Today we have another exclusive pumping story! Below is Kristine’s story about exclusively pumping after her daughter had both a tongue tie and a lip tie.
Why did you decide to exclusively pump?
I decided to exclusively pump because my daughter had major issues with latching on – it was terribly painful for me, hard to get her to latch on, etc. Before she was born I “just knew” I would exclusively breastfeed, had intended to breastfeed her for at least a year, and understood the importance of breast milk.
I was devastated when breastfeeding just wasn’t working out, especially since my daughter was born a tad early and very thin due to complications. I had never heard of exclusive pumping, but got on the pump at the hospital, and then learned online about exclusive pumping. I was bound and determined to give her as much breast milk as I could make, and decided this was the only reasonable solution.
As an aside, we were able to take our daughter to a pediatric dentist who evaluates and treats babies for tongue and lip ties on the recommendation of a lactation consultant. It turns out she had both (which apparently can and often do cause a very painful latch), and we were able to correct them when she was about 6 weeks old. By then I was already in a good rhythm with exclusive pumping, and was somewhat mentally scarred from the nursing experience, so I actually decided to just continue with exclusive pumping instead of trying to nurse again.
How long did you end up exclusively pumping?
I pumped long enough to have enough milk to get my daughter to six months of breast milk. That ended up being right around 5.5 months of pumping, including the time it took to wean from the pump.
One of my big reasons for breast milk was to expose her to various tastes and allergens, so I felt good about getting her to the point where once she switched to formula, she would also be taking in some solids.
How did you make exclusive pumping work for you? Was there anything in particular that made it easier for you (products, tips, etc.)?
There were several factors that were key to making exclusive pumping a success.
First, both I and my husband were on board with it and committed to making it work. For example, unlike nursing, where I could have taken my daughter with me if I was away from home and fed her wherever I was, lugging my hospital-grade pump to a restaurant or a friend’s house or most any other place realistically wasn’t going to work. So we had to be okay with curtailing normal life as well as working around my pumping schedule (e.g. being flexible about going out to eat after I was done pumping). I also had a lot of issues with blocked ducts, etc., so it would have been extremely easy to give up but for our determination.
Second, renting a hospital grade pump. This pump was instrumental in getting my supply up because my daughter never really breastfed, therefore it took a long time to get my milk to come in via the pump and to get it up to the point where I was able to provide her with all of her intake. The hospital grade pump was amazing.
Third, buying extra pump equipment. I think I have at least six sets of all the supplies. This was key because I wasn’t constantly washing my supplies after every pump. Usually we only had to wash them once every 24 hours, and that made it more bearable.
Fourth, getting on a schedule and sticking to it. I was obsessed with my pumping schedule, partially because I needed to get my supply up, and partially because I had issues with blocked ducts if I didn’t pump enough or waited too long to pump. But this led to my being able to pump 36 ounces every 24 hours, which helped with the fear of not having enough milk for my daughter as well as keeping up with her intake. Because of my small “storage capacity,” I had to still wake up in the middle of the night up until I started to wean from the pump, but I stuck with it.
Fifth, your website and the Kellymom website, have a ton of valuable and useful information. [Thank you!] They really answered all my questions and provided great tips about breast milk intake, exclusive pumping information, etc. You both got me through some terribly rough patches!
What was your biggest challenge with exclusive pumping?
There were a couple of big challenges with exclusive pumping. Granted, I’ve only done exclusive pumping, so my perspective is likely skewed.
First, I had a lot of issues with plugged ducts, even though I stuck to a very rigid schedule of pumping and used a hospital grade pump. I’ve gathered that those are more common with pumping versus breastfeeding. They were awful, and each episode took a ton of consistent pumping and active massaging throughout the day to get rid of. (Soy Lecithin also really helped me).
Second, getting up to pump at night was exhausting. I was able to get my supply up through round the clock pumping, but then I still couldn’t sleep through the night because of my large supply, plugged ducts, etc. I don’t do well without unbroken sleep, and getting up at least once a night to pump (long after our daughter began to sleep through the night) was very destructive. Granted, this might also be a problem for me with breastfeeding too though.
Another big challenge was my perceived “loss” from not being able to breastfeed, have that connection, etc. But in a lot of ways I realized there are a lot of advantages to exclusive pumping. First, I realized that plenty of breastfeeding women are on their phone, etc. while breastfeeding, and so I felt I was “connecting” just as much or even more when I held my daughter and fed her a bottle and paid attention to her. Also, now my husband and others could feed her and feel that connection too. And, because we could tell exactly how much she was eating at every feeding, we both felt more at ease and worried less about her intake.
Another challenge was the worry of keeping up with my daughter. For the longest time I worried I couldn’t make enough to keep up with her demands. Eventually I was able to boost my supply AND simultaneously stockpile a large amount of extra breast milk, but until then I was really worried. However, I’ve come to personally realize that formula isn’t evil, and that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if your baby needs more than you can produce. The stress of worrying about all of that was really ridiculous, and in hindsight I shouldn’t have beaten myself up!
What advice would you give to a new exclusive pumper?
My one piece of advice is that with the right pump and your commitment, you can get your supply up, keep it up, and make exclusive pumping a success. I’m not a doctor, but I feel that if you are committed to providing breast milk and keep at it, you will achieve a lot with exclusive pumping and likely be able to provide your baby with breast milk.
A big thank you to Kristine for sharing her story!