Friday, November 9, 2012

A Guide to (Almost) Exclusive Pumping

Breastfeeding is my first choice, but sadly, it's not Everett's.  I have had almost 6 months of experience with the pump, so I have picked up a few tricks and tips along the way.  These are the best ways I have found to increase supply and help keep positive about the experience.

Get a Good Double Pump
I love my Medela hospital grade pump.  It is definitely an expense, but I have tried other pumps and there is no comparison.  The hospital pump is quiet, gentle, and extremely effective at emptying the breast (thus creating more milk in the short and long term).  You should take your breast health and lifestyle into account when you are considering which pump to buy or rent.  Babies are much better at getting the goods than any pump, so women who use pumps exclusively are more prone to clogged ducts.  A good pump will really make a world of difference and save you a lot of heart/boob ache.

Make Sure Your Breastshields Fit Properly
Pumping should not be painful.  Flanges come in several different sizes depending on the make and model of your pump.  The pump will come with the most common size flange, somewhere around a 25mm.  Your nipples should not rub against the inside of the shield while you are pumping.  If you are unsure if you have the proper fit, check out this fitting guide.

Pumping is so much fun!
Get a Pumping Bra
I would have given up on this a long time ago if I was not able to use my hands while pumping.   My pumping bra has been a godsend.  I am still tethered to the machine, so I'm not able to practice my dance moves or anything, but I can blog, surf the net, watch TV.  It helps me relax and forget that I'm pumping, which I think in turns allow me to produce more boob juice (I promise that's the one and only time I'll call it that).

Relax If You Can
It is important to relax when you are pumping.  Regardless of when I pump, I usually go so far as to cover up so I can't keep checking how much I'm producing, thereby stressing about it.  For me, the first and last pumping sessions of the day are easy.  I wake up before Bran and Everett so I can pump while I have a little time to myself.  I check my emails, blog, catch up on news, surf the net. In the evenings, I pump after Everett has gone to bed while I catch up on my DVR with Bran.  Easy.

The middle two pumpings take place when I'm solo with the little dude, so they tend to be a little less relaxing.  This means it's really important to me to take some steps to get myself as comfortable as possible.  These two sessions are done either while Everett is asleep (this is preferred) or he's in his jumperoo or chilling on his mat.  I'll make myself lunch and grab my water, the phone, cell phone, computer, and TV so they are all within reach.

Drink More Water than You Think You'll Need
There is no such thing as drinking too much water.  Keep a Nalgene full of it with you at all times and drink at least 4 of them throughout the day (128 oz).  Drink so much your back teeth float.

Get Enough (Healthy-ish) Calories
It's so important, especially in the early days, to make sure you're getting enough calories.  I was starving pretty much the first 6 weeks after birth, with an appetite less specific but more demanding than while I was pregnant.  I have been able to cut back a bit, but I waited until Everett was 3 months old to do so.  The Hunger is not nearly as intense now that things have found a happy medium, but I am definitely not back to my pre-pregnancy appetite.

Add An Extra Pump Session/Time
During the first 2 months, it's important that you are pumping every 3 hours during the day and every 4ish overnight so that you can establish your supply.  This is also a great time to start stockpiling extra milk for future.

If, at any time, you want to try to boost your supply during the first few months or anytime thereafter, add an extra pumping session into your regimen.  Currently, I pump at 6am, 11am, 4pm, 9pm and make just enough milk (30-35oz, but he also nurses a couple times a day and once at night).  I do not have any freezer stash, so if I have less than three bottles in the fridge, I will pump 5x that day and possibly the day after.  After this, I usually see a notable increase in my production.

Buy Multiple Part Sets
The only thing worse than the time it takes to pump is the time it takes to clean your parts.  Invest the extra $25 and make sure you have an extra set that is clean for when you are really tired.  Remember, you can also rinse the parts after each use and store in a ziplock bag in the fridge, but generally I only use them twice like this.  I run a load of bottles and pump parts every evening before bed.

Consider galactagogues 
I have heard wonderful things about Fenugreek and Motillium.  I would have no problem using these things but thankfully haven't had to thus far.

Consider Allowing Formula Supplementation, if needed
The whole childbirth experience made me a little cloudy headed.  My birth experience was pretty scary and traumatic.  Breastfeeding did not go how I had wanted it to, either.  I was so excited to breastfeed, that when things unfolded and I needed to pump so often, I had a one track mind - I was going to do anything it took to make it happen.  In my hormone-laden, sleep-deprived postpartum state, I felt like a failure in so many ways that I wanted to do at least this one thing for Everett.

I put SO MUCH pressure on myself with the pump.  Luckily, I produced enough, but psychologically, I was always extremely worried about having a stockpile, even if it made me miserable to get there.  One day during his 4 month growth spurt, something clicked.  I had plans to go out with my husband and friends, sans baby, but I didn't have enough breastmilk stored to really enjoy the wine that evening (ie pump and dump).  I seriously considered cancelling the event, but I had an epiphany.  I LIKE WINE - that wasn't the epiphany, though.  If Everett got a formula bottle here and there, what the fuck is the big deal (epiphany!)?  So it's one bottle out of 100.... certainly not the end of the world. Not even bad.  Not even not good.  Just not breastmilk.  So what?

After that, the worry and pressure subsided and I was more at peace with my pumping.  I wish I would have realized that formula every so often was NBD for us, if necessary, a couple months earlier.  It would have made me a lot happier to know that it was there for us if we needed it.  Breast is best, but formula isn't bad, either.

Pumping exclusively can be a very long and difficult road, but you are not alone. It is a huge commitment that's worth it for some women and understandably not for others.  If you have thoughtfully made the decision about what to feed your baby, take heart - your baby will be healthy and thrive regardless of which nourishment path you choose.


  1. I love this comment "Not even bad. Not even not good. Just not breastmilk. So what?"

    Kudos to you exclusive pumpers!

  2. You said galactagogues! I think you owe me a Coke.