For the last twelve months, multiple times a day and night, I’ve had an intimate rendezvous with a double electric breast pump. It has been a love-hate relationship to say the least.
The pump never woos me with chocolate or flowers, and yet it’s groped my boobs more often than my husband. I shower it with praise for allowing me to nourish my baby, only to get into a screaming match at 3am when it decides now is a good time to conk out. I spend hours a day listening to its dull drabble (whirr whirr whirr whirr) and bemoan the time spent keeping it in good working order. I’ve even sworn on numerous occasions that we are breaking up for good; I am done pumping! And yet I keep coming back for more.
I made the decision to begin pumping after my son’s four week check up when we found out he wasn’t gaining enough weight. Because of reflux issues, Oliver spent a lot of time screaming and thrashing around while trying to eat, and all too often, a lot of what he did eat came right back up. Exclusively breastfeeding him became a nightmare. Most feeds were a battle of wills. I desperately tried to get Oliver to latch on, he desperately tried to do anything but that.
My husband would stumble out into the living room in the middle of the night to find both Oliver and I in tears. “I’m just so tired, and he won’t eat,” I would cry.
“Why don’t you let me give him a bottle of formula?” Brad would counter.
“No we can’t give him formula.” (Because, you know, it’s liquid poison and I’m a complete failure as a mom if we do).
“Well then I can’t really help you.”
And I desperately needed some help. So when the doctor suggested giving him expressed milk in a bottle a light bulb came on. I went out the next day, bought a pump, and instantly felt a sense of relief.
Since beginning this pumping journey (calling it a “journey” makes it sound much more exciting and glamorous than it really is) I’ve transitioned from just pumping enough to have a couple extra bottles, to exclusively pumping and then supplementing with some formula around the 8 month mark (note: baby did not die when ingesting formula). I love the freedom pumping has afforded me, and I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed that “special bond” so many breastfeeding moms talk about. If anything, since I’ve started bottle feeding expressed milk, I’ve enjoyed much calmer snuggle time with my guy.
If you are considering exclusively pumping, or are just starting out, I’ve compiled a list of some of the more helpful information to get you going.
1) Get a high quality electric double pump. This is not the time to cut costs. The quality of your pump means the difference between pumping for 30 minutes to get 2oz and pumping for 15 minutes to get 6oz. The price of a double electric pump ranges from $150 to $350 depending on its features. I’ve had success with both Medela and Ameda brands, but ultimately prefer Medela for its superior suction and wide availability—meaning it’s easier to quickly replace lost or broken parts. A great website for researching breast pumps and reading reviews can be found HERE.
2) Check with your insurance company, many will cover pumps. Because why spend money on this kind of pump:
…when you can spend money on this kind:
3) If you aren’t sure about pumping, have a low milk supply, premature baby, or are trying to produce enough for multiples try renting one from companies like Medela, or check out your local hospitals or lactation consultants like La Leche League. Most rentals are high-quality hospital grade pumps that would cost about $1,000 if you bought it on your own. Also, if you qualify for WIC it is often possible to get a pump through them.
4) To save time, during the day store pump parts in the refrigerator in between pumping sessions. Wash and sanitize them once at night. Trust me, the last thing you will want to do when finally getting baby down for a nap is wash pump parts.
5) Until your supply is well establish, around the 12-week mark, pump about every 3 hours, even in the middle of the night, even if you’re baby is still sleeping soundly (Yes, you have my permission to complain loudly while doing so. Make that loud enough to wake up your partner to let him know just how unpleasant waking up is). Once your supply is established you can slowly cut back sessions. At about 6 months postpartum I was only pumping about 5 times a day, and not at all at night, and was making about 25-30 oz/day.
6) Don’t agonize over having to supplement with a little formula here and there. The expression “breast is best” really needs to be changed to “breast is best…until it’s not…and only you can be the judge of that.” It’s not quite as catchy and a little long to fit on a bumper sticker but you get the point.
7) Make pumping hands-free by purchasing a pumping bra, literally a bra with holes in it (later lingerie use?), or make your own by cutting holes out of a tight sports bra that are large enough to accommodate the phalanges. Leopard print pumping bra anyone?
Because never mind the baby vomit in your hair, you need to be fashionable!
8) If you aren’t going to use the breast milk in the next 6 hours (some say up to 8) then store it in the refrigerator for up five days. If you want to build up a milk stash try freezing the milk in ice cube trays and then storing them in large zip lock bags. Each cube is approximately one ounce so it becomes easy to unthaw just enough for your feeding.
9) To get the maximum output there are a number of things you can do.
-Make sure you have properly fitted phalanges.
-Massage your breasts while pumping.
-Alternate the rate of suction on the pump to stimulate multiple let-downs.
-Think about or look at your baby while pumping.
-And like with breastfeeding, get as much rest as possible, eat a balanced diet, and drink plenty of water.
10) Congratulate yourself daily. Pumping is a challenge, and whether you’ve been at it for a day, week, month, or entire year you’re a trooper. High five pumping woman!
11) If pumping ever becomes so stressful or burdensome that it is affecting your relationship with your baby or your mental health, STOP! Give yourself a day or two to evaluate if it’s the right decision for you, and then move on. A year from now your baby won’t remember whether he ate formula or breast milk, but you will remember the stress it caused. The positive memories you have of feeding your baby should outweigh the bad caused by an unpleasant pumping experience.
So pump on ladies! And when you’re ready to retire, give your pump a proper send off like Julie the Happy Home Fairy. I seriously need to start searching for a funeral plot for my pump.
Or I could just keep letting Oliver have his way with it and I’m sure it will eventually reach it’s own timely death.