What Is Exclusive Pumping And How Often To Pump?

The baby's hunger determines how frequently a mother needs to pump breast milk.

Reviewed by Mary Miller, MA, IBCLC Mary Miller Mary MillerMA, IBCLC facebook_icon Specialty: Lactation specialistExperience: 20 years
Written by Swati Patwal
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Exclusive breast pumping or EPing is the process of only feeding milk expressed using a breast pump to the baby. Generally, milk is expressed if it is not possible to breastfeed the baby directly. Bottles or alternative feeding methods, such as cup-feeding, help feed the expressed milk.

Exclusive breast pumping can be challenging for some mothers. They may feel overwhelmed with the process of pumping, storing, and sterilizing the feeding equipment.

Read on to learn about the pros and cons of exclusive pumping and tips for successful exclusive pumping.

When Is Exclusive Pumping Usually Done?

Exclusive breast pumping may become necessary in cases when (1) (2):

  • The baby is born prematurely.
  • The baby is unable to latch.
  • The mother has multiple babies.
  • The mother cannot breastfeed due to personal or medical reasons.
  • The mother has to stay away from the baby for long periods.
  • The mother intends to continue feeding breast milk along with solids.

Whatever may be the reason for exclusive pumping, consult a doctor before using the technique. An expert can guide you if you should opt for breast pumping, which breast pumps to use, and the right ways to store and feed pumped breast milk to babies.

What Are The Advantages Of Exclusive Pumping?

Exclusive pumping can offer an array of benefits to the mother and their babies.

For babies

Exclusive pumping lets babies consume breast milk without being on the breasts. It could make breast milk accessible to babies who are unable to latch to breasts for some reason. You can feed breast milk to such babies using bottles or alternative feeding methods, such as finger-feeding or cup-feeding.

Breast milk is a source of essential nutrients that nourishes a baby. It supports their growth and protects them from infections (3). Exclusive pumping could be a better alternative to formula-feeding when the baby cannot feed directly from the breast.

For mothers

Exclusive pumping could provide the mother with the following benefits.

  1. Enables breast milk feeding when a mother cannot breastfeed her baby due to personal or medical reasons. For instance, a mother who has a common cold may not want to hold the baby close due to the risk of transmitting the infection. In such cases, exclusive pumping could allow another family member to feed expressed milk to the baby (4).
  1. Allows some time away from the baby without worrying about feeding. A caregiver can feed pumped breast milk to the baby, which allows the mother to pursue her other responsibilities with relative mental ease and comfort.
  1. Makes feeding more accommodative. It could be helpful in case a mother has more than one baby to nurse. Exclusive pumping could ensure each baby gets breast milk as per their feeding schedule even when the mother is not around.
  1. Relieves breast engorgement in mothers who produce excess milk or whose babies consume small quantities of milk at a time. Breast engorgement increases the risk of clogged ducts, and clogged ducts + nipple damage increase the risk of mastitis.
  1. Helps lose postpartum weight. A lactating mother can burn up to 500 extra calories a day through milk production (5). Although postpartum weight loss depends on several factors, exclusive pumping could burn additional calories than not feeding breast milk at all.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Exclusive Pumping?

Exclusive pumping may cause the following disadvantages and unfavorable outcomes.

  1. Might affect the mother-baby bond that tends to develop during the breastfeeding period when the baby feeds directly from the breasts (6). Physical contact with the mother could have psychological benefits for the baby.
  1. Could cause early cessation of breast milk feeding. Research shows that mothers who regularly pump are more likely to stop breast milk feeding earlier than mothers who breastfeed (7). In some cases, this could happen as pumping, feeding the baby, and cleaning the pump and its accessories could be a time-consuming chore.
  1. Might cause overfeeding as babies usually drink faster from bottles than from the breast. Overfeeding could increase the risk of weight gain in early childhood.
  1. Could cause flow preference when babies alternate between breastfeeding and bottle feeding breast milk. In a state of nipple confusion, the baby finds it difficult to switch from bottle to breast after being fed with a bottle for some time (8). Premature babies or babies with an underdeveloped sucking reflex could be more vulnerable to nipple confusion.

Consult a lactation expert if you have concerns that you or your baby might be vulnerable to the disadvantages of exclusive pumping.

How Often And How Long To Pump?

The frequency of pumping depends on the baby’s age and their hunger cues. For instance, for a newborn, you may have to pump eight to 12 times a day because they will feed every two to three hours. As your baby gets older, the gap between feeding widens, and the feeding frequency reduces.

A pumping session may usually take about 15 minutes, given that you pump both the breasts together and not separately (9). However, the length of breast pumping varies as it depends on several factors, such as how long you can pump, your milk flow, time of the day, type of pump used, and technique of pumping. In most cases, pumping for 10-15 minutes is sufficient. Experts generally suggest continuing pumping for a few minutes more after the milk stops flowing (1).

How Much Breast Milk To Pump?

You should pump as much as you can at each pumping session and then segregate the milk in quantities that your baby drinks. Maintaining a pumping schedule could help you pump the quantity of milk your baby requires.

The following is the general recommendation for the quantity of breast milk you must pump as per your baby’s age.

  • A week after your baby’s birth, pump at least 16 ounces (500ml) of milk every 24 hours for a single baby and about 20 ounces for twins.
  • Two weeks after birth, pump 24 to 32 ounces (750 to 900ml) in 24 hours for a single baby and 36 ounces (1000ml) for twins (10).
  • One and five months after birth, the baby’s breast milk consumption is around 25 ounces (750ml) per day (11). Thus, if a baby feeds nine times a day, you need to express approximately 2.78 ounces (83.33ml) of breast milk per feed.

The quantity of breast milk you pump can significantly vary based on your baby’s age and weight, and your breast milk supply. Consult a lactation expert or a pediatrician to know the quantity of breast milk that you must express for your baby.

Supplies Necessary For Exclusive Pumping

You will need the following supplies to begin exclusive pumping for your baby.

  1. Breast pump: You may choose between a manual pump or an electric pump based on factors, such as your budget. You may also explore single-user or multi-user pumps if you wish to rent a breast pump (9). Hospital-grade pumps usually offer the best pumping experience. A double electric breast pump expresses milk from both the breasts at the same time. It can save time and may also help enhance breast milk supply.
  1. Milk storage bottle or bag: Store breast milk in a clean, glass or BPA-free plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. You may also consider food-grade milk storage bags. You can store freshly pumped breast milk for four hours at room temperature, four days in the refrigerator, and up to six months in the freezer (9). Mark the collection date on the bag/bottle if you plan to store milk for longer. Avoid storing the milk on the shelves of refrigerator doors as their temperature fluctuates due to the door’s constant opening and closing.
  1. Nursing bra: Buy a hands-free pumping bra to keep your hands free while you pump. Most nursing bras are made of flexible materials, such as spandex, that adjust to your breasts’ changing shape.
  1. Sanitizer and wipes: Keep sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer ready to clean the pump and other pumping accessories on-the-go. However, when at home, wash the pump and pumping accessories with water and soap as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Pump parts can be stored in the refrigerator between pumps and washed once at the end of the day.
  1. Backup supplies: Arrange a spare backup pump and other supplies in the location where you often breastfeed outside the house. In most cases, it will be the mother’s workplace. Check your organization’s policies about providing a separate room and time to pump breast milk.

Hygiene and cleanliness are a must while you pump, store, and feed milk. Also, consider gathering good-quality supplies that last a long time.

Tips To Make Exclusive Pumping Successful

Here are some tips to ensure your pumping sessions go stress-free.

  • Be punctual and stick to your pumping schedule as much as possible. Adhering to a schedule helps you pump milk at regular intervals without affecting other work schedules.
  • Practice self-care and eat a well-balanced diet. Stay hydrated, sleep sound, and try to stay stress-free. A relaxed, healthy body is more likely to maintain a healthy breast milk flow.
  • Involve your partner and other family members in feeding sessions. Delegate responsibilities and take their support in feeding the baby.
  • Use an appropriate nipple shield for a comfortable pumping experience. Breasts constantly change shape during the lactation phase. Therefore, experiment with nipple shields until you find the one that suits you best.
  • Keep pumping sessions relaxed. You may chat with your family, watch your favorite movie, read a book/magazine, or listen to your favorite music.
  • Have backup pump accessories or components. You don’t want your pumping session to be interrupted by a failed or worn down component of the breast pump.

[ Read : Kiddale Electric Breast Feeding Pump ]

How To Stop Breast Pumping?

The cessation of breast pumping should be gradual to avoid breast engorgement and mastitis (breast infection).

You may try the following tips to make the process smooth and successful.

  • Reduce the pumping frequency. If you pumped six times a day, reduce it to four to five times per day.
  • Reduce the total time spent pumping each breast. If you pumped for 15 minutes on one breast in a session, gradually reduce it to ten minutes.
  • Reduce the amount of milk pumped per session. If you expressed 25 ounces of milk per session, reduce it to 15 ounces and then to 10 ounces.

Once you follow these steps, your body will sense the low milk demand and adjust its supply until it stops completely.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you go back to nursing after exclusively pumping?

Yes, it is possible to continue breastfeeding after exclusively pumping (12). But it is better to stay open with the options based on your baby’s needs

2. What percentage of moms exclusively pump?

The U.S. Infant Feeding Practices Study II (IFPS II) showed that 5.6% of mothers feeding human milk did so by exclusively pumping (13).

3. How many bottles do you need for exclusive pumping?

You may require about 12 bottles or milk storage bags if you plan to use exclusive pumping to feed your baby.

Exclusive breast pumping is employed by mothers only when they cannot breastfeed their babies directly. Moreover, this feeding method demands a lot of time since it requires you to pump, store, and sterilize the feeding supplies. Nevertheless, exclusive pumping could be a healthy alternative to offering breast milk to babies when breastfeeding is not feasible. However, while it is beneficial for several mothers and infants, you should ask for your doctor’s opinion or talk to a certified lactation consultant before opting for it.

Key Pointers

  • Exclusive breast pumping is required when the baby is born prematurely, the mother has multiple babies, and the mother and baby are separated for long periods.
  • This process facilitates milk feeding when mothers are unable to breastfeed and helps women lose postpartum weight.
  • You may have to pump around 8 to 12 times a day for a newborn, while a pumping session for each breast is around 15 minutes.
  • Breast pump, nursing bras, and milk storage bottles are some essentials required for pumping.


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Mary Miller
Mary Miller received her degrees in Interpersonal Communications and Maternal Health and Lactation and founded the Breastfeeding Support Center of WNY in Buffalo, New York. She has 20 years of experience as a lactation specialist.

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