Maybe I shouldn’t call this Pumping 101 because I am no expert! But I’ve had many ask me for advice over the past year as I was exclusively pumping, so I thought I would share what I’ve learned in case I can help another mom out there.
From the start, nursing was much more difficult than I ever imagined. Much more challenging with more obstacles to overcome than labor or even taking care of a newborn in general. At my job, I help moms latch their babies on for the first time almost every day. I thought that I knew enough from all of my breastfeeding training that I would be able to successfully do it and no matter what obstacles we encountered, I could come up with solutions and overcome them. Boy, was I humbled and so wrong. In the end, exclusively pumping ended up being the best solution for Tristan and I. From the day he was born, he had a horrible latch. This caused excruciating pain and our nursing sessions were pretty short because I could only bear a few minutes. We saw many lactation consultants and had many weight checks during Tristan’s first few weeks of life. He was not losing weight, but he was not gaining weight either like he should’ve been. When he was around a week old, the pediatrician recommended a new feeding plan to get his growth back on track. I would nurse him for as long as I could tolerate, then pump immediately after, then feed him a bottle of pumped milk or formula. I hadn’t built up a stash of breast milk yet, so he got little bottles of formula while I pumped. Thankfully, my mom was staying with me during this time to help feed Tristan. It literally seemed like a continuous cycle of nurse, pump, feed, repeat. It took up the majority of my day and I felt like a crazy person. We went back to the doctor a couple days later and the plan worked! Tristan had gained even more weight than they had expected. While this was great news, the doctor said that this triple feeding routine will drive a person crazy and it’s not easy to maintain long term. So true!!! It was at this time I decided to get off the crazy train and just exclusively pump to maintain my sanity and keep Tristan’s weight in check.
Once Tristan was two months old, I started researching tongue ties and it turned out that he did have a tongue and lip tie. He got those clipped and I was hopeful that we might be able to return to nursing. At this point, he had been nursing once a day in the morning. I was able to tolerate one or two nursing sessions a day…but if I tried to nurse him several times in a row the pain became worse and worse each time. Around this time I confirmed with a lactation consultant that I had vasospasms. Basically, Tristan’s latch was so bad he was cutting off my blood flow. Once the blood flow returned, the pain would come in big waves. Unfortunately Tristan was so “old” at the time of his tongue tie repair that he had been nursing the wrong way for so long that the repair did not fix his bad latch. So back to pumping I went.
My original goal was to give Tristan breast milk for a year. When we encountered so many problems along the way, I took it day by day and wasn’t sure what the future would hold. Once I started pumping a lot, my goal was to make it to 6 months. That was an attainable goal for me so that I didn’t want to just give up. Once I made it there, we were in a groove, so I said let’s go to 9 months! Once we made it to 9 months I was pretty sick and tired of pumping. Especially pumping at work and waking up early on vacations to pump. So I cut down my sessions and stopped pumping Memorial Day weekend this past year. I had a small freezer stash that lasted two weeks and we used that to mix with formula and transition him over to 100% formula. He was still as happy as could be and didn’t even notice a difference!
There are even more details that I am probably forgetting or my brain is subconsciously trying to forget, but those are the highlights of our journey! Every journey is unique and looking back, I am not sure if I would have pumped as long as I did now that I see how easy formula is and how healthy and happy Tristan is. At the same time, I am proud that he survived off of what I made for 9 months. We will see what happens with the next baby!
Pumping Tips & Tricks
–Use a good pump. This might be common sense, but it makes a difference in how much milk you can get. I used the Medela Pump In Style and was lucky to use the hospital grade Medela when I pumped at work. I could tell a difference in the hospital one. Sometimes they are available to rent after delivery. I’ve heard good things about the Spectra and want to try the Willow in the future. I would say you can’t go wrong with a Medela or Spectra. They are the most common, therefore making it easiest to find parts and accessories and they are tried and true!
–Buy a hands free pumping bra. This is a MUST HAVE. This allows you to have both hands to be on your phone or feed your baby a bottle while you’re pumping. Saves time and sanity!
–Calories in = milk out. It takes calories to make calories. I tried increasing water intake and taking supplements and eating lactation cookies to increase my supply, but the biggest difference in output that I noticed was when I ate more! If I skipped a meal, my supply would tank during the next two pumping sessions. I tried to eat three square meals a day plus snacks. It’s a tough job, I know.
–Be prepared if you go out and about. There’s nothing worse than being stuck somewhere without your pump or supplies. I had the option to nurse if I absolutely had to, but if you don’t, then BE SURE to plan ahead. If you know you’re going to be in the car for a road trip, bring an adapter to pump in the car. Have a cooler bag and ice pack to keep the milk fresh.
–Don’t skip a pumping session on the fly. It’s one thing to postpone a session by an hour or two, but totally skipping a session can mess with your supply or cause painful problems like mastitis. I made the mistake of sleeping through my morning pumping session one time because I was exhausted from working three night shifts in a row and we had just arrived at the beach for vacation. I slept like 12 hours when I usually sleep 8 at the max and then wake up to pump. I woke up with a clogged nipple pore. I had to call a lactation consultant and spent hours trying to solve that problem. Horrible way to start vacation!! Just don’t risk it.
–Reach out for help and use your resources. Don’t be afraid! Thankfully I gave birth around the same time that my sister and several close friends did. We all talked openly about breastfeeding and postpartum things. When Tristan met with the tongue tie doctor, he was asking me how I found out about his practice and tongue ties and such. I told him I had been talking with my friends who are also breastfeeding. He was shocked we actually talked about breastfeeding. Yes, women talk!! And read blogs! About womanly things. Or in my mind, they should 😉 Breastfeeding can be a taboo subject, especially if you are not in the midst of it. Once I was doing it myself and experiencing challenges, I would talk to anyone who was willing to listen or help me! Without the advice from friends and one lactation consultant in particular, I don’t know where I would be.
–Keep your hormones in check. Just like breastfeeding, pumping still involves a lot of hormones. You release oxytocin when you pump and you get a surge of “feel good” feelings. If I had to postpone a pumping session for some reason, even for a little bit, I would start feeling irritable and get short with Luke. It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like being hangry. You don’t know why you’re irritable, but your body is trying to tell you something! It took me too long to figure this out and once I did, I was much more pleasant and could at least explain to Luke that it wasn’t him, I just needed to pump.
–Find a bag/storage system that works for you. I fell in love with the Kiinde system. There are adapters that let you pump straight into a bag. Then you can pop a nipple onto the bag and feed your baby straight from that! Super easy, less opportunities for contamination, and almost zero clean up!
If I’m missing any other important tips, comment below!