For any of you mamas out there who are looking for some advice to make EP (exclusive pumping) life a little bit easier and set you on the road to success, this is a post for you.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to serve as an argument for or against exclusive pumping. This is merely a reflection on what I learned during my pumping journey that I hope can help some of you out there who may end up on a similar path. I personally really wanted to be able to breastfeed exclusively and had a number of failed attempts with multiple lactation consultants, speech therapists, and a body-work infant chiropractor before turning to exclusive pumping. That said, I am a firm believer in “fed is best” and eventually found that exclusive pumping is what worked best for us to feed my daughter successfully. She and I were able to thrive using the tips below, but of course they may not work for everyone. Please be sure to work with your Pediatrician and Lactation Consultants to figure out what will work best for you and your family.
Establish a schedule and stick to it.
Okay, so this may not be the most glamorous or exciting tip, but I would say this is the single most important tip for being successful exclusively pumping by building and maintaining your supply. Most women that I know do not really love pumping itself (usually they hate it with a burning passion), and you will still have a demanding (often crying) infant to care for…and on top of that all you are probably extremely sleep-deprived. This makes it all too easy to skip pumping sessions, but RESIST THIS URGE. You should be pumping at least as often as you would breastfeed, especially in the beginning when you are establishing your supply. This translates into 8-12 times a day when your baby is a newborn, and yes, even if you are lucky enough to have a baby who sleeps through the night early, this means waking up to pump in the middle of the night. As your baby gets older, you can begin experimenting with dropping pumping sessions and eventually skip the nighttime session (usually by the time your baby is 3 months old). I would highly recommend installing an app on your smartphone (or at the very least setting a timer) to remind yourself of when you need to pump again. The app that I personally used was Pump Log which lets you schedule timers for your next session, track your output, see how long you have pumped each day, and even calculate how long your freezer stash will last once you stop pumping.
Keep track of your milk production.
This tip relates really closely with the first one as it helps you know if your schedule is working well for you. Usually the objective is to get as much milk as your baby eats in a day, plus a little extra to save and build up a freezer stash. By monitoring your milk output, you know if you are producing enough to feed your child. If not, you will likely need to add in additional pumping sessions or extend the length of your pumping sessions to build up your supply. I would also recommend working directly with a lactation consultant to see what additional advice they can offer if your supply is low. By tracking, you will be able to concretely show how often you are pumping and what you are producing so they can provide you even better guidance. If you are producing just enough, great, you know your schedule is working for you. If you are producing too much, you can begin experimenting with dropping pumping sessions and decreasing the length of sessions.
Avoid having to wash pump parts after every use.
With exclusive pumping comes the never-ending task of cleaning bottles and pump parts, especially when you are pumping 8-12 times a day. Give yourself a break by buying extra pump parts so that you are not washing after every single use. I have also found having extra parts handy when traveling, pumping at work, and when my dog stole one of my flanges and destroyed it. Always a good idea to have backups if you can afford it! Additionally, my lactation consultant gave me the go-ahead to give my pump parts a quick rinse and store in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator between pumps rather than giving a a complete wash and sanitation every single time. So that may be an option for you to consider as well. As always, work with your pediatrician and lactation consultants to find out what works best for you and your family.
Invest in a good pumping bra and go hands free.
I found this especially helpful when I returned to work after having Parker, but consider investing in a hands free pumping bra (or even hacking your own out of an old sports bra) to free up your hands for other tasks while pumping. You want the bra to fit a little snug so that as it loosens over time you still maintain enough pressure for proper suction. Additionally, I found that the compression notably increased my milk output. I tried a couple different bras myself, and I preferred the Simple Wishes Hands Free Pumping Bra due to its adjustability, which allowed me to keep it snug throughout the lifetime of its use. I loved having my hands free to soothe my daughter if she got upset while I was pumping or to answer a few emails. Really helped to pass all of the time I spent connected to my pump!
Pair pumping with something fun to look forward to pumping.
While I was on my maternity leave, I discovered a few new TV shows (one I can remember in particular was Vikings), but I would only allow myself to watch more of the series during my pumping sessions. By pairing something fun with those pumping sessions, it really helped me with sticking to my schedule and kept me from putting off my next pumping session. I found this especially helpful for getting me through those dreaded nighttime pumping sessions. So go ahead and treat yourself to some guilty pleasure TV show binges while pumping!
Enlist help and support.
Be it a spouse, significant other, friend, family or paid professional. Ask for help when you need it. I don’t care what anyone says, exclusive pumping is an extremely difficult journey. In addition to all of the normal tasks that go with having a newborn, you have now added the added step of pumping (likely for at least a couple hours of your day in total). It is hard. It is grueling. It is okay to ask for help. If you have someone to help you with a nighttime bottle, fantastic, let them! If someone can help wash the pumps parts and bottles, awesome, ask them! Find a person to help with those multiple loads of laundry a day or the house that has not been cleaned in weeks. This is so hard for so many moms out there, but I promise you are not any less of a mother by asking for help where you need it so that you can continue to do what you need to do to support your child. I’ve also already mentioned several times, but I will say it again, consider working with a Lactation Consultant. Whatever your goals are with feeding your child, they can support you in achieving them and offer tons of advice. There are even some who will travel to your home for a session.
Remember to eat and drink lots of water!
I have never been one of those people who forgot to eat. I love food! However, having a newborn made for quite a few firsts including forgetting to eat myself while being so preoccupied with feeding my little girl. Do try to make sure you are consuming the right nutrients for your body, but you really are eating for two. Make sure you are eating enough! I found that I had increased milk supply if I kept my protein levels high enough, and I would get lightheaded if I went too long without eating. You will also thirst like you have never thirsted before, so make sure you are drinking enough water as well.
Have some hot & cold packs on hand.
The beginning of any pumping or breastfeeding journey can come along with a slew of side effects like engorgement, clogged ducts and Mastitis to name a few. Having some hot and cold packs on hand could really help to relieve some discomfort in a time of need. I used these Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Packs and loved them, but really any hot or cold pack would suffice.
Soothe those sore nipples.
While it isn’t the most fun thing to talk about, I definitely experienced some nipple soreness during my time exclusively pumping. There are a number of nipple balms, creams, and butters out there to help out with any soreness or dryness you may experience (however, if you have pain, not soreness, consult with your doctor). Again, I would recommend checking with your doctor and lactation consultant prior to using any new product on such an delicate area, but I used Coconut Oil and Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Natural Nipple Butter regularly and would recommend them both. Both of these products are safe to use while pumping, and I would even coat the inside of the flanges with coconut oil for a more comfortable pump session when I needed to.
Don’t let other people’s negativity discourage you.
I felt I faced quite a bit of negativity when people found out that we were exclusively pumping. Some of that negativity was direct (even from doctors/nurses): “You won’t be able to sustain that in the long run” or my personal favorite “Why don’t you just breastfeed” –Umm, because we can’t. Then other negativity was more subtle: the judging eyes or raised eyebrows when we gave my daughter a bottle. I was always unsure of how to answer the “are you breastfeeding” question without opening a can of worms. Then finally, some of the negativity was my own! I felt like a failure as a mother for not being able to breastfeed. To those of you out there experiencing something similar, my advice to you would be to let all that mom-guilt go. Heaven knows there will be plenty more to come! Do whatever is best for yourself and your child and do not worry about what other people think.
Hopefully you found some of these tips useful! Please feel free to leave a comment down below with any questions you have or anything I may have left out that others may find useful as well. Best wishes on your pumping journey!