Confessions of an Exclusive Pumper.
Although I'm no longer in an intimate relationship with my breast pump I want to share some tips and tricks I found during that season of my life to hopefully help current moms that are exclusively pumping. We all hear about fed is best but one way that doesn't get enough credit I think is exclusive pumping. It's hard and exhausting but 100% worth it. Side note: I am by no means a lactation consultant or pediatrician, just simply sharing my opinion so please always check with a trained professional or your pediatrician on what is best for you and your baby.
When I was pregnant with my first and second baby I was young and uneducated on all of the options available for feeding my babies. Sure I wanted to breastfeed but I had no idea how or even if I could with my large breast. My mom and aunts all formula fed so there wasn't much help there either. No offense to them, I think it was just a generational thing. I remember everyone always giving me opinions on what bottles to use but nothing about how to breastfeed let alone pumping, what the heck is pumping? Right after the birth of my first baby there was no skin to skin or any attempt to breastfeed, she was immediately swaddled and family came in to visit. This makes me shake my head in shame looking back now. Shortly after I arrived in my postpartum room a nurse came in to help me try and feed. My nipples are not breastfeeding friendly so she showed me how to use a nipple shield, thinking about that now makes me immediately anxious. I have a screaming baby, this rubber thing I'm trying to put on my flaccid nipple, and a nurse squeezing my tit like she's trying to give me a mammogram. Needless to say I felt defeated and just asked for a bottle. I at least knew from reading a baby book that I had this stuff called colostrum and it was very important to get to my baby so I asked my nurse if there was anything else we could try. That's when pumping was introduced to me.
Once we got home from the hospital I continued to try the nipple shield but was still unsuccessful and began my research on pumping. We purchased a pump at Wal-mart and so began the journey of exclusive pumping. Every 2-3 hours I'd hook myself up for 20-30 minutes and harvest that liquid gold. This system worked great for us until it was time for me to return to work. At the time I worked in retail and sometimes I was the only employee there which is not conducive for staying on a pumping schedule. I'd go 6-7 hours without pumping and if you've breastfed before you know the agonizing pain of being a breast milk ticking time bomb. I exclusively pumped for about 3 months until we introduced formula and I gave up the pump. Repeat this exact same story 16 months later when my 2nd baby came along, except I made it about 3 weeks because of mastitis.
When it was time for my third baby I was 6 years older, more educated on my feeding options, and had a best friend that knew all things breastfeeding. I was determined to get that latch and breastfeed and we did for 45 glorious minutes right after birth. She latched on like a champ and I cried with relief and excitement, we did it! I had gestational diabetes so the nurse checked her blood sugar and soon she went to the NICU for low blood sugars. We continued to try and nurse in the NICU but we could just never get that latch back. I even reintroduced my friend the nipple shield but I'm pretty sure my boobs just aren't made for nipple shields. I knew it was time to get the pump out and so began my third journey as an exclusive pumper.
This time I was determined to make it work. I joined facebook groups, scoured the internet for tips and tricks, and asked my friend 92 million questions about how to make this work. I was diligent about staying on schedule. My whole day was planned out in 2 hour increments. Sure we could run to Target but I had 2 hours before I had to be back home to pump. Sometimes life would happen and I couldn't stick to that schedule and my boobs definitely let me know. My insurance paid for a free pump this time so I used the good 'ol work horse, Medela PISA. I soon returned to work but this time in a medical office surrounded by supporters of breastfeeding and made time to pump. This time I made it 7 months and had enough of a freezer supply to feed in conjunction with formula until she was a year old. I really wanted to make it a year of EP but my sanity was worth more. It's really hard to get up and pump in the middle of the night when your whole house is sleeping soundly, including your precious baby. I remember being so tired that I could have sworn my pump was talking to me. If you've pumped before you know that rhythmic sound begins to sound like it's saying words.
I formed such a close bond with my pump that when we moved and I found it in the closet I cried. It's like a friend you have a love/hate relationship with and have to say goodbye to at some point. Making the choice to exclusively pump is not an easy one but I knew I wanted to give my baby breast milk and that's how we were going to do it. After 3 rounds of EP'ing I've found things that work best for me and hopefully can help you along your journey if you make that choice too.
1. Make yourself a pumping station. Somewhere with all of the things you could possibly need during your pumping session. I set mine up in my bedroom with a little basket next to my bed with everything that was easily accessible. Don't forget to have a phone or ipad charger near by to help keep you entertained.
2. If you pump at work bring a ziploc bag to store your pump parts in. After you pump just rinse in hot water and store them in the ziploc bag in the freezer. This will save you from having to wash them at work. Medela also makes cleansing wipes and sterilizing bags that make cleaning easy.
3. Nuk Freemie collection cups saved my life. These slip into any bra or nursing tank so you don't have to change into a pumping bra. They also allow pumping to be completely hands free.
4. Hydration is key! I read on a facebook group that the Pink Drink from Starbucks help with your supply and it's totally true! I couldn't spend $6 a day on a boujee drink so I found that Body Armour drinks and UpSpring Milkflow Fenugreek Drink Mix helped on a daily basis.
5. The Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Portable Travel Baby Bottle Warmer was a life saver when we were out and about. It's perfect for warming up a bottle or bag of cold breast milk.
6. If you're having trouble with let down try putting a warm rag on your breast and massaging before your pumping session. This helped me a ton!
7. When it comes to freezing your breast milk, lay the bag flat in the freezer for easier storage! I laid a piece of cardboard across the rack in our freezer so the bag would lay flat. Be sure to label your bag with the date and time you pumped so you can rotate accordingly. If you're lucky enough to build up enough supply to need an extra freezer make sure you put a thermometer in the freezer that alerts you when you the temperature changes. I've read horror stories of moms losing entire freezers worth because the freezer shorted or failed and it all thawed out.
8. Find Facebook support groups and surround yourself with encouraging people. I wanted to give up pumping many times but these people kept me going!
Exclusive pumping isn't easy, it's annoying and hard but at the end of the day it's a small part of your motherhood journey. It's like being a part of a super cool club where everyone has sore nipples and carries their friend in a bag everywhere they go. With all of that said I encourage you to do what's best for you and your baby and you'll know in your heart what that is. You got this momma!