Below is Lorie’s exclusive pumping story. You can read more exclusive pumping stories here. A big thank you to Lorie for sharing her story!
My husband and I are planners, so naturally when we found out I was pregnant in February 2015, we started planning right away. We read books, we attended all the birthing and breastfeeding classes that our hospital offered, and we hired a doula. I wanted a drug-free, natural delivery. However, our due date came and went in October and since I was two weeks overdue, the doctor determined I needed to be induced. While getting ready to go to the hospital, my water broke, so we had hope that we could still do things our way. However, the doctor decided I still needed pitocin. Labor went from 0-60, fast! I quickly progressed to a seven, but then dilation halted. My doula and I danced for three hours straight in hopes of avoiding a c-section but to no avail. After 27 hours, I had to have urgent surgery.
Once I was in recovery, my daughter and I attempted breastfeeding. They told me she was born with short frenulum, but we should still be able to breastfeed. She did latch while we were at the hospital, although it hurt me terribly! All the lactation consultants at the hospital and my doula said the pain was just a natural part of breastfeeding, so I kept pushing ahead. Those first six days of her life were the hardest on me and her physically and mentally. She was never content or full. My nipples were raw and shredded. The water hitting me in the shower made me cry. Every time my daughter would cry for a feeding, I would cringe. I hated the idea that I had to put her to my breast. It made me resent the whole process, but I thought I was just doing something wrong, so I kept trying.
Starting to Exclusively Pump
On day six, I was feeding my daughter and she started coughing and acting like she was choking. When she coughed up blood, I knew things had to change! I remember calling my mom in tears, and she asked “what about pumping?” I told her I couldn’t yet as all the research says to wait until your milk has come in to start pumping. But my mom and my husband both gently pushed me to try it with the idea of “what do we have to lose.” So, my husband and I got everything washed and sterilized and watched the enclosed informational DVD. We set it up and I pumped two whole ounces! It wasn’t much, but there wasn’t pain like when I breastfed her. We were able to get her to eat from the bottle right away, so we felt like we were on to something.
The next day, she and I had our one week follow-up appointment. She had lost a pound and a half in that week. That was proof to me that breastfeeding was not working. I told my OB that I had started pumping and she along with my doula and friends all told me that I could try breastfeeding again. But deep down inside, I knew that ship had sailed.
Within the first 24 hours, I pumped seven times and averaged about three ounces a session. Over the next couple of months, my supply increased to about 40 ounces a day. My nipples healed and the best part was my daughter started acting content after her feedings. She also put back on the weight she had lost and then some. Since that first full week of pumping, she has been in the 95%!
I had planned on going back to work in January, but after being home with her, my plans changed once again. I became a stay at home mom, with the full time job of pumping! I am so lucky to have a very supportive husband who works from home. He was a tremendous help with watching our daughter while I was pumping. He was also able to help with nighttime feedings, BONUS! They developed a very close bond, as well.
Clogs and Mastitis
I was averaging over 40 ounces per day which was more than what she was eating in those early months, so we bought freezer bags and started freezing the extras. One thing I quickly learned was to make sure the bags were lying flat so the milk froze flat, which made it much easier for storing all the bags we ended up with. From December through late February, I was able to pump around 11 pm and then not again until 6 am (I would say it led to more sleep for me, but my daughter had other plans; she was a terrible sleeper!). In late February, I woke up in the middle of the night with a lot of pain and heat radiating from my left breast. I could feel a hard spot as well.
As soon as I could, I spoke to my doctor who advised it was probably just a clogged duct. She told me to massage it and pump more often, which I did. However, later that night, I developed a fever. It was mastitis! I got on antibiotic and used moist heat to help with the pain. I added a couple additional pumping sessions for the next couple of weeks, including one in the middle of the night. I kept the middle of the night session for several months afterwards due to the fear of getting another clogged duct or mastitis. The increase in sessions led to an increase in supply. I was producing over 60 ounces a day with some days over 70! We had to buy two more freezers for all the milk I had to freeze.
Making It Work
Most information on pumping advises to not pump more than 30 minutes per session, but I found that for me, that was not enough time. I would still be very full at the end of 30 minutes, and leak milk immediately. So, I had to increase my sessions to 45 minutes. As I dropped sessions, I increased the sessions to 60 minutes. By June, I was down to four sessions per day, and 60 minutes per session. So for four hours of my day, I was attached to my pump. I never invested in a hands free bra because of the amount I was pumping, I knew I needed to be stationary. I had to switch bottles mid session, so it was all hands on deck, so to speak. My daughter would play in her “gated community,” as we called it, while I pumped on our couch. I always made sure to have toys, a bottle, and music readily available while I pumped to keep her occupied. For the sessions when she was asleep, I made sure I had my tablet, the TV remote, or a book nearby to help pass the time. I also always made sure to have plenty of water by my side. During the morning session, I would also eat a high protein granola bar to help with the blood sugar drops I would get while pumping.
I had my pumping station set up on the kitchen island. I had to purchase additional pumping bottles to make sure I had enough for the rotation of pumping, storing, and washing. I kept a pumping journal that included the time I pumped, the amount I pumped, and how long I pumped for. I found that to be useful to keep tabs on my production. There were a few times when my supply dropped due to weak pumping parts, so I had to replace them.
I also had a time when my pump decided to stop working! Luckily I had a hand held pump and the pumping company was able to overnight me a new one, so that didn’t turn out to be as big of a disaster as I initially thought. I tried several sizes of flanges until I found the ones that best fit. Since I was in the privacy of my home for most of my pumping sessions, I usually would go topless (I wore a robe but kept it open in the front) so that my breasts could breathe after each session. I took lecithin to help prevent clogged ducts and I also found a product by Wish Garden called Happy Ducts, that I would use when I was dropping a session. In the last month of pumping, I drank peppermint tea to help reduce my production. I also found cabbage leaves helped with the reduction in supply.
When I dropped a session, I would push one session back later and the next session up earlier over the course of several days. So if I was pumping at 12 and 4, I pushed the 12 to 12:30, then 1, then 1:30 and I pushed the 4 up to 3:30, then 3, then 2:30, til I would just pump at 2. That gradual approach really seemed to work as I never had any more issues with clogged ducts.
By my daughter’s first birthday, I was pumping 3 times a day and averaging around 40 ounces a day. But I also had 3 freezers full of milk! I had read that frozen breast milk is best if used within 12 months, so I knew we needed to start using it. We started giving her a mix of frozen and fresh for a couple months while I weaned myself off the pump and all frozen milk once I was done pumping. We thawed the milk bags in warm water.
I cut back to two sessions per day for the next couple months. Again, I was so fearful of clogged ducts or mastitis, that I did things very gradually! My supply did start to slow down and over the course of those two months I saw it go from around 30 ounces to about 15 ounces per day. In January, I cut down to one sessions per day and did that for 12 days. On that 12th day, I pumped about two ounces. I was prepared to pump again if I felt full, but I never did. I found it to be very ironic that my first and last pumping sessions both yielded two ounces.
After 15 months and all those countless hours of pumping, my close bond with my pump was over! It was a bittersweet moment. I was thrilled to be done with all pumping has to entail, but I was nervous about what I would do with my extra time. However, my active daughter quickly filled those hours for me. With all of the frozen milk we had, we were able to feed her breast milk until she was 20 months old.
My plans of how I wanted labor, delivery, and breastfeeding to go were undone by my strong-willed daughter. My feelings of inadequacy and failure were quickly overshadowed by her weight gain and the close bond we developed once I started pumping. I looked forward to feeding her instead of cringing at the thought of it. Exclusively pumping was not the plan I had for myself, but looking back, it was the best thing for my daughter, myself, and our relationship. We were able to bond without pain and blood, and she was able to get the nutrients she needed from my milk. Sometimes, the best made plans are the ones you never make!