Exclusively Pumping: Why and How I Breastfeed Without Nursing

So how’s breastfeeding going? That was the first question I was asked more times than I’d like to admit. Before I had Marin I heard from friends and acquaintances about the pressure to breastfeed. It’s not that I didn’t believe it, but I had no idea how much pressure there would actually be. Often times, it’s not necessarily in your face or obvious, rather it’s subtle comments, remarks and questions, that imply breastfeeding is the only way you should be feeding your baby. I had no expectations for breastfeeding before I had Marin, though thanks to a few friends, I knew it probably wasn’t going to be easy. Nobody in my close circle of friends sugarcoated the realities of breastfeeding. Many of you wanted to know why (and how) I chose to exclusively pump instead of nurse so I wanted to give some backstory and context first. If you’re just interested in the specifics and logistics you can skip the beginning and scroll down to the Q&A. I’ve also received so many stories with a variety of experiences about how you’ve fed your babies, I’ll be sharing those soon, thank you.


Immediately after giving birth, Marin was put on my chest for skin to skin and within about an hour the nurses encouraged me to try and get her to latch. I had communicated I wanted to try breastfeeding so this was standard procedure. While she had no problem latching it was painful, that first latch can take your breath away. The nurses tried to help me make it more comfortable, but it was shallow and very pinchy, and I sort of just assumed it was supposed to hurt. I continued to nurse, every time doing more damage to my nipples and finally asking for the lactation consultant to come and provide help. By the time she came my nipples were so damaged I couldn’t nurse anymore because it was just too painful. My milk also hadn’t come in so by the second night I could tell Marin was hungry and while the nurses encouraged me to just keep trying I knew she needed to eat, so I asked for formula (they never offered it up but were very accommodating once I asked). The second we fed her she stopped crying. They gave me a pump at the hospital and I tried that a few times but I wasn’t getting anything and I was in pain so I took a break. We gave Marin formula until my milk came in on the fifth day after getting home. The first two nights home, Craig stayed up and fed the baby while I slept. Those two nights of sleep played a huge role in my recovery.

By the time my milk came in my nipples were still damaged and it would have been too painful to try and breastfeed (they were still scabbed and I was wearing nipple shields 24/7). I also wanted to have a lactation consultant come and help me get a better latch so I decided to pump in the meantime. I could comfortably pump so I basically followed the same schedule as Marin’s feeding times, when she ate (Craig would feed her), I would pump. I had a lactation consultant come when my nipples were healed and she helped me get a good comfortable latch. But when she left and I went back to trying nursing I asked myself, who am I doing this for? I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding. It was uncomfortable, my back and neck were killing me, Marin didn’t seem to care where or how she was getting fed and I felt like a prisoner in my own body. When I talked to Craig about it he encouraged me to do what I felt comfortable with and stop doing something that made me unhappy. I decided to keep pumping and bottle feeding with Craig’s help.

Then I had postpartum hemorrhage. I spent two days in intensive care. While I was there I had nothing but time, so I pumped, a lot. I think those two days pumping in the hospital were what ultimately established a good supply because I pumped every 2-3 hours around the clock. Doing it was almost therapeutic and made me feel better about being away from my two week old newborn. By the time I got home I had pumped so much milk I had enough to start freezing some every day. Once I got home from the hospital after my PPH I was exhausted and weak. I felt like I was back at ground zero in terms of recovery. I was also instructed not to pick up anything heavier than 5 lbs (that included the baby) for 2 weeks. I could sit and feed her but that was it. Craig ended up taking on a lot of the feedings (and other responsibilities) so I could recover and it was basically at that point I decided I was going to exclusively pump and bottle feed.

Marin is now almost 3 months old and I’ve been exclusively pumping for about that amount of time. While there were a variety of reasons I ultimately didn’t breastfeed, when it came down to it, Craig and I both agreed my recovery was most important. To have a healthy happy baby, you need a healthy, happy Mom. Breastfeeding for me, brought on stress and anxiety. I’m not here to tell you how you should feed your baby. Only you will know the answer to that question, but I hope by sharing my experience it will help any of you who are struggling or looking for answers. The truth is there were a lot of doubters (including medical professionals) that didn’t understand why, if I had a good milk supply and a baby that would latch, I would choose not to breastfeed. There were those that said it would be too hard, that I’d be more susceptible to clogs or that I wouldn’t be able to keep up my supply. I found what works for me right now. There’s no silver bullet. I’m lucky to have a lot of support. I couldn’t do it without that. I’m taking it one day at a time.

Pumping FAQ

What pump do you use?

I started out with the Spectra (your insurance is required to cover a breast pump, you may need a prescription from your doctor). Within about a week of exclusively pumping I felt like I was going to lose my mind being chained to my pump so I went online in the middle of the night and purchased the Elvie (this was not covered by my insurance but I’ve read you can use FSA or HSA). It was the best decision I made and ultimately one of the main reasons I’m still pumping. Is the Elvie perfect? No. But it gets the job done and I get plenty of milk from it while also being able to multitask in ways I could never imagine using the Spectra.

Favorite pumping bra?

This wrap bra is the best one I’ve found for use with the Elvie. I am a 32D right now (your breast size will get bigger postpartum if you’re breastfeeding or pumping) and wear a size Medium.

How many times a day do you pump (how do you manage when baby is awake)?

As I mentioned above, in the first few weeks I pumped “on demand.” Anytime she ate I pumped. Craig would feed her most of the time so I could pump at the same time, including throughout the night. This helped establish my supply. I slowly reduced the number of times I pumped as we started sleep training around 4 weeks. Now I pump 5 times a day for anywhere from 15-20 minutes (usually longer in the morning when my supply is better). I time my pumping so that it doesn’t conflict with feedings since we are doing Moms on Call I pretty much know when she’s going to eat. That said I have help from Craig a lot too.

HOW DO YOU KEEP UP YOUR SUPPLY?

I’m no expert here and honestly I think some of it is just luck. I’m also only about 3 months in, so things could change. That said I think one key thing that helped keep my supply consistent was pumping on demand in the beginning to establish my supply. If I notice a little bit of a dip, the next day I pump for a longer amount of time earlier in the day when I know I can get the most milk (I also added an extra session early on if necessary). Because I was getting around 35-40 oz/day early on I was able to freeze a lot as well.

How do you manage washing pump parts and bottles?

The pump only needs to be sanitized once a day. After each use I rinse with soap and water and dry it on this rack. At night I run the dishwasher with my pump parts and bottles. We have enough bottles for a day and a half so we don’t have to worry about washing bottles after every use. A quick note about these bottles, they come with slow, medium and fast flow nipples. The last few days Marin was really fussy when eating which was very unusual. We realized it was because of the slow flow nipple. We switched to medium flow and problem solved.

How do you warm milk (especially at night)?

If I can time it right, I’ll get up before Marin wakes up for her early morning feed, she usually sleeps until around 4, and Craig or I will feed her the milk I’ve just pumped so there’s no need to warm it. Otherwise we just make a bottle and put it in a glass of warm water for a few minutes. Because we are doing the Moms on Call schedule we know when she’s going to eat so we can do this a few minutes ahead of time.

How do you prevent/handle clogged ducts?

Luckily so far I’ve only had a clog once. I started taking this sunflower lecithin supplement very early on (not sure if this actually helps but it doesn’t hurt). The one time I did get a clog I immediately put a warm compress on it for about 15 minutes, then pumped while holding the compress on and took an extra supplement and it went away.

What bags do you use to freeze extra?

All the extra supply I have right now is frozen in these milk storage bags. I went to repurchase and noticed bad reviews so I ordered these instead. That said, I haven’t had issues with the Lansinoh bags but I don’t put them directly in water. I put the frozen milk in the fridge and let it thaw, then put it in a bottle and warm it up that way.

How long do you plan to exclusively pump?

I have no timeline. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from motherhood it’s that you really do have to take it one day at a time.

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12 Comments

  1. Hannah wrote:

    When I decided to exclusively pump with my first baby, I had such a hard time finding supportive resources to guide me. I think this post will be very helpful to a lot of moms out there. I had some very similar issues with painful latching that led to very distressed and scabbed nipples. I pumped for 4 months and decided we were either going to nurse again or move on to formula bc pumping exclusively can be quite tiring. I was able to go back to nursing (Which looking back, seems like a miracle). That said, I wish I had more nurses and lactation consultants support me back then bc almost none of them offered me helpful advice. I just had to make the best choice for my daughter and my body. Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂 Marin is so precious!

    4.22.20 | Reply
  2. Julia Huggins wrote:

    This was so helpful, thank you for sharing!

    4.22.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      So glad!

      4.23.20 | Reply
  3. Tessa B Gawrylowicz wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this! I just had a baby a week ago and nursing has been SO hard, I had to supplement with formula because of how difficult it was and cried about it for 4 days straight. Then I realized after some encouragement from my partner, a fed and happy baby AND mom is best. After reading this, I am going to focus on pumping and making sure that we are both healthy and happy. Nursing is great for some, but for me, it is not worth the pain and stress. I am so thankful to read honest stories from other first time moms!

    4.22.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I’m so sorry for that experience. Glad to hear you’ve figured out what works for you and baby! You are not alone. I’m looking forward to sharing all of the stories other moms have shared. I think it will help others realize it’s not easy and we all struggle in different ways. Happy mom, happy baby. xx

      4.23.20 | Reply
  4. Elex wrote:

    You’re doing great! Thank you for sharing your story and getting this out there that it’s an option that is not often discussed. I exclusively pumped for my son for 13 months due to tongue tie. I actually changed pediatricians after his had the audacity to ask me “Why are you pumping so much? Just switch to formula.”

    My daughter is completely different and is a wonderful feeder at the breast. Everyone’s Journey is different <3

    4.23.20 | Reply
  5. Melanie wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your story, I think it’s important that women see all sides and not let themselves feel bad about the route they take. I breastfed my daughter for 3 years (we quit 4th of July weekend last year). I’m due with my next early July – my Mom asked if I was excited to breastfeed again. I said while i’m not dreading it, as blessedly it came easy for my daughter and I, i’m also not “excited”. It’s a beautiful experience but it’s also alot to give your body continually to someone. It’s also, for the record, a HUGE sacrifice to pump continually too (I personally hated pumping, but didn’t mind breastfeeding – I did workout outside the home so I had to). Congrats, good job Mama and i’m so happy for you.

    4.24.20 | Reply
  6. Lynnbcroland wrote:

    I really don’t belong in this group because my babies are grown but I pretty much read all of Jess’s posts. What a hard time that must have been for you Jess. My mom nursed me and that was all I heard. When I had my kids , they asked me at the hospital and I just said no. I never had the desire and to be honest I never saw my friends do it either. It wasn’t done as much then. It turns out both of my babies were allergic to the first formula they got and I had to make my own . Sometimes I think if I had breast-fed, it would have been better for their Colic. I made a decision and I went on from there. It was hard then too with Sterilization of bottles and nipples and making formula, cloth diapers and such, but I did it . I understand Jess and you are doing an amazing job!! xo

    4.26.20 | Reply
  7. Our stories are so similar, basically identical in regards to breastfeeding/pumping. Miles is only 3 weeks and we’re in the same boat: he doesn’t care if it’s my boob or bottle – the kid just wants to be fed!

    xoxo
    Cathy, your Poor Little It Girl
    https://poorlittleitgirl.com

    4.27.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s so great. Hope you and baby are doing well Cathy. Sending you love.

      4.28.20 | Reply
  8. Gwyn wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m currently exclusively pumping with an 8 month old. I started because she would latch well but she would stop and re-latch frequently. They gave us formula at the hospital early on for just in case.
    We went in for her first weight check with the lactation nurse and found out she wasn’t getting any milk from me. Turned out she was tongue tied. We got that fixed but her tongue still didn’t cooperate to feed.
    I had a pump gifted from a friend and started pumping every 2-3 hours early on. It was a lifesaver!
    Exclusively pumping has been great! My only problem is my supply topped out at around 24oz per day. So we supplement with formula. It works and we’re all doing well.

    4.27.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      So glad to hear that! Thanks for sharing.

      4.28.20 | Reply