I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now. With both of my baby boys, I had to end up exclusively pumping. I nursed my first one for 3 months with a breast shield until I had to go back (at 4 months) and finish my last year teaching, when I switched him to bottle feeding. I ended up exclusively pumping with him for the first year. With my second baby, I nursed about 1-2 months with a breast shield again until I decided to exclusively pump until he was about 10 or 11 months. Needless to say, I’ve pumped A LOT! Both times I actually had to wean myself. I’ve learned a lot about pumping…the dynamics of pumping at work, how to keep my supply up, how to pump when you have a 2.5 year old running a muck and a baby who cried a lot, how to store a lot of milk, how best to heat up the milk, etc.
I’m no longer breast feeding my youngest who’s now 20 months, but I jotted down notes when I was and I’m finally sitting down to write this post. I remember searching a lot for tips regarding pumping and asking my friends about their pumping experience. I didn’t have any friends who exclusively pumped, but I eventually found my groove.
Before I share some tips, I want to say that these are only tips from MY experience. Each woman is different and there is no shame in not being able to nurse (I felt this often at the beginning) or being able to exclusively pump. It’s hard. Really hard. And took a lot of work to do for so long. My #1 goal was to have my babies drink breast milk for at least a year. If I made it, great. If I didn’t, well, I tried. With all that said, I’m sharing these to give moms who have to exclusively pump (or pump at all) a little insight into my experience. Feel free to leave any tips you might have in the comment section!
TIP 1: MAKE A DECISION OR GOAL THAT YOU’LL PUMP
The thought of not doing breast milk was never an option (if I could help it) and if I had tossed around the idea of exclusively pumping, I would have given up. Pumping for a year is not fun. It’s inconvenient. It’s annoying to carry around a pump with you if you go anywhere longer than between feeding sessions. And you have to do spend a long time at each session to produce enough (I’ll get to that tip in a moment). And then there’s the clean up…the worst part. The ONLY reason I continued was that good old breast milk. With only one baby I made it to a year, but with my second I was completely done at 10 months and I slowly weaned myself for my sanity. #notkidding I had a good stash of milk but did have to do a little formula, which I was totally fine with at this point. Making a decision to pump does not mean you’ll automatically be successful at doing it, but it does help if it’s important to you and you’re able.
TIP 2: GET A GOOD PUMP & SPARE PARTS
I can only speak on the pump I used, but a good, quality pump is really important. You’ll be using it about 6 times a day at first, every single day. I went with the Medela Pump in Style. It came in a bag that I ended up toting back and forth with me when I was working (I worked about 3 months while pumping). Your pump will come with tubes, but make sure to buy an extra pair when you buy your pump (or before baby arrives). There’s nothing like milk getting in your pump tubes (this can happen if you overflow when you’re not paying attention) and having to wait a few days for tubes to come in. There are some spare parts you can buy in stores, but not the tubes. I learned the hard way. It was a disaster trying to get milk out of the tubes and it can be unsanitary if you let it stay in there. The spare parts I would have on hand are: 1 set of tubing and valve/membranes (they have these in stores). If all these parts are confusing you, just YouTube parts of a medela pump and you can find lots of info. Medela actually has a spare part “Double Pumping Kit” that has everything you’d need. I don’t remember seeing this when I was pumping, but found it when I was doing some research for this post. It would definitely be cheaper to get this kit instead of buying the parts individually. Of course, this is for the Pump in Style Advanced.
TIP 3: EAT, EAT, EAT & DRINK WATER
After having both babies, I ate like I’d never be fed again. No holding back, definitely no dieting, and even snacking during middle of the night feedings. I’ve heard you burn upwards of 500 calories if you’re breastfeeding, so it’s no wonder you need a little extra calories. I never had any specific foods I ate or didn’t eat. I’m not a spicy food person, so I never really ate that, but I can’t remember eliminating or adding foods to my diet to increase my supply. My second baby was really fussy and I thought maybe it could be something I ate, but honestly, I couldn’t even keep my own head on straight, let alone figure out what foods might be bothering him (if any), so I didn’t. He eventually was fine around 6 months, so maybe he was just a colicky baby?? I’m a terrible water drinker, but I’ve had friends swear by drinking tons of water to increase your supply, and it definitely makes sense. I had a huge supply of milk and that was the gist of my diet. I do think eating a lot of calories helped (probably 2500-3000 at least, but that will depend on each woman)
TIP 4: PUMP TILL YOUR DRY
I have no idea if this is scientific or factual, but I pumped till I had a very slow drip (like 1 drip every 5 “pulls”) when I could (sometimes you’re in a rush). And if I felt a lull in my supply, I’d pump till I was dry for the next few sessions or so. Often, especially in the beginning, I’d have to switch out the bottles to get a new one (this happened frequently in the mornings after he was sleeping through the night and I was really full). Our bodies are amazing and can be taught to increase our supply if we’re “feeding more.” Just think about wet nurses back in the day who would feed other people’s babies. It’s worth a try if you’re trying to increase your supply. I find it important to do this in the very beginning when you’re regulating your supply.
TIP 5: BUY A HANDS-FREE BRA
I’m going to admit my stupidity here…with Baby #1 I thought that a hands free bra was a pumping bra you wore like a regular shoulder strapped one. So I thought it was too much of a hassle to put it on before each pumping session. I wondered why women would strap on a bra just for a session. I was so wrong and I can’t believe I went an entire year without one of these pumping bras. This was the exact one I used and loved it.
These “bras” are like tube tops that have openings for you to insert the breast shields, attach your pump, and pump without having to hold the shields to your breasts (yes, I did that for a whole year, although I learned some creative ways to still use my hands). They zip up the front, so they’re super easy to get on and off. I ended up getting one of these with Maddox (Baby #2) and it was amazing. He was especially fussy so it was good to have my hands free to hold him or soothe him or feed him in his rocker while I pumped. Or simply to work while I pumped at night.
TIP 6: (FOR WORKING MOMS) HAVE 2 SETS OF PUMP EQUIPMENT FOR WORK AND HOME
I don’t mean 2 pumps, but all the parts that go with it. This was a HUGE time saver and convenience when I was working and hauling my pump from home to work and work to home. I had 1 pump with the tubes that I took back and forth to work. Then I kept the following items at both work and home. This made it so that all I had to carry back and forth was my pump (with the tubes inside). I included a hands free bra, but they’re kind of pricey, so I’d carry this back and forth too, unless you want to buy two.
Here’s how it would work. I worked it so I only had to pump once at work (I worked at an elementary school as a teacher). I’d take my lunch break and go into a storage room to pump. I was too afraid to pump in my room…I had two doors, a window to the hallway, and kids/teachers always coming in. Even though I could lock my door, I just felt more comfortable in one small room I could lock (I’d have to lock 2 doors, close the blinds, etc in my room so this was easier). I’d grab my pump, 2 bottles, breast shields, and valves/membranes to pump inside the storage room. Once I was done pumping, I’d put lids on both bottles and store them in the lunch bag. I’d keep it in the fridge in our lounge until I left (hence the lunch bag to cover them up). I kept the drying rack in our grade level bathroom (yes, anyone who used that bathroom saw some pump parts, but whatever). I’d wash the breast shields, valves, and membranes with the soap and brush and lay them on the rack to dry over night until the next day at work when I’d pump again. Most days, I’d actually pour the milk into a freezer bag and wash the bottles at school too. That way I didn’t have to bring 2 bottles back to school the next day. I kept a large stash of freezer bags in my pump bag. And usually over the weekend, I’d take them home to sanitize or just keep there (but you don’t have to).
TIP 7: STORE YOUR MILK UPRIGHT
I stored my milk several different ways. In the beginning, it all went in the fridge to be used within a couple of days. I only started storing it in freezer bags when I had a huge supply and wasn’t going to use that milk for over a week. For me, around 5 months or so, I was pumping exactly what they needed, so I didn’t really store much milk after that in the freezer, just in bottles in fridge for the next few feedings. But when I did store it in the freezer, I used this milk storage box that flattened the milk so it could store easily. There are several out there, but I used one similar to this. Once it filled up, I’d transfer them to the lid of it to stand upright (or a plastic shoe box). And of course be sure to label each one with the date and time you store it.
TIP 8: HEATING UP MILK WITH A BOTTLE WARMER
The easiest way I found to heat up the bottle was with a bottle warmer. We kept the milk in the fridge and I’d pour it into a bottle and place it in the warmer. If the milk was frozen, simply running it under hot water melted it really quickly. Then I’d do the same process…pour into bottle, heat in warmer (it was still a bit cold). I used the Munchkin bottle warmer with both boys and loved it!!! I did buy a new one with my second baby because the bottom of warmer was kind of gross after a year of heating bottles, especially when I burned the bottom several times because I forgot to fill with water (sleep deprived problems).
TIP 9: KNOW THAT THIS TIME WILL GO BY FAST SO STICK WITH IT
Sometimes it’s annoying to hear someone say, “enjoy it, this time goes by so quickly,” when you’re screaming infant is keeping you up all hours of the night. Or your 2 year old knocks a gallon of water off the shelf in the grocery store and it spills everywhere. #truestory Same goes with exclusively pumping. Pumping is hard, but you will be really glad you did if you make it to your goal. Two of the happiest days of my life were the days I stopped pumping. I felt good enough about what I had done and I finally got my body back…and like 1 million hours where I’m not pumping or cleaning parts…or hauling a pump. Lol. It seems like an eternity ago.
TIP 10: WEANING YOURSELF SLOWLY
If your supply is still up (mine was still up to the boys’ eating schedule which was 4 times a day at 1 year old), then when you decide to wean, you’ll have to tell your body what to do. Even though my supply was up to my baby’s, I was only pumping 3 times a day. First thing I did was pump till I was almost empty (not dry). This decreased my supply a little bit. Then, one week, I decided to eliminate 1 session (middle of the day) and cut back to a morning pump and an evening pump. I tried to do them 12 hours apart. Once my body was used to that and decreased even more, I eliminated 1 more session (the evening session). I can’t remember how long the transition was, but I did it slowly (maybe 2-3 weeks). The next part was hard. I was pumping once a day in the morning, trying to stop when I was close to being empty instead of dry again. I gradually did this trying shorten each time. Then finally I just had to stop cold turkey. A lot of it will express naturally in the shower especially (and LOTS of breast pads were worn during this transitional time). I remember vividly thinking I’d have to pump to get rid of that full feeling, but it surprisingly went away after a few days. It was pretty amazing!
I hope some of these tips helped or gave you some insight of what it’s like to exclusively pump if you have a baby. Has anyone else had a similar experience or have any thoughts/tips on pumping, whether exclusively or in addition to nursing? Let us know in the comment section.