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I sometimes feel like the exclusive pumping mom gets left out in the circle of breastfeeding moms. I've at times felt that since my son didn't nurse due to an oral aversion that I am less than in the eyes of other breastfeeding moms. It's a lonely place to be when you feel like you are doing your best for your child, but others still want to judge you for not "trying harder" or "giving up."
I never intended to be a pumping mama. My intentions were to nurse my child, put him to the breast and nourish him the way nature designed. I planned to breastfeed him until at least a year and then let him self-wean. Our story of exclusive pumping may be different from other's since my son had a feeding tube and other medical issues going on at the time, but my feelings of inadequacy or loneliness are probably very similar to other pumping mom's.
I'm here to tell you, that you are not alone in your exclusive pumping choices. Whether you chose to pump because you wanted to, you returned to work, you or your child had medical issues, or some other reason, you are not alone. Exclusive pumping is hard! It is probably one of the hardest things I ever did for my baby. It's not easy to wake yourself up at 2:00am and then again at 5:00am just so you're not engorged by 8:00am. It's not easy to lug around your pumping bag and supplies everywhere you go so you can express your splendid liquid gold whenever you need to. It's not easy to bond with the hum of a machine and keep up your supply.
It's not easy to exclusively pump for your baby.
But we do it because we feel it is what is best for our baby. We do it because our baby is our only priority and in the end if it helps our baby, it's all worth it. And, if you're going to keep pumping for you little one, for however long you choose, I'm here to offer some tips from a professional pumper (that's me!).
7 Exclusive Pumping Tips:
- Buy a good breast pump. In hindsight, I would have made sure to have a pump with a closed system. Why? Because it maintains a barrier between the breatmilk collection and the pump tubing, which keeps outside air from being exposed to your breastmilk. This system also keeps breastmilk from getting into your tubing and pump system. Open systems will end up with milk in the tubing and possibly into the pump system which may result in mold or mildew building up and it's very (if not impossible) to clean the actual pump. Ameda and Hygeia both make close breast pump systems. The extra cost is definitely worth the expense if you are going to be pumping a lot and if you exclusively pump, believe me, that pump will get a lot of miles!
- Pump both breasts at the same time. You will save so much time if you do both breasts at the same time. Think of it this way, you should pump for at least 15 minutes every 2 hours (at least in the beginning), that means you spend a bare minimum of 3 hours per day pumping. If you do your breasts separately, you will double that time to 6 hours per day hooked up to a pump. You have a baby, you need sleep, do both at the same time. Electric pumps are designed to do both at the same time, take advantage!
- Go hands free! And do not waste your money on buying a hands free pumping bra. All you need is an old sports bra to go hands free. Cut two small holes in the sports bra in the areola region and voila! you have a hands free bra. I do recommend a sports bra that is about a size too small so it provides some compression. Hands free will allow you to be able to read, tend to baby's needs (to some extent), watch TV, check Facebook, etc. while you're pumping. And trust me, if you're spending 3+ hours a day pumping, you'll need those hands free to keep yourself from going crazy bored.
- Use milk storage bags. Pumps usually come with storage bottles, hospitals may have storage bottles, but trust me, bags are much more convenient. I had a very healthy supply in my son's early weeks/months (8+ ounces every 2 hours), and there was no way we would have fit those bottles in our freezer. The bags lay nicely in your freezer and are easy to thaw. **Bonus tip: Write the date and ounce approximation on the bag - the bags are not as reliable as the bottles for measurement.
- Store pump parts in the refrigerator. This was recommended to me from a lactation consultant. When you're up pumping at night, instead of washing all your parts at 2am, just put them in the refrigerator until morning. You can keep your milk in the bottle you pumped into, keep it all attached, toss it in the fridge (I used the door), and go back to bed! Transferring the milk into a bag and washing the parts can wait until morning.
- Use nipple cream. Whether it's lanolin cream or something else, use something that will protect your poor breasts. Your breasts will get used to pumping, but going without some sort of cream for lubrication can cause some irritation and be uncomfortable. Do your research though and make sure that what you use will be safe for baby.
- Have the right sized breast shield. When I first started pumping, it was painful. Really painful! I was developing sores and I just assumed it was normal. Wrong! Pumping should not hurt. It feels weird, sure, but it shouldn't cause you physical pain and sores. If it does hurt, move up a size for the breast shield, your actual breast size has nothing to do with the size breast shield you will need. Pumps usually come with a 24mm, but the sizes go up to a 36mm. The right size will also make a world of difference in terms of productivity. Check with a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League, they may have extras on hand that they can get to you.
Maintaining Your Supply when Exclusively Pumping
When you're not nursing and getting that skin to skin contact, it can be very difficult to maintain a milk supply. It's very common for women to go back to work and their supply drop because they have to pump. It's also common for pumping to produce less milk than nursing would. Here are some tips on maintaining (or even boosting) your supply when you are exclusively pumping.
Tips to Maintain (or boost) Your Supply:
- Drink water! Your milk is made from your body, milk is a liquid, if you are not drinking at least 8-10 servings of water per day, you will not get the most out of your supply. I guarantee that if you are not drinking enough water, you will get frustrated.
- Pump frequently. Recommended, especially in the beginning, is to pump every 2-3 hours. This is how often your baby would be nursing so you need to trick your body into thinking that it needs to produce every 2-3 hours like a baby would. You may be able to cut back as time goes on and as baby takes less and less breastmilk. Your body may be able to make the adjustments as your baby grows, but it may not. It all depends on your body and personal milk production. If you start to pump less frequently and see a drop off in your supply, pick up the frequency to trick your body into thinking it needs to produce more. You can also throw in quick pumps (5 minutes or less) in between the 2 hours pump times to trick your body even more - I used a manual pump for these mini sessions.
- Pump at night. You kind of want to hit me right now, don't you? It's okay, I wasn't very happy about pumping at night either. It does make a difference though and if you think about it, your baby eats at night, so of course your body would need to "feed" at night. The benefit of pumping at night is that during the times of 11:00 pm and 5:00 am, your body's prolactin levels are at their highest. This is a good thing! I always found that if my supply was dropping, if I upped the ante of daytime pumping and added in at least one nighttime pump, my supply would be back up within a couple days.
- Skin to skin contact. If you are able, get some skin to skin time in with your little one. If you're able to do this while pumping, that's an added bonus (and gold star for being able to finagle this difficult task). Your little one is your biggest method of making milk. In a world where you are nursing, your body would immediately respond to your baby rooting towards your breast, your baby's cries, your baby's contact. Use this natural response to your advantage to keep your supply up.
- Other alternatives if all else fails. You can try other natural methods (galactagogues) to give your supply a boost. I would definitely recommend doing your own research on these methods and checking in with your doctor or lactation consultant before starting any of these alternatives. I will give information on the alternatives I tried, but this is not an all inclusive list. You can find a more detailed list at KellyMom (a fabulous resource for pumping and nursing moms).
- Fenugreek - I found the fresher the better. I tried both a fresh ground version and capsules bought at a health food store. The fresh ground, I absolutely noticed a difference. I did not seem to notice much help from the capsules. Every mom is different though. Warning: You may start to smell like maple syrup and unfortunately, fenugreek does not taste like maple syrup.
- Lactation Cookies- I made this recipe of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They were delicious! I did feel like they helped too. If only they had lasted in the house longer and did not have to be made by scratch. The oatmeal, brewer's yeast, and flax seed are the ingredients said to improve lactation. Lucky you, you have me to let you know about options like MilkMakers, which I did not know about when I was pumping.
So, there you have it! The best tips I can provide to you as a pumping mama. It's not easy, you may get frustrated, you may get incredibly bored listening to the pump hum in the background. In fact, the pump may start singing or talking to you! It's all normal! Just know that you are not alone in this journey and you are an incredible mama for doing what you can to ensure your baby gets the best nutrition you are able to provide. Keep at it mama!
What tips do you have for pumping mamas?
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