Many moms don’t start out thinking they will be exclusively pumping breast milk, but sometimes our plans as mom change. Gemma from SeasideSundays.com shares her story with us and her best tips for exclusive pumping moms.
Gemma’s Exclusive Pumping Story
I nursed my first daughter for 18 months. It was an easy, straightforward and enjoyable experience just as the pregnancy books has promised. When I got pregnant again, breastfeeding was not even something I worried about, I splashed out on a new nursing cover in preparation for the new baby and bought some new nursing tops. It had worked out fine with my first baby, why would it be any different this time?
Sienna was born after a quick labor. She latched perfectly at first and I felt like an old-timer.
A few days later, once settled at home, things took a turn for the worse. Every time I brought her near my breast, she turned red and screamed. She would latch for a second then pull off. She was up every hour all night because she was barely eating. One night I caved and gave her a small sample bottle of formula. She slept 8 hours. The poor girl was starving.
Between 3 different lactation consultants, we were diagnosed with low supply, oversupply, bad latch, great latch, tongue tie and lip tie. We got the tongue tie fixed. I tried nursing in the bath, different nursing positions, nursing in the dark, I overdosed on fenugreek. I cried. She cried. By the end, even the lactation consultants were suggesting I switch to formula.
I decided to throw in the nipple shield and try something different. I still had milk so I decided to pump for as long as I had something to give her. If I stopped producing, I would move to formula but at least I would have done everything I could to give her breastmilk. I assumed this would last for a few weeks at most. The LC said that no one ever exclusive pumps long term because supply drops and formula just becomes too enticing and easy. They could offer no real advice as their experience with pumping was as a supplement for low supply or for women who would be away from their baby for work or travel. Every breastfeeding website I found offered advice only for moms who were nursing and breastfeeding either at work or to create a freezer stash.
Gradually, my supply started to dwindle. Where once I had got 4-6oz per pump, I was lucky to get 2.5oz which wasn’t enough for one feed. I started to come to terms with the fact that breastfeeding just might not work for me this time around.
Unwilling to give up, I did as much research as I could and dedicated myself to my pumping schedule and to improving my milk supply. Thanks to tips and tricks that I learned through support groups and friends, I managed to increase my pumping output to up to 10oz per session and I was able to feed Sienna with breastmilk exclusively for 6 months plus an additional two months of freezer milk. I stopped pumping when it got too hard to juggle the baby and an active two-year-old all day.
I’m here to give you the 100% truth regarding exclusive pumping. You will never hear me say that this is an easy option, but I do maintain that it is more than worth the effort if you are unable to breastfeed your baby for any reason.
Here’s the reality. Exclusive pumping may seem to take over your life at times. It demands a lot from your schedule, and that impacts every member of your family. I felt like I was permanently attached to the pump at times, and it took me some time to learn how to exclusive pump successfully.
I want you to get to the point where it starts to flow smoothly much faster than I did, so I compiled this list of tips for exclusive-pumping moms. This list includes everything that I wish I had known when I first started pumping exclusively, so hopefully it will help you get started with less struggle.
Gemma’s 20 Top Tips for Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk:
- Don’t feel guilty about pumping and not breastfeeding. You are doing your best and that is enough! (Remember that!)
- Don’t think of breastfeeding and exclusive pumping as interchangeable. There is a good chance that you will never get your baby back into breastfeeding once you introduce the bottle full-time. I tried breastfeeding after 10 weeks of exclusive pumping, and it did not work. If you think that you may want to breastfeed in the future, do everything possible to keep nursing in your schedule now.
- Find a support network. Mine was this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/EP.BWN/. You do need to fill out the application to be considered for admission, and the ladies are strict about who is admitted. It’s still worth the effort because the group is a treasure trove of information and support. The gatekeepers ensure that the circle is full of genuine people willing to help others.
- Download a pump app like this one: http://get.pumplogapp.com/. This is the easiest way to determine when you produce the most milk, and it will help you build up a freezer stash.
- You will get strange comments and “advice” from people who have no idea about pumping. Either from people who think you are using formula and are judging you or from people who think exclusive pumping is ridiculous and a waste of time. The best approach is to tune out the “advice” and criticism. You know that you are doing what is best for you and your baby.
- Your whole day will revolve around exclusively pumping breast milk. It sucks, but it’s a fact that only exclusive pumpers understand. During the first few months, you can expect to include up to 10 pumping sessions into your daily schedule. If your supply seems to decrease at times, you may need to add another session or two into that schedule.
- If your supply starts to drop, add in a pump or two for a few days.
- The best time to pump is between 2-5 a.m. Your baby will eventually start sleeping through the night, but you will still want to get up at this time to take advantage of that free-flowing milk. This is just one more reason that exclusive pumping isn’t always fun.
- Wherever you go, your pump must go with you. Invest in a battery-operated pump and perhaps one that will work with a car charger. I took advantage of my car charger frequently. It was one way to pump in peace without my toddler hitting the power switch repeatedly.
- If you want to leave the house and enjoy a healthy quality of life, you will need nursing covers and an adventurous spirit. I have pumped while driving through at McDonald’s. I also made frequent use of shower stalls at my gym. I even nursed while at the beach.
- Power pump once a day. That’s pumping 20 mins on, 10 mins off for an hour and a half total.
- It’s completely normal to get emotional when you see another mother breastfeeding her baby. Even listening to other moms talk about that experience can break your heart. It took me more than three months to emotionally come to peace with the reality that nursing just wasn’t an option for me. Feel those emotions, but also know that you’re an amazing mother willing to rearrange her life for months on end just to make sure that her baby is nourished by breast milk.
- Rub coconut oil on your nipples to protect against dry, cracked skin. This makes nursing more comfortable, and that can help keep your supply flowing.
- You will naturally produce the most milk during the first few months of pumping. Take advantage of this period by boosting your supply with herbs like Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle. Give yourself a lactation cookie or two as well. Boost your supply of milk early because it becomes harder to manipulate your production later on.
- Your supply should be well established after about three months of exclusive pumping. At this point, you should be able to pump just four or five times a day without diminishing your milk supply.
- Those cones that fit over your breasts to express milk are called flanges. They come in various sizes, and you will notice maximum milk output when you find the correct size for your breasts. I know women who doubled their supply after changing out their flanges, so make sure that your pump fits your body. Nipple shields can help as well.
- Explore your pump settings to see what works best for your body, and give yourself time to pump without stress. I used to pump for about 40 minutes every morning. I know women who experience a second letdown after pumping for about 25 minutes. You will have your own patterns and will learn how much time you need to pump.
- If you don’t want to pay for hands-free pumping bras, make one of your own. Simply repurpose a sports bra that you no longer need by cutting holes in the cups. This will allow you to fold laundry or get other tasks done while pumping. (Nothing like cooking dinner while you pump!)
- Try not to give too much power to the pump. It sounds crazy but my whole mood would depend on my pumping output sometimes. I found that once I had a nice freezer stash, the worry went away. And remember, fed is best. Even if your baby is not getting 100% breast milk, every little bit helps.
- Experiment. Find what works for you. After all, that’s what moms do best.
Don’t be overwhelmed! You are doing your best mama! 🙂