Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Journey with Exclusive Pumping: Schedule and a Few Tips

This is a post I've been looking forward to writing for a while. I know so many new moms who are struggling with breastfeeding/pumping and I want anyone who may be reading this to know that you are not alone!

I decided before Audrey was born that I was going to exclusively pump starting the day we brought her home from the hospital. I gave it a ton of thought and ultimately decided that pumping instead of nursing would be best for our situation. You can read about the many reasons I chose to exclusively pump (plus a few words of encouragement) in this post

Today I wanted to share my pumping schedule from birth to 5 months and a few tips on how I increased my supply and stored my milk. Check out this post for a few pumping supplies that I found to be essential during this process.

Having everything in one place made pumping much more convenient. Not pictured is my liter sized water bottle that I always had on hand.

Pump: Every 3 hours during the day 
Every 4 hours at night (7 pumping sessions/day)
4-9 oz/session (average 54 oz/day)
Eating: 2-3.5 oz every 2-3 hours

My milk started coming in about 3 days after Audrey was born and my supply increased tremendously over just a couple of days. I went from making 19 oz/day on day three to making 50 oz/day on day seven. 
I credit this mostly to Fenugreek. I started taking it the night we came home from the hospital and would take 2 tablets twice a day starting out.

Also, I intended to wake up and pump every 3 hours at night but my new mom sleep deprivation caused me to often turn off my alarm in my sleep. I decided I would try and get an extra hour of sleep and only get up every 4 hours at night. 

*Many articles/posts that you read about pumping recommend pumping every 2-3 hours for the first 2 months or so. I think this is absolutely crazy and would NOT have worked for me. It would take about 45 minutes or so to get everything set up, pump, and clean up so basically I'd only have about an hour between each pumping session. With a newborn and a two year old this just isn't plausible.

Pump: Every 4 hours (6 sessions/day)
7-11 oz/session (50-55 oz/day)
Eating: 2.5-3.5 oz every 2-3 hours (sleeping 8 hours at night)

Around 6 weeks or so I decreased to pumping every 4 hours around the clock. Just that one extra hour between sessions made it feel like I had so much more free time!

I was still producing way more than she was taking in so our freezer was filling up fast. I was storing about 30 oz/day. At 8 weeks we had to buy a deep freezer. I already had over 1600 oz in the freezer! (More on how I organized my freezer stash in a minute.)

Pump: Every 4-5 hours during the day
Every 6 hours at night (5 sessions/day)
8-14 oz/session (50-60 oz/day)
Eating: 3.5-4oz every 2-3 hours (waking up once at night between 4:30-6:00)

At some point during this month I tried dropping down to every 5-6 hours in preparation of going back to work but noticed a dip in supply. I increased back to every 4 hours during the day and supply came right back up after a couple of days.

Pump: Every 6-8 hours (4 sessions/day)
8-12 oz/session (35-45 oz/day)
Eating: 4 oz every 3 hours (wakes up once at night between 4:00-5:00 - she hit a growth spurt around this time)

My schedule got a little more complicated once I went back to work at 3 months. For the first couple weeks my work day pumping schedule looked like this:
9:00 pm the night before - pump
1:00 am - pump
4:45 am - Wake up
5:20 am - pump
6:00 am - leave for work
6:45 am - start 12 hour+ shift
11:00 ish - pump
4:00 or 5:00 pm - pump
7:15 pm - leave work
9:00 or 9:30 pm - pump

So basically this got extremely tiring, especially trying to wake up that extra time in the middle of the night. This only lasted about 2 weeks and then I dropped the middle of the night pump so I could get a little more sleep. I could definitely tell a difference in my energy level after I did that. I still hated having to come home and eat, get the kids in bed, wash bottles from the day, get stuff ready for the morning, AND pump instead of just being able to go to bed. But I was determined not to give up so quickly so I pushed on through a little bit longer

Pump: Every 8 hours (3 sessions/day)
9-11 oz/session (about 30 oz/day)
Eating: Same eating schedule

I found that it was becoming more and more difficult to take time away from my patients to pump twice at work so I decided to only pump once around mid-day. I also decided to only pump every 8 hours on my off days as well since I knew I would be needing to wean soon. 

I was not storing much milk at this point since I was making less and she was eating more.

Completely weaned. 

My goal was to make it closer to 6 months but I ended up stopping a little earlier than planned. (More on how I weaned at a later time.) David and I are going on vacation to Boston and New York next week without the girls and I wanted to be weaned by the time we left (she'll be almost 6 months old). I didn't want to have to worry about finding time to either go back to the hotel to pump during the day or lugging the huge pumping bag around the city. I have enough milk stored that it should last her until she's about 10-11 months old so I'm not too worried about stopping early.


I was making and storing milk so fast that I learned very quickly that I needed some organization. I froze my milk flat in freezer bags and then put them in gallon sized ziplock bags. Each ziplock bag was numbered, had the dates of the bags inside, and how many bags were in there. By 2 months my regular freezer was busting at the seams and we had to buy a deep freezer. By the time I had stopped pumping my deep freezer was full and I had 3,172 oz stored!
Each bag is numbered, has how many bags are inside, and dates of the milk.
As you can see, I like the Lansinoh bags the best. They freeze flatter and pour better than others.
My deep freezer and my overly obsessive organization.
On that pink note card is where each bag is in the freezer and as I use one I mark it off.

Tips for Increasing Milk Supply
- Fenugreek!!! You can take 2 tablets up to three times daily.
- Drink LOTS of water - like 3-4 liters a day.
- Take in enough calories. You burn about 20 calories for every ounce of milk expressed. So if you are making 30 oz/day then you need to take in 600 extra calories/day
- Pumping at least every 3 hours at first. Milk is made on a supply and demand basis. If you demand more, you'll make more. It's best to try and pump at the same times each day, although I know this isn't always possible.
- Lactation cookies, bars, smoothies and teas. These have different ingredients in them such as oatmeal, flax seed, brewer's yeast and fennel which can increase your supply. I tried some of these but didn't use them much because I didn't care for the after taste. You can find tons of recipes on Pinterest for lactation cookies and smoothies though.
- Steer clear of tight bras and antihistamines such as benadryl - these can inhibit milk production (good to remember when weaning though.)

A Few More Pointers
- At first it was taking about 30 minutes to feel like I was completely empty. The time it took to pump decreased to about 25 minutes around month 2 and about 20 minutes around month 3. Some people say that they are able to fully empty in 10-15 minutes around month 3 but I never was able to. It always took at least 20 for me. 

Use cold, not heat for clogged ducts. It's inevitable - you are going to get some clogged ducts. It is very important to clear these ducts out to prevent getting mastitis. Everything I read said to use heat to clear ducts so I bought these heating/cooling breast pads to help with this. I noticed that even when I would put a heating pad on them it took a loooong time to clear them up. Sometimes multiple sessions of heating and massaging and heating and massaging and soaking in a bath and get the point. It was very painful. Then a friend from church told me that her lactation consultant told her to use cold for clogged ducts instead of heat. It decreases the inflammation in the breast and allows for the milk to flow more freely. So I threw the breast pads in the freezer and gave it a try. It worked like a charm! And the cold feels pretty amazing when you're sore. I'd use them all the time and never got mastitis.

- Another tip for clogged ducts is to massage centrally toward the nipple until the knot is gone. 

-Milk may stop flowing around 10-15 minutes but if you keep pumping a little longer you will often have a second let down and end up getting a couple more ounces.

- Pumping instead of nursing is NOT Easy Street. I'm not going to lie - it's tough. There are going to be lots of times when you'll feel like you're missing out on time with your baby or family or even sleep. You're baby will probably get hungry as soon as you start to pump. Or maybe all you'll want to do is go out shopping for a few hours but you have to hurry to make sure you're home in time to pump. Your entire schedule will revolve around pumping for months. It's going to hurt like the dickens for the first few weeks, maybe even longer. But hang in there, Momma, it will get better.  I promise. 

I hope this helps anyone who is considering pumping weather intermittently or exclusively for their baby. If you have any questions or other tips you'd like to add, I would love to hear from you!

Update: It's finally up! Check out my tips for weaning from the pump!
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  1. This post is really helpful! My baby is turning 3mths this weekend and i'll be returning to work soon too! Look forward to the next post on weaning. :)

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful! Good luck going back to work. It is hard but it does get better.

  2. Thank you for sharing! I'm only 2 weeks in and I'm having a terrible time. My supply is not where it needs to be despite pumping 30 min every 2 hours! I'm feeling like a total failure. I will have to give fenugreek a try. I'm having a hard time keeping up with my baby's needs let alone saving some!

    1. You are not a failure! People put too much weight of our success as a mom on whether or not we can successfully breastfeed our babies. As long as that baby is fed and growing you are doing a wonderful job!
      But hang in there! Pumping was definitely rough at first, especially when baby is eating so often. Give fenugreek a try and see if that helps. Something else I read that increases supply (if you have the time and someone to watch the baby during this time) is to pump for 10 min, stop for 10 min, pump for 10, stop for 10, and so on for an hour. Do this a couple times a day for about 3 days and it should help increase your supply. I never tried this because I didn't want to put the time into it but it could be worth a shot. Good luck and let me know if the fenugreek works for you!

  3. I found your article helpful but I'm also a little saddened! Let me explain. I've been exclusively pumping since my baby was about a week old (I started pumping after nursing for the first week and then after a week I was so sore that I introduced bottle feeding and she wouldn't go back to the boob.) I've been eating oatmeal with brewer's yeast every morning and for the first 10 weeks pumped every two-three hours around the clock. Baby is now 13 weeks old and I've let myself go 2-4 hours around the clock, but have noticed that my right side isn't hardly producing an ounce each session and sometimes my left is only getting 1-2! My average was probably a total of 8oz each session. I'm headed back to work soon (as a teacher) and not sure how my pumping schedule will be. I only have about 500 ounces saved and thought that was a lot! (There's where the sadness/jealousy comes in) Exclusively pumping has been the hardest thing I think I've ever done and believe that it has contributed to ppd. I'm glad that I've been able to feed my baby thus way, but it really is a lot more work and stressful than I had imagined! You described that aspect perfectly! I'm going to try fenugreek and hope that I'll produce gallons! �� Thanks for the article!

    1. I'm sorry I'm just responding and I hope things are going better for you. Have you tried the fenugreek? I'm not sure why your supply dropped so much but it can sometimes be due to not drinking enough water, not taking in enough calories, or stress, among other things. It is definitely not easy. I really think that despite our greatest efforts and intentions, that our bodies sometimes just don't cooperate. Good luck with everything. I would like to hear if the fenugreek worked for you!

  4. After a rocky road with breast feeding, I started pumping around 3 weeks. My supply has slowly increased, but I'm still only getting between 24-26 ounces/day (at best). I'll be returning to work in 3 weeks, and worry about my supply dropping. I've been toying with the idea of fenugreek, but I'm not sure what to expect. Silly question, if I take it twice/day (two pills in am and pm) will my supply increase throughout the day or just with the pump session after I take it? Thank you!

    1. Hi, Stephanie, thanks for commenting! Fenugreek will generally help your overall supply. Also it really doesn't have many side effects. It is very soothing to the stomach and can actually help babies' tummies too (via your milk). It can be taken up to 3 times a day but I would just start out with twice and day and see how that does. Have you started taking it yet?

  5. Hi Heather,

    First off- I found this post very encouraging and extremely helpful as a first time mom. Our Sadie is about 5 weeks now. She will sometimes latch on one side but is still struggling. I've been EPing majority of the time. She started off in the NICU and was introduced to a bottle first.

    Anyways, I was wondering about an update about how things are going a few months later with your little one. Do you still have plenty of stock left? How much baby food or solid foods have you introduced? When did you introduce those?

    I have been overproducing from the very beginning and we have bought a deep freezer as well just for the breastmilk! I have read about the health benefits of giving your baby the breastmilk that you've recently pumped vs a few months old breast milk. Did you rotate your breast milk from the very beginning, giving you baby some that you pumped from that day and some from a month or so ago?

    I know that this is a lot of questions, but I haven't found a lot of people in my circle who have exclusively pumped.

    Thank you SO much again for your encouragement!

    - Ashley

    1. Ashley, that's so great that you have a good supply! I would be happy to answer your questions. Audrey is actually 9 months old today and we just used our last bag of frozen milk 2 days ago. I stopped pumping when she was 5 months old so my freezer stock lasted for 4 months!

      While I was still pumping I would only give her freshly pumped milk and freeze whatever extra I made that day. Once I was weaned and we were only using our freezer stock I started with bag number 1 (so the ones with the earliest date).

      I think we started introducing solids between 5 and 6 months. I'd start with the level 1 baby foods and do 1 a day. When she was 6-7 months we started doing baby food twice a day. We've recently started introducing the stage 2 "meats" like turkey and rice, chicken and macaroni and cheese. She likes these and it seems to fill her up and hold her over a little better than just fruits or veggies. We've also let her have a few soft table foods like rice, mashed potatoes, small bits of chicken, eggs, etc. I think we started letting her have puffs around 6 months too. I like those because they dissolve quickly so they can swallow them easily and it teaches them to grab for and pick up things. Typically now she'll eat 4-5 6oz bottles a day.

      I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions!

  6. Heather,

    This post just made my day!

    I feel like I have hope for my little boys feeding future. Graylen is 6 weeks old and I have decided to start exclusively pumping. I am having a difficult time keeping up my supply for his needs. What advice would you give? He is eating 4 ounces every feeding. I've almost gone through my entire freezer supply and I am starting to freak out a little.

    THANK YOU for this post and for any advice you can give!!! ��


    1. I'm not sure how often you're pumping but my biggest piece of advice would be to try and pump more often for a few days and see if your supply increases. I know sometimes it's hard to keep up with the demands of a growing baby. Try to pump as often as he is eating. So if he is eating every 3 hours try and pump every 3. Even through the night. I know it's hard and tiring with a newborn baby but hang in there!

  7. L working as a nurse in a infusion clinic 8-5. It's been a bit hard. My bb is 4.5 months old. I been having to supplement with formula. My stock is gone. I verly pump 10 Oz at work wich gets two bottles for daycare and the 3rd one is formula. I have tried lactation shakes, fenugreek (gives bb gases), Gatorade, oatmeal, made my own lactation cookies, you name it is done it and not much results. I just ordered some lactation bars from Dr. Panels hoping that helps. I really want to breathe feed at least 6 months but I don't know if I can make it. This article is really informative. I guess some of us just don't produce much milk, I wish I had at least half of what you got stored. Good job. Thank you for sharing the info.

    1. Thank you for commenting and I hope you found it to be helpful. It sounds like you've tried just about everything. I hope the lactation bars work for you. As a nurse as well, I know how hard it is to pump while at work. It may sound crazy because I'm sure you're already sleep deprived from taking care of a newborn and working full time but if you could try and add a session at some point during your day (or night) that may could possibly help. Or maybe try making your sessions a little longer. You may have tried all these things already, but just a couple thoughts! Good luck!

  8. Thank you so much for posting this. It's encouraging to hear from other eping moms. I have cried and yelled and yelled some more over this process and the engorgement issues. My little guy is 1 month and 1 day and has had latch issues since he was born. I began eping at day 3 and have done so ever since. It is not the bf journey I had envisioned but it's ours nonetheless. I try to eat oatmeal and drink plenty of fluids. I can tell when I don't. I thought I was an over supplier until I saw your production and now I'm jealous. I am also a nurse. I will start as an NP in January and scared to see how this new role and stress will affect my supply. I have been trying to put away 6-12 Oz per day and have approximately 400 Oz in the deep freeze now. I want the same as you have done for your daughter so my goal is 6 months with a supply to take him to at least 8 months (I pray). I am pumping every 4 hours and have done so for about 2 weeks because the 8 sessions per day were making me crazy and seriously depressing me. Is this sufficient to make a supply like yours or do I need to add that 7th pump sometime during the day? I pump at 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, and 10pm. If a 7th pump seems like it would be beneficial when would your recommend putting it in? I also produce more at my 6pm and 10pm sessions than I do my others and wonder if this is a hydration issue? I appreciate your insight. I wanna quit and wouldn't beat myself up about it either but know the benefits of mothers milk and if I'm producing enough to feed him, then I feel I must press on. Any tips would be appreciated.

    1. Also, the engorgement tends to happen at night time. The session between 10pm-2am. I don't know if it's sleeping or if I need to pump at 12 (please say no!). It's just so annoying. I have one boob that obeys and cooperates while the other shows up when it wants and then they switch. I'm waist deep in this process and not exactly loving it. I sound like a negative Nancy but just would love to feel freed up more to enjoy my baby. But again...I'm pressing on. Kicking and screaming and complaining the whole way.

    2. Hey, Lynsey! It sounds like you are definitely on the right track. You could try adding a 7th pump at some point during your day. Maybe try every 4 hours at night and every 3 hours during the day. For example 2a, 6a, 10a, 1p, 4p, 7p, 10p. You could try this for a week or so and see how it effects your supply. If your supply doesn't increase much or if it just doesn't work with your schedule then I'd say keep doing what you're doing. No need stressing about another session if you don't feel that it's worth it. (The way I see it, making more milk is great, but keeping your sanity is better!)
      Producing more at night could be a hydration issue. I would keep my water bottle by me during my middle of the night feedings and drink as much as I could. Mainly because I felt parched, but I do think it helped with supply.
      The engorgement at night could be the way that you're sleeping. Mine would do the same thing and I figured out that when I slept on my side, the side I was laying on wasn't filling completely and my ducts were getting clogged. I'd just put an ice pack on my breasts while pumping, which helped.
      Have you tried Fenugreek yet? Alot of people have told me that this has helped their supply.
      I know exactly how you feel wanting to spend more time with your baby but still wanting them to get your milk. It's definitely a hard dilemma but it sounds like you're doing great! Keep up the good work!

  9. You make me feel better about ep'ing. You sound so calm and reassuring about it. I'd love to talk to you about this!

    1. Aw, thank you, I'm so glad! I'd love to talk to you about it! How is everything going for you? Feel free to email me at!

  10. Your post is AH-MAZING!! I am currently a mommy to be and plan to exclusively pump. I am getting discouraged by what I am reading on the internet. Breastfeeding just really freaks me out. I was wondering what how you fed her for those 3 days before your milk came in? Thanks!

    1. I breastfed while in the hospital. You could always breastfeed while in the hospital and then start pumping when you get home. Or you could pump right away while in the hospital. Honestly though, you probably won't feel like pumping right away. Plus that first skin to skin when they first latch is pretty amazing 😊
      If you do pump in the first couple days you probably won't make much milk (like an ounce of so at a time) because that's all baby needs at the time. But the more you pump the more your supply will grow. Also, even after my milk started coming in around day 3 my milk was still yellow (like colostrum) for about a week, which is normal, so don't be alarmed if it looks funny.
      Good luck to you!

  11. Do you have any tips on improving let down? My supply fluctuates so much even if I pump at the same time every day. Some days I am engorged and can pump a lot and others it is barely trickling. I am mostly BFing and based on her weight gain, I know she is getting what she needs. I am heading back to work soon and need all the tips I can get. I have had a lot of success with Fenugreek, too. It's been a lifesaver.

  12. This post has given me a lot of reassurance, thank you! I've been exclusively pumping since my son was born (one month exactly) and I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to quit. I get engorged a lot, some times for days, it doesn't matter how often I pump..but it seems to be dwindling my supply. I'm definitely contacting my lactation consultant at my 6 week visit because I'm determined to keep with it. (And I totally get the toddler/newborn pumping struggle. I feel helpless when they both start crying and I'm in the middle of a session). Thanks again!

  13. You stated that you took 2 tablets of the fenugreek, what was the strength of those tablets ? I am looking at getting the UpSpring drink mix and its 1,800 mg of fenugreek and was trying to compare.

  14. I have been pumping for about 7 weeks now. My son was born 4 weeks early and had a bad latch. I am lucky if I get ebough to feed my little guys 24oz in a day, I usually get 3oz each session and I pump pretty much every 3 hours. It is exhausting. I am going back to work in 5 weeks and have nothing stashed at all, like I said I'm lucky if I make enough to feed him in a day. I eat oatmeal every morning, drink a G2 gatorade, drink about 90oz of water a day, eat relatively healthy. I tried fenugreek around 4 weeks and my son starred throwing up every time I gave him a bottle, so I stoped it and he's been fine. Any suggestions if you can't take the fenugreek?

  15. Hi! I found your blog entry searching pinterest for pumping tips. I have an almost 6 week old little boy and I'm pumping exclusively now and I was curious how you manage to pump enough to feed AND to store because currently I'm pumping just enough to feed him and that's it. He eats every 2-3 hours and currently he eats anywhere from 3-5 oz a feeding. I pump, at most, 3 oz in a session, sometimes 4, so I pump and he eats everything I just pumped and then sometimes I have to supplement 1-2oz of formula because he's famished and dying, lol! I do my last pumping session in the evening, before bed in hopes that I can have 1-2 bottles for him to eat over night, but sometimes I only get enough for 1 and I have to supplement a formula bottle. I resume pumping again in the morning around 6am. When I pump I pump no longer than 10 minutes on each breast, but that's how long it takes for me to get those oz. and I stop because my milk is basically barely dripping at that point.

    What am I doing wrong, or is it maybe just a supply issue? I haven't tried any supplements yet. And i know for sure I could be drinking more water, I suck at making the time to drink because I'm also chasing a toddler around the house all day.

    Anyways, any suggestions you have would be great. I would love to not have to give him formula at all and to have a little bit stored for when we want to go out on a date or something. I look forward to hearing from you!!!

    1. Hi Kristen! I tell everyone who hasn't tried it yet to give Fenugreek a try. It doesn't work for everybody but it's worth a try. My supply increased tremendously after I starting taking it.
      Also, try pumping for a little longer. Even if it seems like there's no milk left, if you keep pumping for another 5 minutes or so you may get a second let-down and get a few more ounces. If you do get a second let-down, keep pumping until the flow stops again.
      And, as terrible as it may seem when you're already exhausted, you may want to consider pumping at least once during the night. 😬Our bodies work on supply and demand so if you demand more (pump longer, more often) then you will likely make more.
      Definitely try to drink more water. I had a liter size contigo water bottle with a straw that I drank out of all day. I'm not a big water drinker either but for some reason the big straw makes it easier to drink more.
      Hang in there, mama! I know it's not easy! Good luck, I hope this helps!