exclusive pumping

My Journey With Exclusive Pumping

journey with exclusive pumping

Breastfeeding was always in my “plan” as a new mother. For some reason, I assumed everything would go just swimmingly, I would have no problems, and I’d nurse my son until he was ready to wean. I read all the books, read all the blogs, watched all the videos, etc. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Greyson latched right after birth. He fed like a champ all day long and was even cluster feeding in the hospital. The nurses were amazed at how naturally breastfeeding came to us and I felt like I was on top of the world. We went home, feeling confident… until our first night alone.

Greyson was inconsolable. He wouldn’t latch and more or less cried himself to sleep after HOURS. Jeff and I were beside ourselves. We didn’t know what to do or what was wrong. Was he hungry? Tired? Wet? In pain? We didn’t know whether to drive back to the hospital or whether he had colic. As sleep deprived, new parents, we were at a loss.

I called the pediatrician first thing in the morning, as Greyson hadn’t had any wet diapers in 12 hours. The first thing he told me was to buy was Pedialyte to make sure he wouldn’t get dehydrated. The second thing he told me to buy was formula and supplement my breast feedings with a 1/4 to 1/2 ounce.

“Formula? Why? I’m breastfeeding,” I thought. I’ve always believed in fed is best, so although I was sad that he wasn’t getting breastmilk from me, the only thing I cared about was his health and well-being. So I drove to the store, picked up what the doctor ordered and came home to feed my baby. Let me tell you, that kid DRANK. That sweet innocent newborn was so hungry and that’s when I felt terrible.

I knew my milk had come in, but apparently, it wasn’t enough. This kid was eating triple time in order to make up for the weight he lost since birth, which apparently was a good amount because he hadn’t gained any back. The pediatrician was concerned with his weight gain and encouraged the supplemental feedings in order to ensure he would gain weight.

The more formula I supplemented with, the more he wanted. It took the edge off the empty breast feedings and satiated him. However, being a new mom with no prior breastfeeding experience, I didn’t realize that every formula feed hurt my supply. To this day, I still think, “I could have breastfed more often, I wish I knew about pumping after feeding to increase supply, I wish I knew about power pumping, I should have just had him on a strict 2 hour feeding schedule,” and it eats me up inside.

After a few weeks of supplementing, Greyson started to refuse both the breast and the bottle. He would scream bloody murder every time I tried to feed him. I knew he was hungry. Considering what he had been eating and what he was eating now was next to nothing. Greyson would pull away from the bottle with every other suck and writhe in pain. He would burp or spit up and begin to cry. He would arch his back while he was feeding and even after. Something was up. I began to Google his symptoms (what every new mother does, but also what every new mother shouldn’t do because Google can be evil) and it appeared he might have acid reflux.

I called the doctor and described Greyson’s symptoms. He thought he might have acid reflux as well, yet another hurdle in our breastfeeding journey. He told me to supplement any bottle feedings with a teaspoon of baby oatmeal in order to thicken his feeds. In doing so, the hopes was he would keep the milk down, so it would stop burning his esophagus when he would spit up.

It didn’t work. Greyson would scream every time I tried to feed him. The more I tried to breastfeed him, the more he resisted. I was heartbroken. I called the pediatrician again and we went in for another visit. After checking him over, he decided it was time to start a low dose of medication. We had to get it from a special compounding pharmacy because Greyson needed an alcohol free medication, so it wouldn’t burn his esophagus even more.

We tried the medicine and I kid you not within a matter of days, he was sleeping 4 hour chunks through the night and eating normally. YAY! I was so happy. However, now every time I tried to breastfeed, he was traumatized. He had begun to associate breastfeeding with being in pain and so he refused me more and more. The lactation consultants told me that if he was going to resist me when I offered the breast to just “pump” and don’t worry about it. And honestly, that was probably the worst advice I received because then he stopped latching all together…

This is why I started exclusively pumping. Exclusive pumping wasn’t the vision that I had for myself. Exclusive pumping wasn’t a choice. Exclusive pumping isn’t easy. I still beat myself up every day thinking, “If I had just done this or that,” I wouldn’t be in this position. My son has been on a combination of breastmilk and formula for the past 11 months. I pumped 6-10 times a day for this kid and if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is! Now, my supply has dwindled to the point where I am pumping a total of 2 ounces per day. My exclusive pumping journey is coming to an end for Greyson and even as I type this, I get teary eyed. I know a lot of people don’t make it this long due to a variety of reasons and I should give myself a pat on the back, but ultimately, I still feel like I failed.

I am very thankful for the formula. The formula helped my son to remain healthy and helped provide him with the nutrients he needed when I couldn’t. My son is now in the 98th percentile for both height and weight. He is in size 18 months to 2T clothing at 10.5 months old. I know that the breastmilk I was able to provide him with was a huge part in that, but the extra formula he received was what helped him to grow to his full potential.

I am hopeful for any future children I have that the knowledge and experience I have gained through this experience will help me achieve my goal of breastfeeding exclusively for the first year of life. I am confident in my ability to identify acid reflux signs early on, so that my future children can get the help they need. And finally, I am hopeful that one day I will be able to see how much I have accomplished in these past 10.5 months with exclusive pumping and how I have provided for my son the best I could have.

Because I was able to exclusively pump for so long, I have gained a lot of knowledge that I am hopeful can help others. Read about my exclusive pumping tips and tricks here.

exclusive pumping tips and tricks

Exclusive Pumping Tips & Tricks

tips and tricks for exclusive pumping

Exclusive pumping was not in my original plan. I exclusively pumped for my son Greyson for nearly 11 months. Read more about my journey with exclusive pumping here.

I have learned a lot about exclusive pumping these past 11 months. I am hoping to share with moms who are going through something similar what worked for me can hopefully work for you! While not easy, exclusive pumping is possible.

Tip 1: Pump every 2 – 3 hours to mimic a nursing baby’s breastfeeding schedule

Part of exclusive pumping is ensuring that you are expressing your milk as often as you would feed a nursing baby. I would pump anywhere between 20-30 minutes depending on time, every 2-3 hours. As the baby gets older, you can go 3-4 hours between pumpings. At nighttime, I read somewhere that you shouldn’t go without a pump longer than 5 hours. My exclusive pumping schedule looked like this:

5:30 am-Wake up and pump

7:30 am

10:30 am

1:00 pm

3:30 pm

5:30 (if possible while cooking)

7:30/8 pm

For the first 6 months, I would do a night pumping between 12-1. After that, I skipped the night pumping because I was a ZOMBIE. Greyson was still waking up and stirring prior to six months, so I was up anyway and it wasn’t a big deal, but once he was sleeping better, I needed my sleep.

Tip 2: Lubricate your flanges with coconut oil

coconut oil exclusive pumping

This is a tip I learned from a lactation consultant. Putting coconut oil on the inside of the flanges or on the breasts themselves ensures that your nipple can flow freely in the pump as you go. I was getting so many plugged ducts and little cuts prior to using coconut oil. Once I started using the combination of coconut oil and hand expressing (which I’ll discuss next) I haven’t had one plugged duct since. You’ll know you have a plugged duct if you are very tender in an area and notice a decrease in milk output. Coconut oil is safe for baby, too! Trader Joe’s makes my favorite coconut oil!

Tip 3: Hand express after every pump

This is another tip I wish I knew early on. Hand expressing helps ensure that you get any left over milk out and helps to clear your ducts. The lactation consultant told me that as you hand express and you notice your milk spraying in 10 different directions that that is the duct clearing itself. Once the milk begins to spray as “normal” the duct is cleared. You also won’t feel any more tenderness in that area. You need to get in front of the duct in order to clear it, so the milk can begin flowing again. Read more about hand expressing here from Kelly Mom. Hand expressing also helps you get out a little more milk 😉

Tip 4: Buy at least two sets of pumping supplies and make sure you have the right size flanges

Having two sets (at least!) of pumping supplies is a game changer because then you’re not washing pump parts all the time. I would bring a large Ziploc bag to work to store my pump parts and bottles in the fridge after I used them. I had a private fridge, so I knew they would stay clean. I only used one set of pump parts per day because I always kept them in the fridge after I was done using them. This worked for me and I was okay with it, but that might not be true for you. Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable! At night, I would wash all of the parts and put them in the sanitizer. My next set was all dry and ready for the morning from the night before.

Another important thing I realized after many plugged ducts is that you need to have the right size flanges. Your nipple should be able to flow freely in the flange and not have too much or too little room. Read more about flange size from Very Well Family here.

I learned that I am actually a combination of sizes, a 27 mm and 24 mm! That’s perfectly normal and I wish I had learned it earlier. I bought a pair of 27 mm flanges (28 mm with Spectra) and a pair of 24 mm flanges and then just used one of each set when I pump. I bought my extra pump parts on Amazon here! These were cheaper than Spectra’s parts and they were just as good! Be sure to replace your pump parts regularly as you will wear them out as an exclusive pumper.

Tip 5: BUY A PUMPING BRA

This is another thing I wish I had done earlier. I didn’t really think I needed a pumping bra. I was nursing half the time before I became an exclusive pumper, but still, this would have made it so much easier for me. A pumping bra holds the bottles, so you don’t have to! I was able to go hands free, especially with a rechargeable pump. This is the pumping bra I used. Tip: Buy at least two because you will need to wash it every day and it’s helpful to have extras. 🙂

Tip 6: Purchase a rechargeable, battery operated pump

I got a pump through my insurance, but it wasn’t the right fit. I was so restricted because I had to plug into the wall and sit there. The expression mode didn’t work for me, so I researched buying a hospital grade, rechargeable pump. That was the best decision I ever made! Not only was I able to take the dogs out, do the laundry, DRIVE (I know) and cook dinner, but it made the pumping time go by so much quicker. Wearing the pumping bra and using the rechargeable pump was the best. I purchased the Spectra S1 pump and I LOVE IT. I wouldn’t have been able to make it these past 11 months without it. I will use it for every future baby! The battery lasted a long time; at least 4 days with me using it between 6-8 times a day pumping for 20-30 minutes each time. Amazing!

exclusive pumping tips and tricks Spectra S1

Spectra is also an amazing company. My bottles warped after putting them in the sanitizer, so they sent me new ones, no questions asked! Be careful about sanitizing these pump parts daily because they will warp. I recommend a thorough hot water/soap wash and sanitize for the first use. After that, hot water/soap only and sanitize only if necessary. I use after market parts from Nenesupply and I am able to sanitize those daily, but it’s not totally necessary.

Tip 7: Squeeze while you pump

This is another quick way to get extra milk. As your milk begins to let down, squeeze! This helps get more milk out! I noticed an extra ounce or more when I squeezed my breasts as I pumped than if I didn’t.

Tip 8: HYDRATE

Part of breastfeeding in general is remaining hydrated and that stays true for exclusive pumping! I like to drink a bottle of water with every pump. I brought multiple reusable water bottles to work in order to make sure I was drinking at least 100 oz while I was at work. I also love water. 🙂

Tip 9: Supplements and Power Pumping

Galactagogues are things that can increase milk supply. These include lactation cookies, mother’s milk tea, fenugreek, oatmeal, etc. Read more about them from Kelly Mom here. Unfortunately, these things did not work for me. Just because they didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean they won’t work for you, so give it a shot!

Power pumping is when you mimic a baby’s clusterfeeding. This is also said to increase milk supply, but again, this did not work for me. A power pumping session looks something like this:

Pump for 10 minutes

Break for 10 minutes

Pump for 10 minutes

Break for 10 minutes

Pump for 10 minutes

Break for 10 minutes

Total: 60 minutes

After power pumping, it is said you will a difference in milk output the next day. You should power pump 1-2x a day.

Tip 10: Milk Storage

As I mentioned before, I had a private fridge at work, so I was able to store my milk in there. These Medela milk bags are by far my favorite. As opposed to others, they don’t leak and seal well. Tip: Lay down the milk in the freezer, so it is a flat bag. Once it freezes, it will be easy to store! I stored all of my milk according to the first half of the month and the second half of the month. For example, I labeled my freezer bags, October 1, October 2. I knew I needed to use October 1 first before I broke into 2. I also made sure my bag was packed the night before with everything that I needed (breast milk bags, coconut oil, nursing cover) before I went to bed, so I wouldn’t be rushing around in the morning.

What are some other pumping tips you have come across in your pumping journey?

Post contains some affiliate links.