I never thought I would be the mom attached to her breast pump but that’s exactly who I am. I am considered an exclusive pumping mom. I did it for an entire year with my son, Leo. And, now I want to share everything I’ve learned in hopes of saving you some time and a whole lot of stress that I certainly went through.
OVERSUPPLY: why I began pumping
To give you some background- with my first son, Leo and my second son, Beckham I was fully committed to breastfeeding. As a new mom, I had no idea just how challenging the feeding portion of newborn care could be. In all honesty, it was the most overwhelming part for me and so many of my mom friends have shared the same feelings.
For the first month with both of my boys, breastfeeding was going wonderfully. I worked with a lactation consultant in the hospital. I highly recommend this! They’re FREE in the hospital. I called them at almost every feeding just to be monitored and ask for tips. They absolutely love what they do and in my experience, they were thrilled to help.
With both Leo and Beckham, I struggled with an oversupply. I was actually warned by the LC in the hospital with Beckham that if I had an oversupply with my first child, it was more likely to return and to be stronger with my second child.
An oversupply sounds like a wonderful problem to have, right?! I can see how it seems that way especially if you are a mama who struggled to produce enough milk. Well, it’s honestly a huge challenge for both mama and baby.
For mom- you constantly feel engorged. Remember how uncomfortable you were when your milk came in?! That’s every day with an oversupply. Your breasts are tingling and uncomfortable around the clock. You have uncontrollable letdowns throughout the day, soaking shirts left and right.
For baby – he or she receives too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk, which is a big problem from a nutrition standpoint. Baby is constantly hungry. The excess foremilk can cause tummy problems and lead to them feeling very uncomfortable and fussy. Excess foremilk changes the color/consistency of a baby’s stool, so I was constantly monitoring dirty diapers.
Also, an oversupply is often accompanied by a strong letdown, which I had as well. For a mama, it feels like a thousand needles poking your breasts. For a baby, this is traumatic as well; the milk listerally sprays them in the back of their throat. Maybe this is TMI but let’s keep it totally transparent here… when my let down would happen, milk would literally shoot 3+ feet straight out in front of me in a constant stream.
While feeding, my boys would chock, pull off, spit up and get gassy. The greatest concern (which happened with Leo) is that they associate nursing with an unpleasant experience and they don’t want to latch or feed. This can then result in a baby not gaining enough weight.
Between my two boys, I worked with 6+ lactation consultants and spent countless hours with them. They watched me nurse. They texted me around the clock. I was sending photos of my pumped milk and poopy diapers, waiting for an “update” on what to do next to control the oversupply.
I did everything:
- nipple shields
- different feeding positions (feeding seated, baby on top of breast, etc.)
- pressure techniques to slow the let down
- hand expressing & putting baby on after let down
^imagine holding your screaming, hungry baby as you’re like “oh sweetie, it’s okay just wait a few minutes while I sit here, express and wait for the let down” it was chaotic
- pumping at certain feeds and nursing at certain feeds per the LC’s instructions
- nursing only on one side at a time
- cabbage leaves
- ice packs
- double sports bras
You name it… I’ve probably tried it.
Eventually, I, alongside my lactation consultants, decided that pumping and bottle feeding was the best solution for both mama and baby.
I was able to get my oversupply under control with very tailored advice. I am always hesitant to share exactly what I did because I worked so closely with LC both times to make tweaks.
If you’re familiar with block feeding… I did a hybrid of block feeding and block pumping, which is basically when 1 feed or pump is taken exclusively from one breast. The feedback mechanism in the opposite breast tells the body “hey, I’m not being emptied so don’t produce so much milk.”
You have to be VERY careful with this approach as this can slow your milk production too much and then you risk not producing enough. This is why I only suggest this if you have a LC to assist you.
Pumping allowed me to control what milk I took to reduce the oversupply and then to maintain a healthy supply. Bottle feeding became the pleasant feeding experience for my sons. A win for all involved!
PUMPING VS NURSING – mom guilt?
When I began pumping and bottle feeding, I felt such relief. My babies could feed without crying, without feeling hungry shortly after and without experiencing gas pains.
Also, my husband (and others!) were able to help out with bottle feeding. This became amazing bonding time for my husband and sons. It was also a huge burden lifted off of me as a mom and the sole-provider for their nutrition.
It wasn’t until someone asked me, “are you breastfeeding?” that I first encountered the pumping stigma.
Leo was about 3 months old when another mom asked me this…
Other Mom: “are you breastfeeding?”
Lauren: “I pump and bottle feed” answered without hesitation or doubt
Other Mom: “aw, that’s still okay. at least he’s receiving breastmilk.”
I remember walking away thinking what the heck… of course it’s okay. He’s eating. He’s growing. He’s healthy. What does it matter if it’s breastfeeding, bottle fed breast milk or formula.
This type of conversation was one I encountered regularly. It was as if there was a thought that pumping and bottle feeding was inferior to breastfeeding, which is something I don’t agree with at all.
REAL TALK: I DIDN’T ENJOY BREASTFEEDING
Here’s some mom honesty for you… I was not someone who enjoyed breastfeeding. Well, that’s a partial truth.
Those first few days, I enjoyed it. When my son latched perfectly, I enjoyed it. When he feed without crying, chocking and pulling off, I enjoyed it. When he fed without me having to fumble with a nipple shield in the dark at 2:30 AM, I enjoyed it. When he fed without me having to first pump and then put him on, I enjoyed it. When he fed without me having to rush the feeding in order to hop on a work call, I enjoyed it.
Bottom line… I only really enjoyed it for a brief period and then it wasn’t the best fit for us. An that is okay!
Breastfeeding, for me, was a great amount of pressure. I felt like my body was failing me with the oversupply issue. I became frustrated feeling like the responsibility of feeding was entirely on me. Because I work from home, I technically could breastfeed and work but that is pure chaos.
I want to acknowledge that breastfeeding is miraculous. The ability to feed and sustain a life by what our body naturally produces blows my mind. I did have amazing moments of bonding through breastfeeding and I can totally see how mamas never want it to end.
With that said, when you feel it’s no longer the best fit, it’s okay to stop. The majority of the time, I didn’t love breastfeeding and I am not ashamed to say it. I share this because I don’t want any other mama out there to feel guilty about her decision to not breastfeed.
EXCLUSIVE PUMPING TIPS:
HANDS ON PUMPING: hands down, the best trick I ever learned and it was thanks to my own mother. YouTube videos on how to do this. Basically, you use gentle “massage” techniques on the breast during a pump. This sped up my pumping sessions and allowed me to get so much milk per pump! I can’t recommend this enough! In fact, it was is so effective, I was strictly advised not to do this when I had my oversupply.
QUALITY PUMP: if you’re committed to pumping, the pump you have makes a huge difference. When my insurance provided me with a list of the pumps they covered, I sent it to my lactation consultant and she selected one that she felt was most like “hospital grade” ones.
I’ve used the Spectra S2 for both my boys and it’s amazing. I also have a Willow Pump, which I will do a full review on.
CALORIES: eat. eat. eat. Calorie restriction can affect you milk supply. I know most moms are just doing their best to eat while nursing/pumping but in my experience, the better quality of calories, the more it helped my supply (ex: eating a complete dinner instead of just snacking)
WATER: you literally cannot drink enough water while nursing or pumping. I noticed that any times my milk supply seemed to dip a bit was when I wasn’t drinking enough (being outside on a hot day too long without lots of water); water plays a huge role in milk supply!
15 MINUTE MINIMUM: from my research and the advice shared with my by LCs, a mom should pump for a minimum of 15 minutes, ideally 20 minutes. This ensures that the breast is fully emptying during a pump. The reason that it is important to empty is because that triggers the feedback mechanism telling the body to produce more milk and fill the breast for the need feed/pump.
BABY WEARING: Your milk supply is pretty well established by the first month. For that reason, I wasn’t too worried about my supply when I decided to switch to pumping exclusively. When the baby is not making physical contact with the breast, the milk supply can be affected but I did as much as I could to keep lots of contact. Baby wearing was a huge help for that!
My lactation consultants told me that in order to keep up my milk supply, it was important that I pumped the same number of times that my baby fed. If the baby was taking 8 bottles per day, I should be pumping 8 times per day.
For me, someone who could easily shift back to producing too much milk, my lactation consultants suggested I pump 1x less than the number of times my baby fed. If the baby was taking 8 bottles per day, I should be pumping 7 times per day.
With that said, my pumping schedule varied with the age of my son’s.
LEO 3-6 MONTH PUMPING SCHEDULE:
6:30 AM – pump
I woke up before Leo woke to ensure I got a pumping session as early in the AM as possible
7:00 AM – feed
9:00 AM – optional pump
This is the pumping session I add in if I worry about my supply. Because of higher prolactin levels in the AM, I can get a lot more milk earlier in the day.
10:00 AM – feed
11: AM – pump
1:00 PM – feed
2:30 PM – pump
4:00 PM – feed
6:00 PM – pump
7:00 PM – feed
10:30 PM – pump
the last pump of the day, I stretched as far as I could because I did not pump in the middle of the night. If my supply was affected, I would have woke up around 5 AM to pump (super high prolactin levels at that time).
Also, because I didn’t pump overnight, at my first pumping session in the morning, my milk was nearly double the amount of other pumping sessions. At that time I really used the hands on pumping!
LEO 6-12 MONTHS PUMPING SCHEDULE:
6:30 AM – pump
7:00 AM – bottle
8:00 AM – breakfast
10L30 AM – pump
11:00 AM – bottle
12:00 PM – lunch
2 PM – pump
3:00 PM – bottle
4:00 PM – early dinner
7:00 PM – bottle
9 PM – pump
When Leo started solids, he went from 5 to 4 bottles. He was still taking about the same amount of milk but just distributed among 1 less bottle. I was able to pump 1 less session and still produced the same amount of milk. There were occasionally times when I felt my milk was dipping and I would add in another session for a few days to get it back up.
With a little bit of time, I was able to build up a stash of milk, so I could “get ahead” on my bottles. I rarely pumped fresh and fed that milk. Each AM, I would make bottles for the day, distributing the average amount in each bottle and I kept those in the refrigerator.
This allowed me to work and pump on my own time. Then, whoever was in charge of feeding – myself, my husband, our nanny, etc. – would grab a bottle, heat and feed.
EXCLUSIVE PUMPING – what they don’t tell you
Exclusive pumping was one of the hardest things I ever committed to. I did it for an entire year with Leo and almost daily, I struggled mentally.
I felt as though I could never be gone from my home for more than I few hours because I needed to get back to pump. If I did have to be gone for an extended period of time, it was a big production to bring the pump, pump parts, something to wash the pump parts, milk storage bags, a cooler, ice packs, etc.
The entire first year, I took only 1 overnight trip away from my son for a funeral and it was very stressful making sure I had enough milk to be away that long.
The physical act of pumping has always been uncomfortable for me because I would get nauseous. Evidently oxytocin is the hormone that causes the let down of breastmilk and it also is associated with gut hormones that cause nausea, so some women do experience nausea during pumping. I was one of them.
The time commitment to exclusive pumping is by far the greatest challenge for me. Between pumping, bottle feeding, washing bottles and preparing the next one, it truly feels like that’s all you do.
Still, it was a decision I do not regret. For all the mamas out there who’ve decided to exclusively pump, I see you. It’s an incredible commitment. It’s time consuming and demanding. It’s a sacrifice. And, I just want you to know that you’re not alone in sometimes (or often times) hating it but I commend you for continuing.
I hope this post offered you help in whatever way you needed it! XO