As I’m sitting here typing away, the words “exclusively pumping” brings back some pretty painful memories. My exclusive pumping journey was not easy.
I had just given birth to Amaryllis. When they brought my baby to me, they encouraged me to bring Amaryllis to my breast to initiate breastfeeding. She sucked a little at first, and I winced in pain. “It’s OK, it’s only our first try. It’ll be better next time”, I had told myself. Over the next 2 days when we were in the hospital, I kept trying but didn’t have much success. The nurses told me that she’s either too sleepy, or we needed some practice. They assured me that babies don’t really need to eat that much for the first 72 hours, so it’s OK if Amaryllis wasn’t drinking much.
When I was awake at the hospital, I saw the lactation consultant so many times. I wanted to make sure that I learned everything that I needed to know to make my daughter latch on. I desperately wanted to make breastfeeding work. After all, breast is best they say. I was told that breast milk is superior to formula. It lowers the risk of infections, asthma, diabetes, and the list goes on… I learned so much about breastfeeding when I was pregnant and I really wanted it to work out for me.
For the first week, I persisted and refused to feed Amaryllis any formula. My poor baby lost so much weight. At her first visit at the doctor’s, they even wanted me to show them how I was feeding Amaryllis. I placed her on my breast and she latched, but didn’t take in much. They told me perhaps I needed a contact nipple shield, and gave me one to help with breastfeeding.
After we left the doctor’s office, I told myself that I can do this, but the first few weeks of breastfeeding was an absolute nightmare. After 5 visits to the lactation consultants, multiple breastfeeding mom groups, numerous pediatrician visits, lots of googling and even having Amaryllis’ tongue clipped, I finally concluded that she would not be able to get all the milk that she needs just by sucking, and I decided to pump in addition to nursing.
They call it the triple nursing. Nurse, bottle-feed and pump. I did that for 1 month, and I can tell you that it is exhausting. The feed cycle was once every 3 hours, and it was brutal. I would nurse for half hour, feed her a few more ounces from the bottle and then pump. By the time I was done, it was time to repeat the whole cycle again. I hardly got any sleep or anything else done. I would tell myself that it’s for my baby and I will push through it, but the fact is, I was so tired and knew that I needed to find a long term solution to feed my baby.
That is when I started researching about exclusive pumping tips.
Initially, I would keep up with the triple nursing for a few sessions, and exclusively bottle-fed Amaryllis for a few sessions. That gave me some more time to do the other things that needed to be done in the house. My supply was still relatively low at that point, so I decided to power pump for a few sessions, and that worked wonders for me! I started producing more, and could even start freezing my supply. As I searched online for answers, I was so encouraged to read about the success stories of other exclusive pumpers. They did it for 3, 6, 9 or 12 months! That is when I gave myself permission to exclusively pump instead of breastfeed. It was the most liberating feeling ever! I was able to take back my time, have more sleep and bond with my baby in other ways.
I exclusively pumped for another 9 months after that. My baby girl was able to grow just on breast milk for the first 12 months of her life. Having gone through this experience, I would love to share the 11 things that I’ve learned on my exclusive pumping journey to help you push through yours:
1. Get yourself a good pump.
For the first few weeks, it would be good to start building your milk supply with a strong double pump. This will shorten the time that is needed for each pump. I personally used the Medela Swing Maxi Double Electric breast pump. It has the stimulation mode to ease into it, and then draws the milk in a motion as if your baby were sucking on your breasts.
After you have built your milk supply, I would recommend a hands free pump. After much research, I decided to use the Baby Buddha. I have written an article about this one here too. By going hands free, I was able to multitask, wash the dishes or work when I’m pumping. It was great! It definitely made my life and pumping so much easier.
2. Set a routine and stick to your exclusively pumping schedule
It is very important to stick to a routine to ensure that you milk supply keeps up with the demand. Due to other commitments, I have skipped a few pumps here and there, and I do not recommend doing that! Aside from the potential problems that you might get from mastitis or large clogs, your supply might drop and you’ll have to pump more the next few days again to regain your supply.
3. Acknowledge the fact that you’ll be tired
Yes, the struggle is real. While your friends are out and about enjoying life, you are stuck with your pump and your life revolves around your pumping schedule. No matter where you go, you have to remember to pack your pump supplies. You will feel tired on some days and feel like quitting, but just know that there is an end to this. Pumping requires a lot discipline and strength. No wonder they say mothers are strong!
4. Your body will change
And that includes your nipple size. Just keep this in mind as you might need to alter the size of your shield when you pump more or less.
5. Have extra pieces to your pump parts
Yes, the flange can go bad, and you wouldn’t be able to pump if that’s the only piece you have on hand. Instead of panicking, have a backup. Or if you’re going to pump at work, have extra pump parts in the office just in case you forget to pack them on your way out. You will thank yourself when you truly need it!
6. Relax while you’re pumping
When I was at the hospital, the lactation nurse told me to think of my baby to help with the milk production. Well, I think the point here is that you should try to relax while you’re pumping to encourage the let-down. If watching Netflix makes you happy, then do just that to help yourself relax. The time will also fly by if your mind is preoccupied with something else besides looking at how much milk you’re producing.
7. Look at photos of your baby to encourage letdown
At the beginning of each session, look at pictures or videos of your baby to encourage letdown. If you don’t have any on hand, you could also call your partner to talk about your baby. The milk will be flowing in no time!
8. Drink lots of water
This is understood since the milk is coming from your body. If you want to produce more milk, then drink more water! Dehydration will not help with your supply.
9. Accept that there will be lots of washing and cleaning
Most pump parts are not dish-washer friendly. Sure, there are days when I was just lazy and would reuse pump parts by putting them in the fridge, but milk residue can have an impact on how effective the pump and suction are going to be, so clean your parts well and often! Adopt the best cleaning practice to avoid bacteria build-up. That being said, your sink will always be full. Enlist the help of your partner or spouse so it doesn’t have to fall on you all the time.
10. Be comfortable pumping in public
Sometimes you just need to be somewhere but you still need to pump. People will be understanding, but you need to also get comfortable pumping in front of your family, friends and co-workers. I’ve done it a few times and I was never apologetic or embarrassed about it.
11. Finally, be proud of yourself
No matter how long you can do it, just know that you are amazing. Eventually, your milk supply will drop, and maybe that’s the time for you to stop. It is completely okay. Being a mom is not easy, so be proud of what you have accomplished.
Ultimately, no matter how you choose to feed your baby – formula, breastfeed or pumping, just remember that you can be flexible with your choices. It doesn’t need to be one or nothing. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that your baby is well-fed, and that you preserve some of your mental health while doing so. Do what’s best for you and your family. For me personally, it took a bit to reframe my mindset, but choosing to exclusive pump was the best decision that I’ve made for me and my baby.
If you are an exclusive pumper, I would love to hear your story and your pumping journey. Leave a comment below!