I never planned to be a pumper and I didn’t take to it very well. At the beginning, whenever anyone asked how long I was going to pump, I’d say “not long” or “not as long as I would’ve nursed.” And yet, every time I considered quitting, something inside me gave a resounding no and so I carried on.
Exclusive pumping is definitely tougher than nursing for most mothers (at least in the long run) and if you’re like me and have a slow let down and struggle with supply, it’s even more of a challenge. I made it to my original goal of one year and have (finally) weaned, so now with some distance behind me, I can tell you that though it wasn’t easy, it was doable. And these are 9 things I learned or used that made the journey more bearable.
1. A GOOD ELECTRIC PUMP
I was so convinced that I would be a champion breastfeeder that I only had a manual pump when Eli was born. Within a few days we returned it and got an electric pump and within a month, went and rented a hospital grade pump. For me, the hospital grade was a necessity to even come close to meeting Eli’s needs and though costly, it was worth it. And if you’re looking into an electric pump, I strongly discourage you from buying the Freestyle. It’s loud, the parts are difficult to put together, the suction isn’t great and if you lean forward while pumping, it spills everywhere.
You can find a place to buy or rent this pump at Medela’s website.
2. A HANDS-FREE BRA
Though hands-free bras take some getting used to, they make it way easier to multi-task, which is fairly essential if you’re exclusively pumping. I used to pump in the car, at the dinner table (covered) and even in my parents living room from time to time. In the year I pumped, I used two different hands-free bras while I was pumping. The first was the Medela hands-free bra, which worked for what I needed it for, but was seriously uncomfortable and I found it cumbersome and awkward to use.
The second was the Simple Wishes bra pictured above (which, full disclosure: I was sent a free one to try). This one fits with all pump types and is way more discrete than the medela one, which if you’re not covering yourself, basically shows your nipples off to the world. It was also much more comfortable and adjusts to different sizes, which was great when I began weaning and things got (tragically) smaller. If I had to do it over again, I would go with the Simple Wishes bra without hesitation. If I pump next time, this will be the only hands-free bra in my bag.
3. EXTRA PUMP PARTS
This is by no means a requirement, but I found that the number of dishes I had to do between pump parts, storage bottles and feeding bottles was daunting. By having extra pump parts, you give yourself a little cushion so that if you’re busy or tired, you can wait a little while on the dishes.
Get extra pump parts for Medela pumps at Amazon.
4. CREATE A REASONABLE SCHEDULE
I struggled a lot with how to balance caring for my son and pumping, especially in the beginning. When establishing your supply it’s pretty important to pump whenever the baby eats to mimic the same milk production that nursing on demand creates, but once your supply is established, you can stray. I found that pumping during Eli’s naps, before bed and once in the middle of the night worked best for me. It meant no time away from my baby and I could pump for the full 30 minutes that I needed in order to get a sufficient amount of milk.
5. PUMP WHERE YOU’RE COMFORTABLE
This one is maybe a little awkward and requires some explanation. When I first started pumping, I would go upstairs away from my family and pump for 30 minutes, alone, in my room. Meanwhile my family was downstairs, hanging out with my baby and I was miserable. Not only was I having to drop what I was doing to pump, but I was losing out on time with my family. After a few months I asked if they minded if I pumped under a cover and thankfully, they didn’t. From that point on, if my family was over, I would cover up and do it in the living room. I’m not recommended that you pump in public without a cover or ignore anyone else’s reduced comfortability with pumping, but do ask those around you and see because not having to seclude yourself at every family event can go a long way to making the experience more bearable.
Get a breastfeeding cover from Amazon.
6. DON’T RECORD YOUR MILK PRODUCTION
One of the bummer parts about pumping is that it isn’t as effective at extracting milk as a baby is. For a few months, I got very bogged down by how much I was pumping and recorded every ounce. I thought it was a good way to see a trend and make sure I was doing what I could, but in reality, I was making myself crazy. I cried and cried whenever I’d spill even a few drops and the time I poured a bottle out on the floor I thought I would die. Recording every ounce will only make you crazy, it won’t benefit your child or you.
7. SUPPLEMENT IF YOU HAVE TO
Supplementing with formula is not the end of the world. I’m going to say this again in case anyone like me is out there reading this: supplementing with formula is not the end of the world. This was a huge struggle for me because after we failed at nursing, I felt like I was failing my child by not being able to pump as much as he wanted to drink. It took a while, but ultimately I realized that the goal was to feed my child and it was okay if that meant supplementing when my supply ran low. And he’s now 13 months and doing just fine.
8. SET SMALL, REASONABLE GOALS
My original breastfeeding goal was a year, with the option to continue if the baby wanted to. When I started pumping, I threw that goal out of the window. First it was to make it to 6 weeks when my LC assured me we’d be able to get the baby to latch. Then it was to 3 months, then to 5 months, when we’d introduce solids. By making small, reasonable and attainable goals, I felt less pressure and it seemed more doable rather than that year long goal. And though I made it to a year, it was not my only benchmark throughout the process.
I know, as a new mother this is the most obnoxious piece of advice and please read it in a kind way instead of a bossy one. Exclusive pumping for me was very stressful. I felt like I couldn’t keep up or do enough and that I was losing too much time away from my child. It wasn’t until he was 5 or 6 months old that I was able to let go of some of the stress and guilt and it became so much easier to manage and continue with. Relax as much as possible, know that you’re doing a great thing for your child, but that the end goal is to feed them, so if it doesn’t work for whatever reason, that’s okay. And enjoy your baby, no matter how or what you’re feeding them.