I know that technically World Breastfeeding Week ended yesterday, but I’m making up for the fact that I didn’t start blogging this series last Friday. I wanted to end by sharing some of the things that really helped me pump as long as I did. I would have quit a lot earlier (or perhaps gone a lot crazier) if it hadn’t been for the help I got from other exclusive pumpers – those who had been in my shoes and who were willing to share their experience and knowledge with me. So I’d like to share some of that with you here.
First, a quick glimpse at a pumper’s dictionary. These abbreviations are extremely important if you decide to join any online forum or Facebook group for exclusive pumpers:
EP/EP’er – exclusively pump/exclusive pumper
PPD – pumps per day
OPD – ounces per day
WPP/MPP/PP – weeks postpartum/months postpartum/postpartum
MOTN – middle of the night (referring to the pump(s) that happen after we go to bed and before we’re up for the day)
STTN – sleep(s) through the night
PISA – Medela’s Pump In Style Advanced breast pump
BM – breast milk
EBM – expressed breast milk
EBF – exclusively breastfed/breastfeeding
FF – formula fed
FTM – first time mom
IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
LC – lactation consultant
TT/ULT – tongue-tie/upper lip-tie
1. Get as much physical contact with your baby as much you can. Not only can this help with your milk supply, but it’ll help you bond with baby. I wore Liam quite a bit and I always noticed that when I pumped with him in the Moby wrap, my letdown was usually faster and I pumped more milk. Get that skin-to-skin contact. Gaze into his eyes when he eats. Let him snuggle right up against you and count his perfect fingers and toes.
2. Don’t drop your MOTN pump too early. Your milk supply can take about 12 weeks to really establish. Your body is making the most milk at night while you’re sleeping and your body’s recharging. That’s why, for even nursing moms, it’s recommended that they pump after the first feeding of the day if they want to build up a freezer supply, because that’s when moms will typically have more milk than they do the rest of the day. I actually did this the wrong way. Liam started sleeping through the night around 7 weeks old. At first, I thought it was just going to be one or two times, so I embraced the extra sleep. But it quickly became routine and not knowing any better, I stopped pumping at night. I always struggled with my supply and I really think that stopping my MOTN pump so early was a factor. I was telling my body that I didn’t need as much milk, so it stopped making it. (Sidenote: if you’re looking to boost your supply, regardless of how old your baby is, throwing in a MOTN pump for a few weeks might help you increase your output overall).
3. Buy a hands-free pumping bra. It will change your life. There’s nothing more boring than sitting in a chair, holding two flanges to your chest and doing…nothing. Not to mention, it’ll give your hand cramps and maybe even carpal tunnel. A hands-free bra will allow you to work at the computer, fold laundry, even play with your little one while you pump. Don’t have the money to buy a hands-free pumping bra? Cut two slits in an old sports bra or use this hair tie trick to turn your regular bra into a pumping bra.
4. Get a manual pump or battery pack for your electric pump. Electronics fail. It happens. And the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere with no pump when you need it. Our power went out two different times during storms and I needed to pump. I’m so glad I had a battery pack, because it would have been hours and hours before our electricity worked again. Car adapters would work for this too, but let’s face it. Pumping in the car – especially when it’s sitting in your garage – doesn’t sound very fun.
5. Refrigerate your pump parts. J and I were washing bottles and pump parts several times a day. We were still trying to nurse, so we didn’t want to invest in enough bottles to be able to wash everything in the dishwasher. So we were washing bottles after every other feeding or so. I bought a second set of pump parts so that I didn’t have to wash them every time either, but my hands were just raw from all the soap and water. Then, someone told me about the fridge trick. When you’re done pumping, stick your pump parts in a ziplock bag and put it in the fridge. You can do this every time you pump within a 24-hour period. With one set of pump parts, that meant I only had to wash them once day. With TWO sets of pump parts, we were washing them every other day. Win.
6. Power pumping. It’s not how long you pump that increases your milk supply, but how often you pump. Power pumping is inconvenient, so I wouldn’t recommend it long-term, but for a few days to try boosting your supply, it’s great. Power pumping usually goes something like this: pump 20 minutes, rest 10 minutes, pump 10 minutes, rest 10 minutes, pump 10 minutes. Doing this for a few days, once or twice a day, can help increase your supply by a couple of ounces. It’s also helpful if you can do it at the same pump session every day so your body thinks it needs to make more milk at that time every day. It’s just like if your baby was nursing more a certain part of the day than others.
7. Supply boosters. There are a ton of galactogogues out there that moms use to boost their milk supply (in addition to staying hydrated and reduce stress, of course). Just a warning – these don’t always work for everything. Nothing ever really worked for me, but I know a lot of people who benefitted from them. If you’re looking to boost your supply, try some of the following: fenugreek, blessed thistle, brewer’s yeast, alfalfa, almond milk, coconut water, chia seeds, fennel oil, Mother’s Milk tea, oatmeal (the real stuff) and goat’s rue. Some girls swear by drinking gatorade, but I think it’s really that it helps you stay hydrated and replenishes your electrolytes and not really anything in the drink itself.
8. Check out Freemies. I’d already been pumping for a few months when I discovered Freemies. The girls in the Facebook group kept talking about how much they loved them. What on earth is a Freemie? It’s this genius product that allows you to pump hands-free anywhere you want with less fuss. You can use these babies in your own bra, with your own shirt on – no need for nursing gear at all. I plan to write up a formal review at a later date, but for a working mom who had to pump in the car and on wedding days, this was a lifesaver. Less parts to mess with and a shorter set up and clean up made this buy totally worth it.
9. Set small goals. When Liam was just a few weeks old, thinking about pumping even for another month just sounded so overwhelming. I didn’t know how I could do it. I was exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed and I hated every second I was attached to that machine. I couldn’t even think about anything long term, but I could take it a day or a week at a time. And then before I knew it, we were at three months. Then four months. And suddenly, six months didn’t seem all that unattainable.
10. Never quit on a bad day. This is probably the best piece of advice I ever got. There are a lot of bad days, but I think quitting on one (don’t think I wasn’t tempted!), would have come with a lot of extra sadness. By the time I ended up weaning completely, I was mentally and emotionally ready. It was a decision we made after many discussions. I think quitting on a whim, in a moment feeling sorry for myself, would have been something I’d regret for a long time.
Hope this week’s series on exclusive pumping has been helpful for some of you! I’m so thankful for all the notes and messages from many of you. As moms, we can be so hard on ourselves when things don’t go the way we plan them to. Hugs, mommas. Know that you’re not alone and that you’re doing the best job you can for your little one. I promise you, when these babies grow up, they won’t care whether we breastfed them at all, just for a day or for several years – they’ll just remember how much we loved them.
World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7. During this time, and National Breastfeeding Month, is when we celebrate and support mothers who are breastfeeding their babies and to promote awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding. I fully support mommas giving their babies the nourishment they need by whatever means they can, whether by choice or circumstance. This is not meant to be a breastmilk vs. formula debate, because I believe that healthy babies AND mommas trump the pros and cons of either. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing pieces of our breastfeeding story and my experience of pumping exclusively.