One of the challenges with exclusively pumping breast milk is that you might not know anyone else who is feeding their baby the same way you are - breastfeeding, but using a bottle. It can be hard to know whether what you're experiencing is normal, or how to find ways to make exclusive pumping easier. Here are the most common exclusive pumping questions that I've gotten over the years.

How often should I pump if exclusively pumping?

This depends on the age of your baby. With a newborn, you want to pump about as often as your baby eats, somewhere in the range of 7-12 times per day. Usually, the sessions are about 15 minutes long. As your baby gets older (around the 6-8 week mark), you can drop sessions and consolidate the amount of time that you spend pumping. To give you an idea, the schedule that I used during each month is available here.

How much milk should I be producing if exclusively pumping?

I did a survey a few years ago, and the average daily output for exclusive pumpers was 30.9 oz per day. However, this totally varies by woman - there is no "normal" amount. Some women make a few ounces per day, while others with oversupply have pumped 100 oz per day or more.

How can I make exclusive pumping easier?

The most important thing that you can do is get a hands-free pumping bra! When you're spending so much time pumping, it's key that you be able to do something else during that time, too, whether that's feeding your baby, eating dinner, or working on a laptop. The other thing that I would suggest is getting into a routine. Maybe on Mondays and Thursdays, you freeze extra breast milk, while on Fridays, you feed frozen milk to make sure the oldest milk gets used up. Figure out a system that works for you!

What should I do if I'm not pumping enough milk?

First of all, make sure that you really aren’t pumping enough milk! But if your doctor or lactation professional confirms you are not producing enough, there are a ton of strategies that you can try, from herbal remedies to eating oatmeal to power pumping to prescription medication.

The first thing that I would suggest is looking at your pumping schedule and making sure that you're pumping frequently enough - about as often as your baby eats - and not skipping pumping sessions. You can also try doing breast compressions to increase your output when you pump.

If you decide to try taking a supplement, different things work for different women, but personally, I've had the most success with fenugreek and eating oatmeal for breakfast.

Why do I get more milk from one side?

It's totally normal to get more milk from one breast - this may occur because you have more working milk ducts on one side, or because you have favored doing breast compressions on one side in the past, or because your baby preferred one side before you started exclusively pumping.

I have always gotten almost twice the breast milk from my left side versus my right. If the unevenness bothers you, you can try pumping more from the "lazy" side, or if the issue is appearance, use a few extra breast pads on the smaller side.

How should I clear a clogged duct while pumping?

A lot of the advice out there on how to clear a clogged duct involves your baby nursing - dangle feeding, nursing more on that side, etc. Obviously, that's not an option if you're exclusively pumping.

Your best bet is to pump the affected side as much as possible, while using heat and pressure and trying to work the clog out with your hands. Vibration can also help - you can try an electric toothbrush or a lactation massager.

How do I ever leave my house when I have to pump so often?

I would suggest getting comfortable with pumping in public. There are two keys to this - preparation and confidence. As far as preparation goes - pack your pump bag so everything's all set to go, assemble your pump parts and pump them in a Ziploc bag, and make sure you have your hands-free bra and nursing cover. Make a plan for where to pump.

For confidence, you want to start somewhere easy and fake it until you make it. Your car is an ideal first place to pump in public - say, if you're running errands and your baby falls asleep in the back seat - you can park, put your nursing cover on, and get a quick pumping session in without having to go home.

Pumping is painful - what should I do?

Pumping should never be painful. The first thing to check is your flange size - if your breast shields are either too big or too small, it will cause pain. This chart should be helpful for seeing if yours fit correctly.

If you're confident your flange sizes are correct, it may be worth seeing your OB or a lactation consultant to evaluate whether you have thrush or another medical issue.

Are my nipples always going to be huge, purple, and have dried white milk stuck in them?

While you're exclusively pumping, yes. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about it. However, once you wean from the pump, they will go back to normal. (At least, mine did.)

What do I do when it's time to stop pumping?

When you're ready to be done with exclusive pumping, you'll need to wean, just like you'd wean your baby if you were nursing. I've written a step-by-step plan for weaning from the pump that you can find here, but basically what you want to do is drop one pumping session at a time until you're down to one. Then you can slowly drop that last session (reducing the time or volume that you pump), and finish things off with a final pumping session 36-48 hours later.

(Note: I'm not a fan of dropping all of your sessions at once by reducing the length of all of them at the same time, because you never fully empty that way, and I think it increases your risk of getting a clogged duct.)

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.

Amanda Glenn

About the Author

Amanda Glenn has three children (7, 5, and 2) and has spent a total of 44 months of her life hooking herself up to a breast pump. She writes a blog about exclusive pumping and lives in Chicago with her family. You can subscribe to her Exclusive Pumping Newsletter here.