The NUMBER ONE tip I can give on how to make exclusively pumping (EP) easier is this: Don’t wash your pump parts between each use. Put them in the refrigerator between uses, and wash them once a day (as long as the baby does not have a medical need that requires washing or sterilizing between uses). Breastmilk is good in refrigeration for up to five days, so your pump parts will be fine in there for the day. Below in list form are the rest of the tips and tricks I have picked up while being an EPer. I didn’t even know EP was a “thing” when I began, and I hope this list can help other moms.
– Pump until “empty”, as this will help maintain your supply. Your breasts are never really empty as they make milk in the moment, but they milk is only made if there is a demand for it so pumping more will make more. If you are unsure about how long to pump please see a lactation consultant.
– Get back up pump parts. You might think it’s unnecessary, but it’s not. When you have a newborn and are EPing, you probably won’t have time to keep everything washed and ready every day. Having back ups will keep you from frantically washing bottles and pump parts using your precious pumping time. Additionally, you never know when a part could give out, go down the drain, or otherwise need to be replaced. If you are using the same pump brand at Labor and Delivery in your hospital, you may even be able to take those parts home with you (especially if they are single user parts and that the hospital will just dispose). Replacement parts can be purchased through your pump’s manufacturer, in department stores and online.
– Lubricate your breast shields. The tunnel of the breast shield can be lubricated with food grade coconut oil or olive oil, both are baby safe. This will make pumping much more comfortable!
– Let the pump run with the tubing connected after each pump session (or at least once a day) until the condensation clears. Condensation can cause mold to grow in the tubing.
– Get a hands free pumping bra. This thing will be a lifesaver. You will understand once you try it.
– Get a nursing cover with a rigid neckline that allows you to look down and see your bottles. EPing can be isolating and the more tools you have for comfortably pumping around others, the better.
– Have a drying and organizing system for your bottles and pump parts. I recommend a bottle drying rack and either plastic drawers or bins to organize your counter top. You probably won’t ever really put anything away because it will be in constant rotation, but you’ll want something to corral the myriad of parts and pieces.
– Get a car adapter for your pump. You can pump in your car if you are on a road trip or otherwise away from home. It’s also a good back up if you ever lose power at your house.
– Have a manual pump in case your electric pump ever has an issues. It’s also handy for use when you are out of the house or lose power.
– Get ice packs and an insulated lunchbox or cooler to use when you are out of the house, both for bringing bottles ready to eat and any milk you might pump.
Breast Milk Storage
– Breast milk separates. Don’t be concerned if your milk looks clear at the bottom and cloudy at the top after sitting. Separation is normal, gently swirl the bottle to mix the milk. Since the fat rises to the top, fat can stick the the sides of a bottle. It’s important for the baby to get that fat and it not be left behind in the bottle. The fat should liquefy when the bottle is warmed; you can also hold the bottle under warm running water to loosen the fat and swirl it into the milk.
– Here are general storage time frames. You may find slightly different times from other sources, but I’ve found these to be the most widely used.
Room Temperature (16-25 deg C or 60-77deg F) 3-4 hours optimal, 6-8 hours acceptable under very clean conditions
Insulated Cooler with Ice or ice packs up to 24 hours
Refrigerator (less than 4 deg C or 39 deg F) 72 hours optimal, 5-8 acceptable under very clean conditions
Freezer (less than –17 deg C or 0 deg F) 6months optimal, 12 months acceptable
You will probably hear from other moms that storage should be shorter or can be longer. Each mother’s milk and each baby’s digestive system is unique! Frozen milk will not necessarily “go bad” the concentration of nutrients will simply weaken with age.
– If you produce more milk than your baby is eating, you can start freezing milk for future use. The best way to freeze milk in bags is to make “bricks”. Lay the bags of milk flat to freeze. Once you have a large group (aprox. 15 bags depending on how many ounces are in each) stack the bags either horizontally or vertically in a gallon size zip top bag to make a brick. Label the gallon bag with the date range of the milk and total ounces. Number each brick to make it easier to know which bag to use next when you start using your freezer stash. Making bricks will make storing milk more organized! General guidelines state that milk is good in a standard freezer for six months and a deep freezer for twelve months. If you are keeping your milk in a freezer that is opened frequently, put the milk in the back and definitely don’t store it on the door, this will protect it by keeping it as cold as possible.
– Frozen milk can be thawed three ways: in the refrigerator, at room temperature, or in a dish of warm (not hot) water. Always thaw bags in a clean dish. If any milk leaks it won’t be lost! If you are thawing in warm water, put the bags in a zip top bag to catch any possible leaks. Do not thaw milk in hot water as the heat will damage nutrients.
– Thawed milk is recommended to be used within 24 hours. However some moms have success with extending that time frame.
– Milk can only be frozen one time. However, it is still considered frozen as long as long as the majority is still frozen. So if it’s a little thawed around the edges, it can go back in the freezer.
– If you are freezing milk, periodically offer thawed milk to your baby. Some babies dislike thawed milk. This sometimes happens due to high lipase levels. Lipase is an enzyme present in all breast milk. Some mothers produce high levels, which babies may or may not tolerate in thawed milk. High lipase can cause thawed milk to smell and taste soapy or metallic. Scalding milk prior to freezing can eliminate these tastes. A quick Google search can lead you to more information on this topic. Although I had high lipase, my daughter didn’t mind it, so I don’t have personal experience with counteracting it.
EPing is Breast Feeding!
Exclusively pumping is breastfeeding! Is your baby drinking breast milk? Yes! They are breastfed. Some moms struggle with how to describe that their child is breast fed by EP. My go to reply has always been “She drinks breast milk from a bottle.”Even though your baby is not direct nursing, they are getting that immune boosting, comforting, liquid gold, perfectly designed mommy’s milk.
When the situation permits, I always tell people about my EP experience because I want more people to know about this (seemingly) little known breastfeeding experience.
Although there is a lot of other breastfeeding information I could share, it’s not EP specific and can be found in tons of breastfeeding resources. My main goal has been to share about EP specific information, with the hope that it can be useful to other families.
My last piece of advice is this — never quit on a bad day. This is the EP mantra. Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.
About the Author: I am not a Lactation Consultant or medical professional of any kind. I am simply a mom with a beautiful, smart, sweet, incredibly fun, cleft affected daughter. At the time of writing this, I’ve been EPing since she was born nine months ago. When I started EP, I knew nothing about it or even breast pumping at all. I have learned so much from my own trial and error as well as the moms in the Facebook Groups, Exclusively Pumping Moms Private Facebook Group and Exclusively Pumping for Cleft Cuties.