A week after my twins were born, the only thing holding them back from being able to come home from the hospital was being able to eat without being fed breastmilk through an NG tube. They were not strong enough to be successful at nursing at this point, so we decided to introduce bottles, assuming we could work at figuring out the boob thing once we got home. Spoiler alert, that didn’t happen. One of them would literally turn her head away when I’d try to get her to latch. After a few visits to the lactation clinic and realizing the logistics of the “feeding-twins-who-don’t-care-to-participate” debacle, I decided to just continue pumping and bottle feeding. I was so fortunate to have established a great supply, and their pediatrician encouraged me to continue providing them breastmilk for as long as possible because they were born premature in the middle of flu season. Over the course of the next eight months, I experienced a huge spectrum of emotions and learned a few lessons along the way. While the technical aspects of exclusively pumping will vary from person to person – like which pump is right for you, what schedule to follow, how to increase supply, etc., I’m here to share my practical advice for the exclusively pumping mama.
First things first, let go of the guilt and look for the silver linings. Whatever the situation was that led you to the pumping route, know that your baby is so lucky to have a mommy who is doing whatever it takes to make sure that they are fed – be it breastmilk straight from the tap or from a bottle, or with formula or some combination of the three. Fed truly is best, and you truly are enough. Plus, there are some awesome perks to exclusively pumping that shouldn’t be overlooked! Bottle feeding means that your partner can have an equal hand in mealtime, which was especially important with two babies. You’re also saving money, since you aren’t buying formula (but don’t worry, you’ll make up for the money savings with the amount of stupid stuff you buy online while browsing your phone in the middle of the night after you buy the hands-free bra mentioned later). Perhaps the biggest perk of all, however, is having the perfect excuse to get out of nearly any situation. Do you have guests over to see the baby and you’re feeling a bit irritable or overwhelmed? Sorry guys, the boobies are calling. Gotta duck away for a bit! Then proceed to lock yourself in a quiet room for half an hour and listen to a podcast, or watch the show nobody else in the house wants to watch. This is your new form of self-care. Milk it for all it’s worth.
Next up, get a hands-free bra. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a GAME CHANGER. I tried holding the flanges in place, which was a total fail. Then I took the frugal route and tried cutting holes in an old sports bra, which didn’t work in the slightest. The flanges wouldn’t stay in place or maintain a good suction. When I finally purchased a hands-free pumping bra, it was like angels descended from the clouds, singing sweet songs. The way the holes are reinforced kept the flanges perfectly placed, and by doing so created enough pressure and suction so that my output increased significantly. On top of that, now my hands were freed up for things like feeding both babies when I was home alone, or tryign to catch up on dishes or laundry if they were sleeping (LOL still hasn’t happened). When I returned to work after maternity leave, I was able to shut my door and work through the pump breaks.
Speaking of returning to work – if that will be your reality, be upfront with your employer about the situation and what you require. At my original job, I had a private office and didn’t have to worry about anything except closing the door, hooking up to my gear, and getting back to work. Then I switched companies after a few months back to work, which had a very different setup and I was too embarrassed to advocate for myself (present-me wants to kick past-me for that). In a nutshell, that’s what led to the end of my pumping journey, so please learn from my mistake, and know your rights and what you are legally entitled to.
On a final note, one thing that new moms forget is to take care of themselves. I’ve said it time and time again, but you can’t pour from an empty well. Or in this case, you can’t get milk from an empty body. Make sure you’re staying hydrated and eating nourishing, nutritious, calorie-dense food. Now is not the time to diet or restrict your eating. I’d notice the biggest dip in my supply when I didn’t actively monitor my water and food intake – it got to the point where I would set reminders on my phone so I wouldn’t forget (I never, ever thought I’d be the kind of person who would FORGET TO EAT, but I also didn’t know the level of exhaustion that a newborn or two would bring). Make sure you’re taking care of yourself emotionally as well – which I know is so much easier said than done, but make it a priority to check in with yourself and find small things that bring you joy. The times where I felt extra-tired or extra-stressed manifested in a drastically lower supply – which is just another point of proof that babies need their mamas to be happy and healthy.
It’s been a while since this season of life for me, but exclusively pumping was such a huge piece of my postpartum journey. Like any part of motherhood, it wasn’t easy, but it was something I was happy to do for my babies and was genuinely sad when our time came to an end. Hopefully this advice from a veteran EP-er will prove to be valuable to someone in the trenches! Please feel free to reach out, I would be happy to share my experience.