Pumping Exclusively Without Breastfeeding

When Breastfeeding Isn't Possible But Pumping Exclusively Is

Breast Milk pumped at work

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When a baby isn’t breastfeeding, effective milk removal from the breasts becomes critical. Pumping exclusively can be necessary for a variety of reasons, for example:

  • A baby is born prematurely or cannot breastfeed because of an illness or medical condition
  • A breastfeeding mom needs to be away from her baby for a period of time
  • A baby refuses to latch at the breast

Some moms begin pumping for a specific reason and find that their baby prefers receiving milk in a bottle. Rather than try to retrain their baby, they decide to pump exclusively and give their baby breast milk in a cup or baby bottle. If you need to exclusively pump breast milk for any reason, here are some tips and advice that can help.

Establish Your Milk Supply

The most important thing you'll need to do when exclusively pumping is to establish a full milk supply. Your body needs to get the message to make enough milk for your baby.

It can take some time to adjust. Perhaps your baby was born prematurely and isn’t taking much milk in a 24 hour period. This will change in a few weeks and your body needs to make sure it has the supply ready for your baby.

A full pump session should be 15 minutes. It will help to record what time you pump and how much milk you get.

A double electric pump is the most efficient way to keep track. You can also use hand expression, single pumps, and manual pumps, but a double electric pump of good quality has been found to stimulate greater milk production.

An empty breast will produce more milk. The more completely and frequently your breasts are drained, the more milk your body will produce. It's possible for a mother to make enough milk to exclusively nurse twins or even triplets!

Research shows that between the ages of 1 and 6 months, exclusively breastfed babies take in an average of 25 oz of breastmilk per 24 hours. Some babies take more and some take less.

It's recommended not to drop the middle of the night pump session until the baby is at least 6 weeks old. At that point, you can gently wean from the middle of the night pump session.

However, every mother is different and every breast has a different storage capacity. A few moms might be able to go 10 to 12 hours between their longest stretch, while others can only go 3 to 4 hours. Full breasts make milk more slowly.

The longer you wait between pumping sessions, the slower your milk production will become. Every breastfeeding mother has to figure out her “magic number” –how many times to pump and how long to pump to maintain supply.

Once your milk supply is established, a general guide is to pump 6 to 7 times in a 24 hour period, at least once during the night, and only for as long as it takes to get the required amount of milk.

If your milk supply is beginning to decrease from the shortened pumping duration and/or the number of sessions, return to pumping more often and for a longer time.

Emotional Toll of Pumping Exclusively

Expressing your breast milk can be difficult and even emotional. Unlike the act of breastfeeding, expressing milk usually does not help you connect with your baby.

Additionally, exclusively bottle-fed babies almost always prefer the bottle over the breast—meaning they likely would not want to make the transition to being breastfed.

If you were looking forward to breastfeeding your baby but cannot for any reason, you might experience feelings of grief. In fact, grieving is normal for parents who are dealing with all the experiences and demands associated with infant feeding. Finally, when the time comes to wean from expressing, rest assured that there are safe and comfortable ways to go about it.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office on Women's Health. Time for breaks.

  2. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Available from:

Additional Reading
  • Hurst, N.M. & Meier, P.P. (2010). Breastfeeding the Preterm Infant. In J. Riordan (Ed.), Breastfeeding and Human Lactation (4th ed., pp. 425-470). Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

  • Morton, J., et al. (2009). Combining Hand Techniques With Electric Pumping Increases Milk Production in Mothers of Preterm Infants. Journal of Perinatology, 29(11), 757-764.

  • Slusher, T. et al. (2007). Electric Breast PUMP Use Increased Maternal Milk Volume in African Nurseries. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, 53(2), 125-130.

  • Sweet, L. (2008). Expressed Breast Milk as ‘Connection’ and Its Influence on the Construction of ‘Motherhood’ for Mothers of Preterm Infants: A Qualitative Study. International Breastfeeding Journal, 3, 30.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.