I had my baby end of November 2012, and I did try feeding her from the breast the first 3 weeks but it got pretty hard for me, so I started pumping and have been pumping exclusively for the past 16 weeks now. For anyone wondering if exclusively pumping is possible, I can only speak from my experience, and the answer is yes in my case, although there are certain routines that must be followed and some set backs can occur such as milk reduction, but the good news is that you can increase your milk production with a few steps and a little dedication :) I use a Medela Freestyle double electric pump which I wrote about here.
UPDATE! (It's been a year since I wrote this post and I would like to add that I pumped exclusively for 11 months, so it is possible to pump long term if you remember to keep pumping).
To give you an idea, a regular pumping day for me is pumping at least 900 ml in a 24 hour period. I pump every 3-4 hours for 15-20 minutes.
I started getting a drop in my milk supply when my baby started sleeping the night. I started sleeping through the night as well (8-9 hours) and after about a week of doing that plus getting a bit lazy and often pumping every 6 hours instead of every four, my milk production dropped dramatically in a week and I started needing to dip into my emergency frozen milk supply. Naturally I started panicking a bit since I wanted to avoid giving my baby formula at all costs since giving my baby breast milk was important for me, It was a goal I had set out for myself and my baby since before she was born.
As soon as I noticed a steady decline, I went into plan of action mode to get my milk back to where it was, so I did the following and after about 5 days my milk production shot back up:
Water water and more water:
I started by forcing myself to make sure I drank more water, min 8 glasses a day. If you're like me and aren't a huge fan of water, you can try making it a bit more interesting by checking my previous post on making water more tasty naturally here.
Made sure to get enough daily calories:
Don't skip meals no matter how busy you are and save your diets for when you stop breastfeeding if you can. Some days I'd be so busy I wouldn't eat as much as other days, I noticed less milk production on those days.
I started taking Fenugreek seed and Blessed Thistle capsules together:
I decided to try this and it definitely helped for me after a couple days of taking as directed. I used the following brands/bottles, but you should use whatever you have in your local stores. I took 3 capsules, 3 times a day (2 fenugreek and 1 blessed thistle at once). Make sure to double check with your doctor before taking it just in case it isn't right for you.
Update: I stopped taking these supplements once my milk stabilized and my milk supply stayed strong. Also, it did temporarily increase my liver enzymes, which doesn't happen to everyone, but it happened to me so be cautious.
Update #2: My liver enzymes went back to normal after I stopped using fenugreek.
Added a pumping session when she was sleeping at night:
I noticed part of the milk drop happened when I started sleeping through the entire night (9 hours). So what I did is make sure I didn't go more than 6-7 hours or so without pumping.
Temporarily pumped more often throughout the day:
I started pumping once every 3 hours and also added 1 power pumping session once a day for 3 days. What is power pumping you ask? I pumped 10 minutes, then break for 10 minutes, then pumped for 10 mins etc... For 1 hour a day. I only did this for 3 days... I now make sure I pump once every 3-4 hours max for a minimum of 15 minutes but I'll pump for 20 mins if I can.
Limit your caffeine intake:
I've never been a huge caffeine person, but I do drink 1 coffee a day to get me going in the morning. I make sure to drink more water after my coffee since It can dehydrate you a bit.
Get your rest:
It's not always easy to get enough sleep since some people have a baby that doesn't sleep much, but try very hard to get some sleep when baby sleeps so you can re charge yourself.
Try some lactation cookies:
I made one batch of DIY lactation cookies for myself to test out and I think it may have helped...the batch lasted me about 5 days or so and since my milk went back up, I didn't make another batch...I'm pretty sure everything else I was doing to increase my milk supply had a huge part of the increase too, these cookies may have just helped a bit as well. There's plenty of recipes online, I used a recipe from this site here. The only changes I made were I changed the sugar for organic sugar and I also added 2000 mg of fenugreek seed powder (4 capsules) to the flour phase.
I'm not sure what helped more since I did all these things at once and my milk did go back up! I was able to re build my emergency freezing supply which brings me comfort lol. Im still taking the fenugreek and blessed thistle and make sure I still eat enough and drink enough calories. I'm pumping every 3-4 hours and every 6-7 between 1 am and 8 am. Depending on my cycle, I'll produce more milk some days and less on others...