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I never planned to be an exclusively pumping mama; in fact, I wanted more than anything to nurse my first son. But, between the NICU, lip ties, an ignorant pediatrician, and minimal support from those around me, it did not happen for us.
So, I pumped.
(The only breastfeeding picture I have of Noah and I, he was two days old and not even really latched on here. Thanks to my husband for taking this, I will always cherish it!)
I still wanted to give my baby the absolute best, I was committed to still providing that little angel a full year worth of breast milk, and I prevailed and achieved.
My milk came in the second day postpartum, full force, and I received my placenta capsules that day as well. So I was amped up. Since my little dude was in the NICU, I was going from the maternity suites down to the NICU every 1-2 hours to feed, and after each feed I would pump so that they never had an excuse to give him formula, as his latch was poor and it did not seem like he was getting much out of the feeds.
One of the nurses suggested that I had inverted nipples (which I now know that I do not, not even flat nipples) and the pediatrician we had (despite him having a CLC wife) advised that lip and tongue ties do not exist, and at the time I believed them, and faced the fact that I would not be able to feed my child the way I intended, so, I pumped.
How Was I Successful?
I pumped every 1-2 hours, for 15 minutes each time and yielded about 10-20oz a pump. This is NOT normal, by the way, this is considered quite a massive oversupply. It was a blessing, and a curse.
I was able to feed my baby, and a total of 10 other donor babies for 18 months, but it came with many challenges of it’s own. So many mamas yearn for an oversupply, so they can go back to work, have extra in the freezer in case of an emergency, or just for date nights, but let me tell you; despite a full freezer and many chunky babies that I was able to nourish, it came with it’s cons, too.
I had to bring my pump EVERYWHERE with me – even to run out to errands. We did not just need to bring baby, the diaper bag, the car seat, etc. We had to bring my full double electric Lansinoh pump set with extra bottles in case I spilled over the set attached, bottles for Noah to drink from, pump wipes, breastmilk bags, and a cooler for the milk I pumped. It was a full car every time we made a trip! And let’s not even go into overnight stays or mini-vacations. The picture below is not even half of it, just an example! LOL You think you get out of washing bottles when breastfeeding, right? Not while pumping! (Side note: glass bottles are way better for baby, these are plastic, BPA/BPS free nonetheless, but still).
Exclusive Pumping Struggles
I suffered five cases of mastitis, one case of double breast mastitis, and they only happened because I slept through the night each time. I had to wake up every 2-3 hours at night to pump, it was not a convenience to be an exclusive pumper at night, where you could just ask Dad to take over feeding so you can stay in bed, no, ma’am. If I did not get up at night, I was asking for mastitis! On a side note, I cured all of my mastitis cases without antibiotics. I dangle pumped, applied every avenue of warmth that I could (shower and heating pad), I even had my poor husband latch and remove clogs for me many times. I consumed garlic, colloidal silver, manuka honey, turmeric and ginger.
I ruined my mattress. Now I know, with kids, you can expect to ruin a few mattresses, but LISTEN, not only did we have the standard pee leak spot through the cloth diaper every now and then, drool, and a little spit up, we had a full milk bath in the bed every night. I would soak through breast pads, two shirts, towels, sheets, mattress protectors, I am not kidding! It was a tata tsunami.
If a part on my pump broke, I was screwed. As much as I loved my Lansinoh, it was not easy at that time, at least, to just run to Target and grab its pump parts like some other brands may have. I had to order them online and wait for them to get there and I had back up hand pumps for those just-in-case times, but if you have ever hand-pumped, you know that it is a major pain in your hands!
I did not get that same sweet feeding, bonding time with my little bear. While I could feed him the bottles I pumped, skin to skin, and looking into his eyes, I did not get the same type of bond that I feel I could have with nursing directly!
The Second Time
Then, guess what?! I went and did it again! I delivered surrogate twins in July of 2018 and exclusively pumped for them for a little under a month. This time I had the Medela (find one here) and was never skin to skin with them, at any point, so my body just gave me a big fat middle finger LOL. Despite pumping every 1-2 hours again, from birth, I made next to nothing. I intended to nourish them with my breastmilk for at least 6 weeks to 6 months, but it did not happen. I was producing about a 1/2 oz at best, and it was incredibly frustrating for everyone involved, especially with the fact that we would have had to ship the breastmilk, and twins need to eat a lot, so they were able to find local donor milk instead and the little milk that I had pumped (probably about 50-100oz all together by the time I weaned), instead of shipping was luckily able to be used by two of my good friends for their new babies, and a tiny bit for my son when he got pink eye (it cleared it right up, seriously, use it!).
What Could I Have Done Differently?
I want to talk about a few things I could have done differently, both times, to make this not only personal, but educational for other mamas struggling, or inquiring.
If you are an exclusive pumper, make sure you still get lots of skin to skin time with baby. If you are a surrogate and intending to pump for your surro-babe; after the parents get their golden hours with baby, talk to them about some skin to skin time for you too as it will help with breastmilk production. If the parents do not live local to you, having them send pictures and videos of the baby, and maybe leaving a baby blanket with the baby’s smell on it can stimulate your body a bit while you pump to help with the acknowledgement that a baby was born, and did not pass. Your body is smart. If it senses that there is no baby around to feed, it will try to help you dry up as quick as possible most of the time, but if this is not your goal you need to stimulate it!
If you are a new mama, breastfeeding a baby and your goal is to NURSE that baby, breast to mouth, DO THAT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Do not let ignorant hospital staff or professionals make you feel that it is the end of the road. Seek a knowledgable doula, CLC, IBCLC or a breastfeeding group near you, to get help. Baby might have a tongue or lip tie, even one that you cannot see yourself, and you can get it revised! If you must pump for a temporary amount of time until the issue can be resolved because it is severe, invest in an SNS (find one here) which will keep baby trying to latch onto the breast, keep your supply flowing, build that bond that you desire, and give baby your breastmilk easily so you know they are getting enough. It is the next best thing to breastfeeding directly.
Avoid those nipple shields at all cost. As helpful as they may seem, they are actually obnoxious and can cause nipple confusion with baby, just like a bottle can. And often, they do not stick correctly and you end up losing milk when baby pulls or pops off the breast, learning how to breast feed. Those shields are not really your friend.
If you intend to only pump for work, do not start pumping from birth, there is no reason to. Enjoy a few weeks with just baby to breast, and then start pumping a couple weeks before you have to go back to work, you do not need an oversupply to leave baby with enough milk for the day. They only need about an oz an hour, so if you are at work for an 8 hour shift, they only need 6-10oz at home. Also, while pumping at work, you have RIGHTS to pump in a private place (that is NOT a bathroom) as needed. It is a medical necessity and it is your child’s food. If your employer cannot provide this for you, in most states and facilities, they are breaking the law. Now, if the place of employment staff is under 50 employees, this makes things a little more complicated legally, but you can still make things work with an ethically sound employer, and a schedule. I recommend pumping every 2-3 hours at work, and bringing your own cooler to put the breastmilk in.
Learn about lipase and allergies. Lipase is an enzyme in breastmilk and a high amount of lipase can make the milk taste or smell soapy or sour when expressed and cooled, and some babies will refuse it. If you find this is happening with your baby, take the extra time to scald your breastmilk before putting in the fridge or freezing.
Always freeze your bags flat, you’ll thank me later. There are so many brands of breast milk bags and everyone has a different experience, but it is best to thaw it in a ziplock around the breastmilk bag, submerged in warm (NOT HOT) water. This way if the breastmilk bag leaks, nothing is lost.
If you leave some milk out, and it goes bad, use it for something else! It is not waste. It can be used for breastmilk jewelry, a milk bath, eczema, pink eye, and more.
DONT PUMP AND DUMP. Seriously, do not ever. Even if you are taking a medication that is unsafe for baby, use it in an alternative way, as listed above! There is never a good reason to pump and dump because of alcohol use, only a minuscule amount of alcohol passes through the milk and it is not enough to get baby drunk. You can always dilute the “alcoholic milk” in regular milk, as well, if you are uncomfortable.
Take care of yourself nutritionally while pumping, or breastfeeding in general. Do not be afraid to eat, you are burning calories while nursing or pumping!! Eat lots of healthy fats and proteins, drink a ton of water and electrolytes and pack on those calories, that’s why extra foods like the cookies and oatmeal helps. It is not because they are truly galactagogues, it is because you are giving your body more calories and nourishment that it is craving.
You are not a failure for needing to exclusively pump for your baby. You are doing a labor of love, and I am proud of you! I know it is not easy. I just wanted to share my experience for anyone going through this, or that could possibly go through it in the future. Get some support, correct the issues at hand, breastfeed if at all possible, and prevail. You got this!! Donor milk sources are also abundant. Check out Eats on Feets, Human Milk for Human Babies and any other local milk banks, if you are a just-enougher, low supply or any other reason.
Anything else you think that needs to be discussed for exclusive pumpers? Did you exclusively pump? What was your experience? Would love to hear from you!