In December and January, I did a survey of exclusive pumpers – I put a link to a survey on the sidebar and was very pleasantly surprised at how many people filled it out. (If you took the survey, thank you!)
One question that I asked was “[w]hat advice would you give to someone starting to exclusively pump?”
All of the advice was awesome, though today I wanted to highlight some great thoughts that some of the women had that I haven’t covered elsewhere on this site.
The Importance of Habit
Be patient. It will become habit quickly but exclusive pumping is time-consuming at first and has a big learning curve. Pay attention to how much you are producing and how much baby is eating so that you always know where you stand. I keep a notebook next to the sink where I clean the pump parts after each pumping and just write down what I produced, what baby had eaten, and at what time. I total it each day or so, and this has proven really helpful. I also track other things necessary to feeding on this notebook (lots of spit-up, changes in pump supplies, how baby is feeling, if baby is demanding more milk, etc.).
I think that this person hit on something important – a lot of what makes exclusive pumping easier is habit. It is so much easier when you have figured out the learning curve that she mentions – a pumping and feeding schedule that works for you, a way of cleaning pump parts and bottles that works for you, and a way of managing your milk supply that works for you. Once you have gotten all this stuff down, you’re set, so just work on getting there and know it will be easier.
Keeping track of your milk output and your baby’s needs is also great advice, whether you do this the low-tech way (paper and notebook) or using an app on your phone. Being able to see trends can help you realize whether your supply is dropping, if you’re just having a normal fluctuation, or if your baby is having a growth spurt.
Learn Hand Expression
Learn to hand express and do it after every pumping session. You’d be surprised how much additional milk you can get this way. It’s also extremely helpful if you are out and about and don’t have a lot of room for the pump. With practice, hand expression became more efficient for me than pumping if it has only been a few hours since my last pump (e.g. 2-3 ounces in 5 minutes rather than 20 minutes or more pumping).
I have to confess that I have never mastered hand expression. Once, when I was stuck in a hotel room with an almost dead pump battery and no way to recharge it, I watched a few YouTube videos in a desperate attempt to learn. While I wasn’t very successful, I think that having the ability to remove milk from your breasts without a pump is a wonderful skill to have as an exclusive pumper, because you will never be stuck without a working pump. When my baby is born, I am going to work a lot harder to learn how to hand express, both as a backup and to build supply.
Grieve Nursing (if applicable)
It gets easier once you let go of any residual attachment to the idea of nursing. I was stuck on this notion that I absolutely had to nurse because I had been looking forward to it for so long. Once I realized that nursing was not the path our story was taking (my son refused to latch and attempting to nurse was too emotionally stressful for both of us), and that it was not the only way to feed my baby my breast milk, I felt at peace with exclusively pumping. Now we have a rhythm and routine, and my husband and others can help feed the baby.
If you wanted to nurse your baby and couldn’t, it can be really difficult. When nursing didn’t work out for me, it felt like my body was failing me, like I was failing my baby, and like I wasn’t going to be able to have the bond I wanted with my baby. I needed to let go of what I had expected (that nursing would be a success) to move on and feel proud of myself for exclusively pumping. Give yourself time to grieve what you wanted, and then do your best to embrace your new reality.
Consider Using Pumpin Pals
Use Pumpin Pals as they are more gentle on the nipples. I had been in so much pain with the regular shields and these fixed the problem.
I haven’t mentioned Pumpin Pals on the site before because I personally haven’t used them yet, but I have heard over and over again from other exclusive pumpers (both in this survey and in emails) how great these can be. Aside from being more comfortable on the nipples, they allow you to lean back while pumping (versus sitting up straight or hunching over). I am definitely going to buy some for pumping with this baby – I will report back with a review when I do!
Just Do Your Best
Just do the best you can do. Don’t get caught up on comparing amounts. Don’t get massive anxiety about missing pumps. Don’t freak out about not having a freezer stash. Just do the best you can.
When I started exclusive pumping, I was an extremely nervous first time mom, and I wanted to do everything perfectly for this new baby that I loved more than anything. “My best” didn’t feel good enough – I thought I needed to be perfect, because that’s what my baby deserved.
That baby is now 4, and I have realized that I am, regrettably, not perfect at anything I do, especially parenting-wise. My kids rarely eat vegetables, they watch too much TV when I’m exhausted from being pregnant, and my youngest is still obsessed with her pacifier. While this isn’t necessarily what I’d do in an ideal world, on some days it is my best, and I’m confident that in the end they will be just fine.
As long as you feed your baby, he or she will be just fine too. You may not be able to feed them as much breast milk as you’d like, but they will be okay and grow and flourish. Just do your best.
If you have any other advice to add, please feel free to do so in the comments!