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 not going to sugarcoat exclusive pumping and say that it is easy but if you really want to breastfeed your baby and nursing is not an option, it’s worth doing. Exclusive pumping is all-consuming and controls your daily schedule but I don’t regret a minute I spent attached to the pump. My only regret is not knowing how to successfully exclusive pump before I started on that path. I’ve compiled a list of tips especially for exclusive pumping moms to get you started on the path to long-term success:
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!)
- Make sure you have exhausted all avenues of nursing if that’s what you really want to do. Once your baby is used to the bottle exclusively, it is much harder to get them back on the breast. (in my case it was impossible, I tried at 10 weeks in).
- Find a support network. Mine was this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/EP.BWN/They are strict and you need to apply to get in but if you are serious about exclusive pumping, you need these ladies.
- Get a pumping app. The preferred is Pump Log. http://get.pumplogapp.com/This will allow you to work out when you produce the most milk and also 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.
- Your whole day will revolve around exclusively pumping breast milk. It sucks but its a fact that only exclusive pumpers understand. In order to build up your supply, aim to pump 8 -10 times a day for the first 3 months.
- If your supply starts to drop, add in a pump or two for a few days.
- Your body produces the most milk between 2am-5am. Always try and get a pump in there for optimal supply, even when your baby starts sleeping through the night. (I told you it wasn’t easy).
- You will have to lug your pump everywhere, along with cooler packs and empty bottles. A battery operated pump is awesome, failing that, get one with a car charger. Pumping in the car was my favorite thing to do as it was the only time my toddler couldn’t bug me and try and press the pump on/off switch.
- Pumping in public requires some creativity. Places I pumped: Going through the McDonald’s drive-thru, in the shower stall at the gym and on the beach. A nursing cover is a must!
- Power pump once a day. That’s pumping 20 mins on, 10 mins off for an hour and a half total.
- You will feel emotional when you see someone nursing their baby or talking about it. It took me a good 4 months to really come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to work for us. It’s normal and you are doing the next best thing you can for your baby.
- Coconut oil on your nipples will make pumping much easier which in turn will help your supply.
- The first 3 months of pumping is when you can really create an oversupply (which is not necessarily a bad thing for an EPer). Make the most of lactation cookies, Fenugreek, and Blessed Thistle. After your hormones settle down about 3 months postpartum, it’s much harder to manipulate your natural supply.
- Once you pass the 3-month mark, you can experiment with cutting pumps. Many women find that they can drop to 4-5 pumps a day with no decrease in output once supply is established when exclusively pumping breast milk.
- Make sure your pump fits. Women in my support group sometimes saw their supply double when thy changed the size of their flanges (the trumpet-shaped cones that fit on your breast) or by using nipple shields.
- Pumping exclusively takes a lot longer than regular pumping. My morning pump took at least 40 minutes a day, sometimes a little longer. Some women find they get a second let-down around the 25-minute mark. Play around with your pump settings to see what works for you.
- Cut holes in an old sports bra to make a hands-free pumping bra. 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.