Below is Kristen’s story about pumping after her daughter struggled with latching due to an upper lip tie. You can read more exclusive pumping stories here.
My daughter is 4 months old, almost 5. When my daughter was born I thought I would breastfeed her; it seemed to work for most other mammals without issue. In my case it didn’t work – she got very sick, I left the hospital without her and she received treatment for severe jaundice and weight loss. Things went from the joy of having a baby to complete crisis mode with nurses suddenly all around and asking me to demonstrate how I was feeding her and then responding with “what, you were considering this a feeding?!?! She isn’t latched…You mean you haven’t fed her in over a day?!”
All of this concluded with the nursing staff milking me and noting that I only produce 2ml and she needs 10ml per feeding. I can say 72 hours into the new job of being a mom my feeling was I was an utter failure.
In the days after she came home from the hospital, she was too weak to eat, and the doctor made me force feed her with a bottle on a strict schedule showing me how to hold her head so the food would go down. Trying to breastfeed her was so painful that I would cry. I consider myself to have a high threshold for pain but this was beyond me. Then I found out she had an upper lip tie meaning she was never able to open her mouth wide enough so when attempting to eat she could only clamp down fully on the nipple.
After getting it resolved, she still didn’t take to the breast, and I will admit part of me was too scared to go from being able to measure and know how much she was getting to not being sure. By pumping I could have the piece of mind she was eating well and healthy. I wanted to provide her breastmilk and started looking online for ideas and found the term exclusive pumping and read up and watched videos of women sharing their stories. A lot of their stories were similar and it was helpful to understand that issues latching is pretty common.
I am nearly 5 months into exclusive pumping and here are my tips:
1. Take it day by day. I initially planned to exclusively pump 1 month, then I reached that goal. I decided post that to try for 3 months and I made that. Set a short term goal and go from there. Any breastmilk your baby gets is better than nothing.
2. Invest in a bra – simple wishes pumping/nursing bra is a must. I wear the bra 24 hours a day every day and I found it worth the investment. They are pricey but considering the use it is worth it, I got two.
3. Establish supply early on and be prepared. Unlike nursing where the baby eats till full and doesn’t necessarily take all, pumping you typically fully drain the breastmilk. You essentially, if you start early, train your body to fill and drain to complete capacity. I started off taking fenugreek to help, eating a ton of oatmeal, almonds as my snack, and peanut butter. These are all foods intended to increase supply and in my case they did. The issue is I needed to buy bottles larger for when I pumped and A LOT of breastmilk storage bags to start freezing early
4. Get the Fischer Price infant chair. I found this to be key because I could sit my daughter in her chair and feed her while I was sitting either on a pillow on the floor pumping or bending over from a seat. Without the chair it would not have been possible to care for her.
5. Invest in a good pump. I initially had the Medela Freestyle and ended up returning it and renting a hospital grade Medela and found it much better. It didn’t leak when I moved and I found I could do some limited movement. When I stopped the rental I bought the Spectra S2 from amazon, it is equal to hospital grade and was just over $100 which was far cheaper than my initial pump purchase. Also the 8oz bottles are a must.
6. I found going back to work I pump on the following schedule and still produce more than what my daughter uses: 6am, 10am, 2pm, 9pm. It took my body over a month to drop the overnight pumping session but I did it when my daughter was just over 2 months old. My pumping sessions are usually just over 20 minutes but sometimes 30 minutes for the 6am or 9pm if I feel still very full.
7. Have a pumping station and a phone with the Netflix or Amazon Prime video app downloaded. I find that having the ability to watch something for a bit while everyone else sleeps sometimes helps. Mine also has a Camelbak water bottle because I drink a lot of water, and in the late hours I didn’t want to worry about bumping the water bottle and spilling everywhere.
8. Invest in an udder cover/breastfeeding cover. This will allow you to bring your pump out to common areas with family and cover yourself and still take part in family things. Also you can use this cover for your lap when alone to cover your legs so the little drops don’t end up all over your clothes.
9. Family support: my husband and mother in law were a huge help in the beginning, and my husband helps now when I pump for the night session. Having family members who will support you emotionally and help as well makes a big difference. I got mastitis 6 weeks after my daughter was born and having support makes a huge difference.
I will say that for anyone who feels that exclusive pumping is a failure, they shouldn’t. In admitting my challenges to my “breastfeeding” mommy friends I have learned that motherhood is full of half truths. Most friends who “breastfed” and gave the impression this was the only way they fed their children did breastfed but for perhaps 6 weeks or 3 months. Some never produced enough and supplemented with formula the whole time. In short many other women face feeding challenges, it is just most won’t share these because the topic is sensitive.
I will say the biggest advantage of exclusive pumping in my opinion has been sleep training. There is a book 12 Hours by 12 weeks. It is a whole philosophy that is based on training a baby to sleep but requires precise measuring of food; someone who pumps and bottle feeds can do it. I gradually got my daughter on the every 4 hour feeding schedule and by just after 3 months sleep has been sleeping through the night. My nursing coworkers with 6 month old and 10 month old babies are still doing middle of the night feedings.
Motherhood is tough for all, and there is nothing perfect but focus on the benefits. Exclusively pumping is hard work and take it day by day. Some days are harder and some are easier. Recognize that for any period you do this, no matter if it is a few weeks or months it is an accomplishment regardless of what milestone you make it to.
A big thank you to Kristen for sharing her story!