How to Make Exclusive Pumping Work for You
I’ve always wanted Coffee and Coos to be a place that supports all moms. Whether you work, stay home, breastfeed, bottle feed, supplement, co-sleep, sleep train (you get where I’m going with this right?), I want this blog to be a place where you can find answers and encouragement. That’s why I’m so excited to share this guest post about exclusive pumping from Melissa of Pump Momma Pump. If you’re just starting out on your EP (exclusive pumping) journey, I encourage you to follow Melissa’s account. Best of luck to you, momma.
Hi! My name is Melissa and I run @pump_momma_pump on Instagram – a page designed as support, education, and motivation for pumping mothers. I’m a proud exclusive pumping advocate, a peer counselor at my local Breastfeeding Resource Center, and I also serve on the board of directors for the center. I’m the mother of a two-year-old boy and a two-week-old girl, who I affectionately call my “pumplings” as I exclusively pumped for both!
I began @pump_momma_pump after weaning from my first exclusive pumping journey in an attempt to be who I so desperately needed when I began pumping. At the time, I didn’t know “exclusive pumping” was even a THING that women did. I thought it was all or nothing- breastfeeding through direct nursing or formula. I needed education, motivation, and a POSITIVE perspective on pumping. So… that’s what I became for other pumping mommas! My journey lasted as long as it did because I took an imperfect situation, had grace with myself and my baby, and adopted a positive mentality. I had no other choice… exclusive pumping definitely requires a positive mentality.
My first baby was born late-preterm, one month early. I wasn’t ready! I had to choose what attitude I’d have while bringing this baby into the world- “Oh no, I’m not ready!” or “OK, Let’s do this.” I chose positivity. While he was born healthy, he quickly experienced a drop in blood sugar and developed jaundice, which landed him in the NICU for 10 days developing the stamina to feed before being discharged into our care. And so, I left the hospital without my baby. This was the second time I had to choose my attitude. After all, I HAD a baby- he just couldn’t be with me yet. He was in the expert arms of the NICU nurses, no better place for him at that time. And we had time to catch up with all the preparations for bringing a new baby home one month early! It was during this time that I learned to pump and develop a pumping/feeding schedule. It was the NICU nurses that actually taught me how to pump! They compassionately taught me how to use a breast pump and develop a strict pumping schedule, even though I wasn’t technically their patient! I never imagined myself NOT directly nursing, but again… I had grace with myself. I would eventually embrace this newfound style of breastfeeding, free of guilt or grief over preconceived notions of how my breastfeeding journey would look.
Choosing the “Pump Life”
This is where my story deviates from many other women: my baby developed a great latch with no nursing issues. I chose, however, to stick with the pump life. Going into parenthood, my husband and I agreed that we would make every effort to parent as 50/50 as possible. Because I pumped, this was actually an achievable goal. In the newborn stage, we took shifts sleeping next to the baby and feeding him at night, while the other partner slept uninterrupted upstairs. We were the most well-rested parents of a newborn I’ve ever met! I didn’t resent my husband because we shared the responsibility of feeding our child. More than that, I delighted in watching him bond with the new baby during feeding time in those early months! I also did not resent my baby- He had a mighty firm jaw and so my nipples were spared from his piranha-like suckle. I knew exactly how much he was getting, feeding didn’t take very long, anyone could help feed, and I did not feel used for comfort nursing. The transition to daycare was also a breeze because he was used to bottle-feeding and many helping hands delivering his milk! See? MORE positivity! Hurrah!
I always tell mommas that short, achievable goals are the way to go with exclusive pumping. Once you hit your goal, celebrate and reassess whether you should wean or create a new goal. I made a goal for myself of 6 months and at 6 months I was going so strong so that I easily I made a new goal of 9 months. At 9 months, I reassessed once again and having grace with myself and my body, I decided to begin the weaning process and was completely weaned by 11 months. I met my goal and then some! Can you tell how proud I was of myself? I celebrated nearly 1,000 hours of pumping by getting a pumping tattoo (I’m serious!) and a breast milk necklace. All those hours of devotion grew into a passion for supporting other mothers who are considering or experiencing a journey into exclusive pumping, and so I took that energy and momentum and started my Instagram @pump_momma_pump. Through social media, I could shine some warm light on what can be seen as a cold, mechanical process- exclusive pumping.
How to Rock the Pump, Momma!
Breastfeeding can be hard, whether you are nursing, pumping, or combo-feeding! I owe the success of my nearly year-long pumping relationship to the following survival skills:
Find a Support System
Assembling a good support system is the best way to meet your breastfeeding goals. My support system began with the NICU nurses, who helped me design and stick with a strict pumping schedule. My husband, aside from feeding my milk to our baby, listened to my struggles and became an advocate for exclusive pumping when people would question why I wasn’t nursing. I also received pumping advice from Facebook groups designed for exclusive pumpers. Support may not always come from where you expect it to, so it’s important to build a ‘dream team’ of helpers from lactation consultants to family members, to other pumping mothers with valuable experience to share!
Set an Achievable Goal
My goal was initially 6 months but I ended up pumping for nearly 11 months. I found that setting a shorter, achievable goal was easier than a lofty goal you may find too intimidating. When you reach that goal, make sure to celebrate and then reassess your progress. If you’re pleased with how far you’ve come and are ready to wean, go for it. If you’d like to reassess and set another goal, more power to ya!
Stick to a Schedule
Most exclusive pumping journeys start with an 8 pump per day schedule, which means pumping for approx 15 minutes every 3 hours. As your supply regulates and the months progress, you can afford to do fewer, longer pumps per day instead of frequent, short ones. The NICU nurses helped me realize that pumping frequently mimics the newborn’s eating schedule and helps build and maintain supply. And yes, this means pumping in the middle of the night! Sticking to a schedule is so important, even if you need to give yourself a little tough love to stick to it. Think about it this way… you wouldn’t skip feeding your baby because you’re inconvenienced by it, right? That’s the kind of tough love you’ll have to give yourself! And YES it gets easier as you find your groove.
Utilize Pumping Hacks
Whether it was switching to a hands-free pumping bra (a real game-changer!) or having two or even three different pumps (electric for home and another to keep at work, plus a manual pump for on-the-go) pumping hacks made my life SO much easier! I also stored my pump parts without rinsing or washing in a zip-lock bag in the fridge between pumps and washed only once a day. This really helped me cut down on time setting up and breaking down the pump accessories! There are tons of hacks to make the pump life easier online, and on my Instagram page!
A Final Message to Pumping Mommas
Exclusively pumping mommas, this is for you. Choice is empowering. The freedom to choose is often taken for granted, but we sure notice when it’s taken away from us, don’t we? And when that freedom is taken away from us, we feel powerless, helpless. Many exclusively pumping mommas assumed they’d nurse, and had a very specific vision for their breastfeeding relationship with their new baby. When that choice is taken away from them, be it lip/tongue ties, poor latching, NICU stays, etc, mothers end up grief-stricken. But what you might not realize is that you STILL MADE A CHOICE. You chose to exclusively pump. (Over formula feeding, over donor milk, etc) You still have power over how you feed your baby. You still have choice. Do you realize that? Every day you hook up to your pump, you are making a choice for how you want to feed your baby. When you wean, or begin to supplement, you are also making choices. Embrace those choices, mommas. May you grow to feel empowered by your choices, have grace with your body and your baby, and may you find gratitude for your pumping journey.
For more information and education on exclusive pumping, check out the newest course from Milkology created specifically for exclusive pumping mothers. This course covers everything from mastering your milk supply, to overcoming barriers, maximizing expression, storing your breast milk, and much much more!