My Experience with Exclusively Pumping

I have been trying to write this post for months now, and I think it's difficult because I have so many thoughts associated with exclusively pumping.  I also know it isn't exactly an interesting post, and I've hesitated about publishing it. But, when I think back to when SC was born and our first few weeks with her, the most difficult thing for me was the whole process of exclusively pumping.   Nothing that she did stressed me out, but feeding her was definitely the hardest thing.  I have so many emotions that I felt about this process, that I thought it might be therapeutic to write a few of them down (and also include a few tips in case anyone finds herself in this situation).

Part of the reason I found exclusively pumping so frustrating, is that I really don't think that the lactation consultants gave very clear instructions.  While at the hospital, it was a rotating door with three lactation consultants stopping by at various points, but there wasn't too much help from two of them.  Plus, there were other specialists stopping by to make sure that SC could drink from a bottle, but really the whole time nothing was very clearly explained.  The day she was born, they had to give her formula to test a bottle (obviously my milk hadn't come in), so if I had any illusions about trying to be a purist about breast milk, that got tossed out the window pretty quickly. The third lactation consultant we saw on the last evening finally explained that I couldn't breastfeed and talked about a pumping schedule.  The day we were released from the hospital, we met with yet another lactation consultant, but again, there wasn't really too much help from that visit. Looking back, I just wish that someone had spent longer than just a few minutes with us on the first day and explained that I couldn't breastfeed because of the cleft palate and given instructions about what I needed to do. Instead they spent time trying to get her to latch which was a fruitless exercise even if it had worked (obviously I didn't realize that at the time).  Basically, I felt like everything I had to figure out through my mom or online, which is probably also how most breastfeeding moms feel anyways, but in my sleep-deprived state, it just seemed really hard and isolating.
Even after the first few months, I still had issues as I dealt with my insurance and Apria health care (which in my experience is the worst provider).  For instance, I had to contact my insurance company to renew the use of my pump and the lactation consultant suggested that I come in to see if I could get SC to latch. At three months old.  With a cleft palate. I am sure that the consultants are required to do this for insurance purposes, but it really just shows the complete lack of understanding of the issue.  Even if she could latch (which everything I've read indicates otherwise), she would exert too much effort and not gain weight (hence why she is feeding from a special bottle and we've been monitoring her weight closely).

So with those stories (rants) over, I think it is apparent that I didn't get too much worthwhile advice. With all that said, here is what I have learned.
Get a good hospital grade pump that you know how to use, preferably the Symphony pump.
The evening I was released from the hospital, my hospital grade pump arrived, but it was completely different from the one I had used at the hospital.  My sister said that it looked like a torture device, and while that is an exaggeration, my experience with this pump was pretty disappointing.  First of all, I wasn't familiar with it, so I found it difficult in my postpartum haze to use.  It also sounded a bit like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  This machine ended up breaking at Thanksgiving so my insurance company sent me a new one (after the husband literally called Apria 15 times...I am telling you, they are so inefficient), and I was delighted that they sent a Symphony pump as a replacement.  The difference between these two pumps is night and day. For the first month and a half with the original pump they sent, things did not go well at all.  I was producing milk, but the pump was inefficient, so  I was having issues with my supply.  I got so frustrated I ended up using a hand pump, but of course that was very time intensive. Suffice to say, the Symphony pump is superior to the other pumps out there.

Make sure you buy the tools that are available to make this process go as smoothly as possible.
  • Heat pads (these really help)
  • Lanolin
  • Phone with timer and alarm (I use the stop watch to time your sessions and the alarm to keep you on schedule)
  • Medela sterilization bags and wipes 
  • Hands-free bra
  • Boon drying rack
They will say that pumping isn't supposed to hurt, but especially since the pump is not as efficient as a baby at removing the milk, the process isn't as straightforward as you would think.  At the beginning I definitely had plugged ducts, and I still struggle with this now on a somewhat regular basis.  I know you can take a supplement to try to counteract this, but I worry about if the dosage would impact SC, so I just keep pumping frequently and hoping for the best. The heat pads are helpful when dealing with plugged ducts, and definitely worth having on hand. The lanolin is also important to have, and the medela sterilization bags help when you are washing the million bottle pieces several times a day.

Start pumping as soon as possible and maintain your pumping schedule.

Again, this was another fail at the hospital for me.  While they did bring the pump to me, no one really explained the process, so I didn't understand how important it was to begin a pumping schedule immediately.  If you find yourself in this situation, you will need to pump every two hours during the day from the beginning of one pump to the next (so basically every hour and a half) and every three hours at night (similar to a newborn's sleep schedule). 

Get as much support as you can, especially in the beginning.
I was really fortunate because my husband and family were supportive of me exclusively pumping.  Even though your pumping schedule should be as intense as if you are breastfeeding,  you won't actually be feeding your baby while pumping, so the husband really helped those first few weeks, taking care of feeding SC so I could pump.  Eventually, I became better at entertaining SC while pumping, but it takes time, especially when they are a newborn and just want to be held.

My husband also walked the very fine balance between being encouraging and appreciative that I was doing this for SC, and also reminding me that there is more to being a mom than just pumping.  I'm not exactly sure how he managed to do that, but I never felt trapped that I had to keep going, yet I always felt supported.
 My mom also helped a lot with the logistics at the beginning.  When my first pump wasn't working, I thought I just wasn't producing, but my mom helped me understand that the pump actually just wasn't working and helped me deal with plugged ducts, etc.  If it hadn't been for her help with the logistics, I don't think I would have been able to do it. Honestly, I probably would have wound up with mastitis if she hadn't intervened.

 Not to mention my family put up with me pumping all the time during the holidays.  Lugging your pump over to your brother and sister-in-law's house during Thanksgiving dinner doesn't exactly make you the ideal guest...

So I realize that this is a super long and pretty boring post for everyone, but that's my experience with exclusively pumping. I am so thankful that I have been able to do it for these past few months and am hoping to keep it up until after SC's surgery because I can truly see that she digests the breast milk better than formula.  Still, SC still gets a fair share of formula (and I'm thankful it exists!), as we fortified my breast milk at one point to help with weight gain, and we always have to give her a few ounces at the end of the day because my supply isn't quite enough.  Knowing that I can do something to help her when she has her surgery really sustained me, especially in the first few months when things weren't off to the smoothest start. I'm so very thankful that we've almost made it to six months, a time that certainly felt like an eternity when we started this journey!


saw said...

Great post! I really admire you for keeping with it. Also, I love the last picture of sc and you 💕

MWH said...

That makes me so sad that you had such a bad experience with the lactation cousin is a NICU nurse and a certified lactation consultant. She has helped quite a few of my friends, if you need anything I could email you her number. Although, it sounds like you have gotten the hang of it!

P*P*P said...

Good for you!!! You're so awesome for doing this. I'm in the camp whatever you want...breastfeed, bottle-feed, formula feed...whatever is best for you, but I am impressed by your dedication to pumping for SC!

I hate that you had a bad experience with the lactation consultants. The two that visited me while I was in the hospital spent a good amount of time with me (or maybe it was because I asked 1,000 questions), so maybe you just got some bad apples...or maybe they were rushed that day? :(

Either way, you're doing SO great it sounds like, and I know SC is a happy, healthy baby!!! Go mommy, go!

Evelina said...

That is so awesome! I'm not a mom yet, but I hate all this mom shaming that is going on for how moms choose to feed their babies! I think people need to do whatever works best for their family. Sorry to hear your experience with the lactation consultants wasn't great but it's great that you stuck with pumping!
Evelina @ Fortunate House

Elle Sees said...

does she use a specific nipple on her bottle? as long as she gets fed, that's all that matters at the end of the day. she is your baby, no one else's, so they are allowed zero input as far as i'm concerned. i remember the absolute HELLof feeding the little one i nanny for with her cl and cp. kudos to you, mama!!