit of an upset stomach for you or baby, so I opted for sunflower. (Fun Fact: Oreos have lecithin in them, so if you need an excuse to eat a bag or two, now you have one!)
  7. Pineapple juice. Pineapple juice is a natural anti-inflammatory, so some mamas swear that drinking some daily can reduce inflammation, and thus your chances of getting a clog. It’s certainly a yummy way to combat those suckers!
Find a support system

Finding a group of women who were fellow EP mamas was instrumental to my success! These groups are where I learned all of the things I’ve shared with you above. They’re a wealth of knowledge and support that’s so necessary for a sleep deprived, stressed, and worried mama, like me. They helped me troubleshoot any and all pumping problems, celebrated with me when I removed a particularly stubborn clog, supported me when I was overwhelmed and frustrated, and always reminded me to “never give up on a bad day” but also that the best baby was a fed baby, no matter what, so if I felt I needed to quit or supplement or whatever, that that was OK too. Find your tribe, ladies! They’ll help you more than you’ll ever know!

I hope this information is helpful to you, especially if you’re a struggling pumping mama like I was. Pumping is hard work and a huge commitment, but totally doable if you decide that’s what’s best for you and yours.ย  And if you decide that to end your journey, that pumping is not for you, that’s OK too! A healthy, happy mom is more important than who you feed your baby. Fed is best!

If you ever have any pumping questions or just need some encouragement or support, feel free to shoot me an e-mail or comment. You are an AMAZING mom and we girls gotta stick together! Happy pumping!

Want more pumping posts? Check these out:
My Journey As An Exclusively Pumping Mama
Pumping Essentials: 9 Must-Haves Products for a Better Pumping Journey
What’s In My Pump Bag?

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18 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I have to admit, I’m on my fifth child and had no idea that I could store the pump parts in the fridge between pumping! mind=blown. I also didn’t know about the 10 minutes past empty thing, I’m going to try that, thanks!

  2. I am pregnant with my second son and I am planning on EP, since I had difficulties breastfeeding the first time and didn’t like it at all! Just wanted to say thanks for the tips! I am sure they will come in very handy! I have one question if someone might be able to answer. I am having a planned c section, again due to difficulties the first time around and wondered how you go about pumping after this? Especially if my milks not in? Thanks so much! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    1. Yay! Congrats on your pregnancy! Siblings are the best! There’s nothing quite like watching your babies love on each other to make everything in the world seem right.

      If you have a pump, bring it with you to the hospital. If not, they should be able to provide one for you. Start pumping from the get-go. They’d want you nursing right away, and pumping is no different. You may not get a ton the first few days (until your milk comes in), but you’ll still get that colostrum and we all know that stuff is GOLD! You’re going to want to pump as often as a baby would normally feed, so every 2-3 hours. You got this, mama! I’m rooting for you!

  3. I pumped while at work, and refrigerating pump parts was an amazing hack. Handsfree is also key. I used the Medela Freestyle, which is handsfree even without a special bra.

    1. I don’t know how I made it those first few weeks without being hands-free. It’s a total game changer!

  4. Amazing work on pumping for a whole year! You got this mama. I had the S2 and the medela and itโ€™s hard to choose which one worked best for me. Iโ€™m interested to see your thoughts

    1. Thanks!! I used a Medela in the beginning of my pumping journey and it was good, but I’d heard so many great things about the Spectra, that I decided to give it a try. I’d say I prefer the Spectra. It’s gentler, less noisy, I love that it automatically turns off after 30 mins, so I don’t have to watch the clock, and I love, love, LOVE that my S1 has the built in battery so I can move around the house while pumping. It was so, so very helpful while potty training my toddler. I HATE the Spectra parts, so I hacked them all to work with my old Medela stuff that I liked better.

  5. I ate animal crackers like a mad woman the first few weeks home while pumping( I got yelled at for crunching too loud on many occasions) but I noticed they also have lecithin in them. So I snack on a bowl once a day and only had a clog once when I switched pumps. I switched back after that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I had no idea animal crackers had lectithin in them! That’s great to know (and another super yummy way to help prevent clogs!)

  6. Mahalo nui (thank you very much) for this blog. I had hoped to be able to breast feed, but my baby was born 5 lbs and my nipples were just too big for her once my milk supply came in. My first month I produced like a cow, and had a healthy stock pile. Going into the second month I noticed a decrease and have been stressing as Iโ€™m hoping to not have to use formula. This is great advise and Iโ€™m going to try it out to get my supply up again.

    1. Congrats on your new baby! Breastfeeding is so hard, whether you’re direct nursing or pumping. I’m so glad that you found your way over here and I hope these tips are able to help you reach your goals. But whatever happens, you are a good mom and your baby is lucky to have you! Try not to stress too much. You got this!

  7. I applaud you for making it a whole year! Iโ€™m 2 weeks in and soooo over it. The pain, the time, the insane amount of time SITTING down in one day is so overwhelming! I loved your other post about your first 3 months…1 pump at a time is my motto too! Thanks for the encouraging posts!

    1. Pumping is so, so hard! 2 weeks is nothing to sneeze at. You put in a LOT of time and hard work for those two weeks! You go, mama! If you do keep going, know that around week 6, it becomes more routine and then just feels easier. You’re an amazing mom and you’re doing great!

    1. Hi Kierra! Thanks! Yes, I stored everything (bottles included) in the fridge. After transferring my milk out of the bottles, I screwed the flanges back on top of the bottles and popped them in the fridge, so they were prepped and ready to go for the next pump. Then I just grabbed them, gave them a swipe of my lubricant of choice, and got pumping ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Kristy! Yes, you can certainly feed baby while you pump (I did that during my night pump sessions, so I didn’t have to be up so long). For me, if I chose to feed and pump at the same time, I usually put baby in a bouncer next to me or at my feet, and feed her while she was in there. More often than not though (at least during the day), I would feed her and them pump. She was generally content to lay next to me, so I could play with her a bit while I pumped. On the rare occasion she needed to be held, I’d sit her in my lap, facing out, head sorta nestled between the bottles while I finished my session. It’s all really trial and error until you figure out what works for you and your little one ๐Ÿ™‚

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