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Kelly's exclusive pumping story

Below is Kelly’s story about exclusively pumping for her third baby, who had a tongue tie.

Why did you decide to exclusively pump?

For us, it wasn’t really a choice. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my third baby. I had the time to do it being a stay at home mom this time around. And because I just enjoyed breastfeeding.

However, this little guy had a tongue tie and a really shallow latch. Despite a number of lactation consultant visits and having his tongue clipped, we never got the latch right. My nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I was in tears every time I had to feed him because it was so painful. So, after a roller coaster of about a month or so of this, I quit nursing and started pumping.

He was happy. I was in far less pain, and eventually no pain at all. He was still getting the breast milk and it just ended up being the best decision given the circumstances.

How long did you end up exclusively pumping (or, if you haven’t weaned yet, how long do you plan to)?

I pumped for about 8 months. Again, it didn’t really end up being a choice to stop. Around 5 months, my milk supply took a dive. I tried everything out there to get the supply back up. I think prior to that I had oversupply, because I was able to put away about 120 bags of milk for my freezer stash that I’d planned to use when I finally weaned from pumping. My goal for that had been a year and then to use up what was in the freezer and call it a day.

I tried every trick in the book to make more milk, but at around 5 months I was pumping just enough for him to eat, so we were breaking even. Then around 7 months, my supply took another dive and eventually I was only pumping enough for 1-2 bottles a day. After a few more weeks of trying to bring the supply up again, I decided I was driving myself insane and quit pumping. We worked through my freezer stash and I started transitioning to a homemade formula that he loves (and it’s totally delicious).

How did you make EPing work for you? Was there anything in particular that made it easier?

As far as products go, I lubed up with coconut oil so that made pumping chafe so much. I tried those angled flanges that everyone loves [Pumpin’ Pals] but couldn’t get suction on them. So, nothing in particular as far as special products really.

I had a Medela pump that I got through my insurance. At night, I eventually found a good system of pumping while feeding. I’d end up doing one side at a time as opposed to both sides like I did during the day, but it worked out fine. I had the baby on a pillow next to me on the couch, and pumped one side while giving him his bottle. Then I switched sides while I burped him and patted him back to sleep. I almost never made a special trip down in the middle of the night just to pump. I did it when the baby woke up.

I made my own pumping bra by cutting holes in a sports bra. That worked out pretty well, though I found that if it wasn’t fresh from the wash, it tended to let the flanges leak a little sometimes, or break suction if I bumped them.

What was your biggest challenge with exclusive pumping?

Well, I have two older kids, aged 8 and 13. My 8 year old was constantly offended by his mom’s boobs hanging out all over the place and he wanted nothing to do with getting anywhere near breast milk. He wouldn’t even touch a bottle.

I’d say finding the time to stick to a schedule was the biggest challenge. I hated pumping away from home, so mostly, the entire time I was doing it I was tethered to the house on a 3-4 hour schedule. It worked out all right, since it was for the most part over the winter, and I didn’t really go anywhere for very long anyway. I had a hand pump stuck in my diaper bag just in case, and I had to pull that out a few times.

We eventually settled into an 8am, 12 noon, 4pm, 8pm, one more time before I went up to bed, and once overnight when the baby was up, schedule that worked out for the most part (after those crazy newborn days settled down a bit that is). Before then I really just pumped whenever the baby wanted to eat to mimic his schedule and build up a good supply.

What advice would you give to a new exclusive pumper?

I’d say, it’s going to feel like a lot of work, because let’s face it, it is. You may want to give up at some point, or not – it could work out spectacularly in your case. In the end, it’s a personal decision how long you pump, and the important part is that your baby is fed, not just how they’re fed.

I know I felt super guilty when I stopped pumping for a few days afterward. Super SUPER guilty. But once I saw that he was just as happy as with the milk I was making him, that’s really all that mattered.

It’s okay to cry over spilled milk when it’s a full bottle of freshly pumped breast milk. (Not that that ever happened here!) Find a comfy spot to pump and a good series on Netflix! Also, your husband will laugh at you that one time you decide not to wear a bra, and the baby cries, and your shirt is suddenly soaked. It’s okay to throw something at him when he refers to your sudden letdown as a primitive animal reflex.

Excellent advice re: “primitive animal reflex”! Thanks Kelly for sharing your story!

China's exclusive pumping story

Below is China’s story of pumping for her daughter Zelda after she was born with a tongue tie and a lip tie.

My firstborn is five years old, and I was successfully able to exclusively breastfeed him for eight months. I would have breastfed him for longer, but he developed a pesky case of thrush that just would not go away despite my best efforts. My nipples were on fire!

With baby #2, things were dramatically different. She is currently 5 months old, and I am exclusively pumping.

Discovering the Tongue Tie and Lip Tie

When Zelda was born, she had something that I had never heard of called a tongue tie and a lip tie. The medical term for this is ankyloglossia. It results when the frenulum (the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too short and tight, causing the movement of the tongue to be restricted. People can also be lip-tied, which involves the frenulum that runs in the inside of the center of the upper lip.

Prior to giving birth, I had plans to exclusively breastfeed her for her first year. Even upon receiving the news that she had a tongue tie, I was still motivated to breastfeed. I opted to having her frenulum snipped in the hospital, in hopes that it would take care of the tongue tie (we didn’t know she had a small lip tie as well at this point). I then exclusively nursed her in the hospital and at home.

About a week after she was born, I was experiencing extreme pain in my nipples and engorgement. Zelda was fussy all the time, and it seemed like she always wanted to eat. I was noticing that even though she was nursing, my breasts never felt empty, and she didn’t seem to be getting any bigger. Regardless, I fed her on demand even to the point where my nipples started to crack and bleed. I thought that if I could make it through the pain of breastfeeding a baby with thrush, then I could get through this.

That second week, breastfeeding became a nightmare before me. Every time she was about to latch, I would hold my breath knowing the pain that was to come. Finally I decided to see a lactation consultant to see why this was happening. Turns out the clip that the nurse had done in the hospital was not deep enough for her tongue tie, and she also discovered Zelda’s lip tie. She told me that I could either continue to try to breastfeed her and hope that we would figure out a way around the tongue tie, or I could opt for a frenectomy to take care of it for good.

Getting the Frenectomy

I ended up getting the frenectomy. I used a nipple shield during the waiting period. Looking back now, I feel like it was not the best idea because I honestly feel like because I was using the shield, it hurt my milk supply. If only the nurse had told me to pump in the first place after her feeds, I feel like I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I did with my supply.

Immediately after Zelda had her frenectomy, I tried to nurse her and sadly it was a no go. She hated the boob. I immediately scheduled a lactation appointment that same day because I was worried that she would stop nursing. At the appointment we tried many different ways to get the baby to breastfeed. Then, the lactation consultant suggested that I try pumping after nursing.

Feeling Defeated

That night I went home feeling defeated. I was worried that I would not be able to give my baby breastmilk, and I honestly felt like the biggest failure. She wouldn’t latch at all at this point, not even with the nipple shield, so I had to turn to the bottle.

After the first week of pumping and supplementing with formula, I started to see a change in my daughter. Before, she was always crabby, she fussed a lot, and I just thought that maybe she was a cranky baby. But after that week, all of a sudden I just saw a huge change in her personality. She was smiling, she was sleeping soundly and she just seemed happier overall.

For me that was the turning point, I felt in my heart that even if I could not breastfeed her that I would at least be able to give her my breastmilk. I started doing a ton of research on exclusive pumping and honestly I was really disappointed because there really isn’t as much information about it as you’d think. There is information about pumping, but it is mostly geared towards women who are nursing and then pumping.

I was really confused about how it all worked in the beginning. Trying to pump and take care of a small baby with minimal sleep was really hard but I had a goal in my mind: I was going to pump until I didn’t have to give her any formula.

I started out pumping every 2 hours for 20 minutes. That is when I noticed that I did not have the greatest milk supply in the world, because no matter how much I tried, I could not keep up with Zelda’s feeds. Aain, I felt like the biggest failure.

Getting My Milk Supply Up

I went back to the lactation consultant to try to figure out how I could get my milk supply back up. My goal was to over-produce so that I could freeze some and save it. She suggested I try fenugreek, blessed thistle, Mother’s Milk Tea, moringa, oatmeal and spirulina. Let me you, I tried everything under the sun to increase my milk supply. I took those supplements for the next month, and the only thing that happened for me was some weight gain.

I pumped every 2-3 hours every day for 20 minutes, and there were times when I felt like even though the 20 minutes had passed, my breasts were still full.  I did some research and found that most women who exclusively pump do it for longer than 20 minutes. So, I started to pump for 30 minutes instead of 20, and immediately my supply went from 25 ozs per day to about 30 ozs per day. Not the greatest supply in the world, but I was finally able to give her only breastmilk.

Exclusively pumping has been a battle every day

I will be honest and tell you that for me, personally, exclusively pumping has been a battle every day. I can’t tell you how many times I was up in the middle of the night crying because I had a plugged duct, or because my nipples were so sore from pumping so often that it hurt to even touch them. Every day I wanted to quit,
but every day, I was pumping for my little one every few hours. If you need to sleep or you feel like you need to take a break, do it! It is not the end of the world if you miss a pumping session, and you might need to supplement if you are like me and don’t have any milk to spare. It is not the end of the world if your baby has a bottle of formula. Remember, the best baby is a fed baby!

After a couple of weeks of refusing the breast, Zelda ended up latching one day and we now breastfeed every so often. She is not very good at nursing (she’s lazy on the nipple) so we mostly do it for comfort rather than feeding. I am glad that I kept trying to get her to latch because the bond that we have is amazing. So even if your baby hates your nipples right now, keep offering it. Even if they are only on the breast for comfort, that little bonding time is so worth it.

Tips for Exclusively Pumping Moms

  • Take it one day at a time. I would honestly say that exclusively pumping is a lot harder than simply breast or bottle feeding. Even if you feel like you’re at your wit’s end and you’re ready to stop, know that it is perfectly okay!
  • Know that there are women out there who know what you’re going though and are there to support you. The exclusive pumping moms group that I found on Facebook saved me.
  • Even if your baby only gets one bottle of breast milk a day it’s still something! For women like me who are under-suppliers, don’t feel bad about yourself.
    You are still giving your baby the liquid gold and that accounts for something.
  • Use coconut oil on your nipples. I was using lanolin to help provide some lubricant while pumping, and it’s too thick.
  • I bought the Medela hands-free pumping bra, and I never use it. I just cut holes into my sports bras.
  • Keep offering your baby your breast! You never know when they might feel like taking up nursing. A lot of times women quit nursing due to it being painful, and trust me, I totally understand that pain. But keep trying!
  • Have your significant other help you with cleaning your pump parts. Also, instead of cleaning your pump parts after every feeding, stick them in the fridge!
  • Get a battery pack/car power adapter and a hand pump if you can. This will help you if you need to pump on the go – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pumped in the car.
  • Get yourself a good pumping chair. Often, women who pump tend to slouch forward, and after doing this for 5 months my back is definitely feeling the pain.
  • If you have a plugged duct, try pumping on all fours. I know this sounds weird, but trust me, it helps.

Exclusively pumping may not be right for everyone, but it was the right decision for me. Even through the blood, sweat and tears still I keep pumping! If I can do it, you can too!

Thanks to China for sharing her story!