Below is Stephanie’s story about exclusively pumping after her baby was born with a tongue tie and struggled with transferring milk. You can read more exclusive pumping stories here. Thank you Stephanie for sharing your story!
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Why did you decide to exclusively pump?
Right from day one, there were challenges to breastfeeding. My son was born with a tongue tie (which was ultimately snipped twice at a local clinic, and once again at a special breastfeeding clinic we visited). My nipples were in extreme pain during the first few days of nursing but I pushed through, thinking things would improve. My son’s weight continued to drop during his first nine days of life, and at that point I began to pump based on the recommendation of a very helpful nurse who was also a lactation consultant. My son just wasn’t doing a good enough job of removing the milk from the breast on his own, thanks to the tongue tie and how he was sucking, so he wasn’t getting enough food and wasn’t gaining weight.
Once I started to pump, every time my son would nurse at the breast, I would also top him up using my expressed milk, either through the use of a lactation aid or finger feeding, and then bottles when he was a few weeks old.
I started exclusive pumping because I wanted to keep my supply up so that as he figured things out and became better at breastfeeding, I would still have a good supply there for him. Ultimately, though, he was never able to nurse well enough to get all the food he needed directly from nursing. I became resentful of our challenging feeding times and incredibly frustrated over the challenge and pain (both emotional and physical pain) each time we would try nursing, so I made the decision to just exclusively pump for him, and feed him my milk through bottles.
This was not an easy decision, but after two months of trying breastfeeding with all sorts of devices and different techniques, a visit to two different breastfeeding clinics and consultations with two different lactation consultants, I was ready to accept that exclusive pumping would be the way my baby would be fed. I also knew at that point that there was basically nothing else I could have done to try to make breastfeeding work; I had done my best, and things still just weren’t working.
How did you make exclusive pumping working for you?
My husband was and still is extremely supportive and helpful. Whether it was washing bottles, holding our son so I could pump, or making sure our schedule worked for my pumping times, he was there every step of the way. He was actually the one who stumbled upon this exclusive pumping website, and signed me up for the biweekly newsletters! I also have local family who helped with the baby so I could pump, especially at the start when I was doing eight or nine pumps per day.
Beyond the help of friends and family I also valued the support from the online communities I found, for example the Exclusively Pumping Mamas Facebook page, and Instagram users I found through searching things like #exclusivelypumping and other pumping-related hashtags. I got a lot of tips and advice from YouTube videos as well! When I would feel discouraged I would just go onto one of these websites and read about other moms’ experiences or challenges that they were having to know I wasn’t alone in what I was struggling with. Seeing that other moms were able to pump for several months, some even a year or even TWO years was very motivating and encouraging.
Making pumping work for me practically on a daily basis just involves making sure I have clean parts ready to go, and making my pumping times more enjoyable by using my hands-free bra so I can go on the computer or read while I pump.
Lastly, a key thing for me has been to drop pumping sessions as the months have gone by. I started with eight or nine pumps per day, then dropped to seven when my son was about three months old, and have decreased from there to the point that I am now doing just three per day (my son is eight months old now). It has been nice to not feel so tied to my pump as I’ve decreased my pumping sessions each day and makes me feel like pumping is more manageable on an ongoing basis.
What was your biggest challenge with exclusive pumping?
I was one of those women who just assumed breastfeeding would work with absolutely no problems for me. My mom had nursed me and my three siblings without any trouble, I’d read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and I just felt very confident that my body was ready to do this. I imagined myself nursing my son on the summer camping trip we had planned, and in general just being able to take him out and about without having to worry about preparing bottles for him, since my breasts would be all that he would need!!
When I switched to exclusive pumping, it was very hard for me to give up those dreams and my expectations of how I thought our feeding routine would look. I cried a lot, and had a lot of sad days where the last thing I wanted to do was pump! But over time I made the decision to be thankful for my breast pump and what it has allowed me to do. Although I am not breastfeeding in the traditional sense, I’m thankful that I was able to use pumping as a way to provide breast milk to my son.
It’s certainly not how I imagined things would look for us, but it’s what ended up happening, and I’ve been able to accept that now (this took some time though). I’m now very grateful and proud of what I’ve done over the past few months. When my husband first came across this website and started researching exclusive pumping as a way to feed a baby, I cried and told him “I don’t want to be an exclusive pumper!!” But now that I’ve been one, I can say I’m very proud of what I’ve done, and also so proud of all the other women out there who are exclusive pumpers as well.
How long did you exclusively pump?
My first goal was to make it to six months. I have now completed eight months of pumping, and I hope to get to 10 months. From there I may decide to wean or continue for a whole year. We’ll see how my body feels at that point. I am definitely looking forward to the day when I can wash and sterilize my pump parts for the final time and put my pump into storage!
I was able to provide 100% breast milk to my son for the first six months, but as I dropped pumping sessions and started my period again, my supply decreased, so I now also supplement a few bottles a day of formula. I was extremely anxious about giving my son formula, but he thankfully hasn’t had any issues with it! And he is still having my milk each day and enjoying the benefits of that, and I hope to continue to provide that for him for a few more months.
What advice would you give a new exclusive pumper?
Exclusive pumping can be so challenging, especially at the start when you have a newborn. Finding the time to pump, let alone wash bottles and everything else that comes with pumping, is very difficult, especially when it’s not something you were anticipating you would need to do. Even with the need to pump eight or more times per day, my advice would be to make time to hug and cuddle your baby!
This was especially important to me as I grieved the loss of the bonding time I thought we would both enjoy during nursing sessions. I had been anticipating this and when breastfeeding didn’t pan out, I still craved that closeness with my baby. I would highly recommend lots of skin to skin, naps while being held in mama’s arms, and just in general lots of time together. My house may have gotten a little bit messy as the dishes and laundry piled up, but I don’t regret spending those precious moments with my son, as we bonded and enjoyed each other, albeit in a different way than I thought that bonding would happen.
Are there any other thoughts about exclusive pumping that you’d like to share?
Exclusive pumping is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s also made me realize how strong and determined I can be, as a woman and a mother. I was so inspired by all the exclusive pumping stories I read as I began my journey, and I hope my story inspires a few other women to stay the course with pumping, as you are mentally, emotionally, and physically able to do so. You are all doing a great job!!