Sarah is a veteran exclusive pumper – she’s exclusively pumped for three babies and is now pumping for her fourth! Here is her story. You can find other exclusive pumping stories here.
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Why did you decide to exclusively pump?
When I delivered my first child, I had every intention of breastfeeding. After coming home from the hospital, it felt like I was feeding my daughter around the clock, which became physically and emotionally exhausting. I took her for a weight check at the pediatrician’s office in the first week, and she had started to lose weight.
My pediatrician suggested either supplementing with formula or buying a breast pump to express milk. I didn’t really want to commit to the cost of formula or move completely away from breastmilk. I ended up going to Target and buying a single electric Medela breast pump.
After exclusively pumping with my first, I decided to do it with my other children. I am currently exclusively pumping for number four (she’s 3 months).
How long did you end up exclusively pumping (or, if you haven’t weaned yet, how long do you plan to)? What made you decide to pump this long/set this goal?
With my first child, I exclusively pumped for one year. My supply wasn’t as good with my first, and I blame that on my decision to use the single pump. My goal was to make it to a year because at the age of one, you can switch to cow’s milk. I really didn’t want to deal with the hassle or expense of formula, and exclusively pumping was a good solution for this. I also wanted to keep breastmilk in the picture because of its benefits.
My goal with my second and third child was also a year for the same reasons. I ended up pumping for 18 months with both.
My current goal is one year.
How did you make exclusively pumping work for you? Was there anything in particular that made it easier for you (products/tips)?
In the beginning, you have to set a schedule and abide by it. I went by the guideline of do what you would do if you were breastfeeding (i.e., 8-12 pumps instead of 8-12 feeds). Pumping every 3 hours was much more manageable than pumping every two hours for me, so I pumped 8 times in a day at the beginning.
I would also recommend pumping for the first time shortly after delivery. I really just wanted to rest and take it easy, but I pumped a few hours after delivery to start off on the right foot. I was able to pump colostrum with the first pumping session. Bear in mind that you won’t have a lot of milk in the beginning, and that is normal. You might not pump much of anything for a few days as you wait for your milk to come in (especially if this is your first child). It is a good idea to google the size of a newborn’s stomach, because this will reassure you that you’re not going to have as much milk being produced in the beginning.
As time goes on, you can spread out your pumping sessions. I am currently pumping around 6 times a day with my three month old and I am producing around 10-12 ounces during each pumping session.
My supply wasn’t as good with my first child, which is why I will say that investing in a good breast pump is crucial along with establishing a schedule for pumping. It can be very tempting to skip a pump or sleep through a pump but that can hurt your supply if you do it regularly. My baby sleeps through the night, but I still pump right before bed, in the middle of the night, and first thing when I wake up in the morning.
It’s also a good idea to invest in some lanolin to help with an nipple tenderness or cracked nipples. When you first start pumping, your likely to experience a little tenderness. I have heard some of the tenderness referred to as the “60 second sizzle.” After the first minute and your milk lets down, the initial tenderness goes away. Also, make sure your shields fit properly. You shouldn’t continue to have tenderness or cracked nipples that don’t go away.
You definitely want to have enough supplies for pumping on hand. I would recommend having an extra set of shields and valves/connectors and anything else required for your pump. It will just make life easier if you’re in a rush or on the go. Make sure you have enough bottles/bags to store milk. I have a freezer full of milk along with a refrigerator full of it, so you need to enough materials to store your pumped milk.
Sometimes your pump can feel like a ball and chain. I would also make sure you can pump without an outlet (have a battery pack or an adapter for your car). This will allow you freedom if you’re traveling or on the road and can’t get home to pump. We’ve taken vacations where we had to drive for 12+ hours, and being able to pump in the car was a lifesaver. We’ve also taken trips that were like an hour away and being able to pump in the car allowed us to stay longer without rushing back home to pump.
What was your biggest challenge with exclusive pumping?
Mastitis was my biggest challenge with exclusive pumping – I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. You can get it from having an unresolved clogged duct or from cracked nipples. You’ll start having flu-like symptoms and really just feel terrible, and your breast will be red, hot, and tender. I’ve had it five times and had to be hospitalized twice to receive IV antibiotics. Thankfully I have not had it with this current child. I really wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits when I did have it, but I kept going. Cold and hot packs can help with clogged ducts.
The other struggle I had with pumping is that it can be time-consuming and sometimes you have to build your schedule around it. It’s especially hard in the beginning when you’re pumping around the clock. You sometimes feel like you’re doing double the work with pumping and having to feed baby.
The upside is that others can help with feeding the baby. I usually have the baby next to me on the boppy with a bottle ready to go if needed while pumping. I also put my older kids to work and have them help with feeding. If you have older kids, put them to work and use their help – it’s good for them and it helps you. All of this gets better as your pumps spread out and baby gets older and is able to hold his or her own bottle.
What advice would you give to a new exclusive pumper?
In the beginning stages of exclusive pumping, it can feel overwhelming trying to coordinate everything and make it work. Don’t stress yourself out – it all gets better with time and it becomes easier to manage.
Try to be organized and make sure you have all your needed supplies because this will make life easier. The Internet is a good resource with groups like this to help answer questions. Kellymom is a good resource.
Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for making this choice. It does take a lot of work, but it’s the best of both worlds. My baby still receives breastmilk, but others can feed her, and it is easier to take her out for outings. I think we need to support whatever choice moms make: breastfeeding, formula feeding, exclusive pumping. Moms need to do what’s best for them and not have to worry about what others think. There are a lot of people who make it seem like breastfeeding is the easiest, most natural thing in the world. It doesn’t come easy for everyone, and it isn’t without its struggles.
I would make sure to invest in some good cool packs and a nice travel bag for your breast milk when you’re on the go. I think there a myth that milk needs to be warmed up for baby to want to or be able to eat it. All four of my kids have eaten their breastmilk cold – this saves a lot of time and makes life easier. Though if you’re child doesn’t tolerate it cold, I could understand warming it up for them.
Anything else you’d like to add?
When you first make the decision to exclusively pump, there can be some trial and error. Everything improves with time and as you settle into a routine.
Thanks for reading my story – I’m happy to answer any questions. It’s good to have a good support system in place. There’s going to be people questioning this decision. I always tell them it’s the best of both worlds. Good luck!
A big thank you to Sarah for sharing her story!