An Exclusive Blog from an Exclusive Pumper!
Happy World Breastfeeding Week! I’m excited to share my story today as part of this week to make it clear that Exclusive Pumping IS breastfeeding!
I’m a proud exclusive pumping advocate working to become a lactation peer counsellor. I’m the mother to a one-year-old boy and have recently weaned from an 11-month exclusive pumping journey.
I’ve found that “The Pump Life” is usually thrust upon mothers somewhat against their will, due to nursing issues and/or prematurity. It’s important to note that however your journey starts, even if you are physically able to nurse, exclusive pumping is a valid alternative way to feed your child!
My baby was born late-preterm at 35+4 weeks. 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. It was during this time that I learned to pump and develop a pumping/feeding schedule. I was frustrated that no one had provided this instruction during my own hospital stay, and that it was the baby nurse that actually taught me! This is where my story deviates from many other women: my baby developed a perfect latch with no nursing issues. I chose, however, to stick with the pump life. This style of feeding worked for my family and so I became an exclusive pumper, a term and lactation journey I didn’t know existed until I found other exclusive pumpers in online communities through Facebook and Instagram.
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 a 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!
I made a goal of 6 months and at 6 months I was going strong so I made a new goal of 9 months. At 9 months I reassessed once again and decided to begin the weaning process and I was completely weaned by 11 months and was able to feed my baby breastmilk and formula 50/50 until 13 months. I celebrated nearly 1,000 hours of pumping by getting a pumping tattoo and a breastmilk necklace! It was during the weaning process that I began turning my attention to supporting other mothers who are considering or experiencing a journey into exclusive pumping.
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:
My 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 received pumping advice from Facebook groups designed for exclusive pumpers. I also had two friends (one a mother of 2 and one childless) who were there when I needed to vent or email during my middle-of-the-night pumping sessions. 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 ‘ordinary’ mothers with valuable experience to share!
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!
Sticking 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. At first I didn’t realise how important frequent pumping was and would try to skip a pump, which resulted in engorged, painful breasts and a dip in my milk supply! The NICU nurses helped me realise 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! Once my supply regulated around month 3, I started pumping fewer times per day, gradually dropping pumps until I hit a sweet spot of 4 longer pumps per day around 6 months. I dropped down to 2 pumps per day at 9 months and then began a slow weaning process.
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! Next time around I plan to treat myself to a nice pumping bag, pumping light (to help you see milk-flow), and breast massager!
I hope that some of these skills may benefit you if you choose to pump, either partially or exclusively.
This Ordinary Mother is part of an extraordinary support network for pumping mothers. Check out her links below:
Pump Momma Pump instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pump_momma_pump/
Have you exclusively or partially pumped? Share your experiences in the comments. If you are considered pumping, check out our page.