April 13, 2016

Exclusively Pumping - My Experience

Disclaimer: Every person's experience with breastfeeding, pumping, bottle-feeding (essentially caring for a child) is different. This was my experience. I share because I know when I was in the thick of things, reading other's stories helped me.

Before I was pregnant with Taylor, I never thought about breastfeeding. Of course, I knew well enough that breastfeeding comes with the territory of birthing a tiny human, but I had never thought anything beyond that. Growing up, I heard lots of things about pregnancy symptoms, labor, hospital stays, sleepless nights, and child rearing. However, breastfeeding never really came up in any conversation. Once I was, indeed, pregnant, I started researching all of the above topics and more. I quickly realized that breastfeeding was sounding less and less like a "natural," "instinctual," walk-in-the-park like I figured it would be, and more like a painful and difficult skill I would have to master.

I know that for some breastfeeding is a cinch, and that just as many have all kinds of difficulties. For me, traditional breastfeeding didn't happen. It was extremely painful, and I was not able to deal with that pain, having just come from labor. So, I made the decision to pump exclusively. Pretty much from day two of Taylor's life, I have been pumping.

It was not an easy choice to make. I was on a rigid schedule of pumping every 2.5 hours, to make sure I maintained a supply. So even when Taylor was sleeping soundly at night, I would wake up and have to pump. It was especially difficult when Taylor was also awake. I had to hold, feed, and burp him, all while awkwardly wearing my pump (not to mention the times when he would kick or knock one of the pumps off).

There were times when I felt cabin fever setting in, as if I was chained to my pump. The day seemed like a revolving loop of bottles, burping, and producing milk. If ever I needed to go somewhere, the prep work involved sometimes made me re-consider: By the time I had finished packing up my child, the diaper bag and driving to my destination, it felt like it was time to turn back around. Eventually, I started bringing my pump with me, but that required even more prep time before we left the house. Once I got where I needed to go, I then had to find a private area to pump, as well as washing it out wherever I was. Maybe it's not as big a deal to some people, but I had a hard time with that.

I remember after about two months I found an "exclusively pumping" mom group online. It was really helpful to read other's experiences and I was able to ask questions and get advice. Some of the topics said things like, "I've made it 6 months!" or "I'm finished with pumping forever after a whole year!" Two months had already felt like eternity and I couldn't fathom making it a whole year. It was so much work and so time-consuming! There were times when I would cry from frustration as I pumped (because #hormones). Sometimes, I just wanted to go to bed, but I couldn't - not until I got my pump session in. Once I finally hit that six month mark, I was able to drop the middle of the night pumping. That made a world of difference in my attitude. I could finally sleep more than a 5 hour stretch. That first night I got a full night sleep, I felt amazing. Then by 10 months, I was down to only needing to pump 3 times a day and still producing enough for Taylor. The more sessions I could drop, the more I felt like my life was less controlled by my pumping sessions.

Eventually, pumping became part of my routine, but that still doesn't mean I wasn't extremely excited to hit that year mark and pack up my pump for good. My pumping app I used to track my sessions says I've pumped for a combined total of 20 days and have produced over 70 gallons of breast milk over the past year. And you know what, I am so proud of myself. It was a lot of hard work and effort, but I was able to feed my child and put big chubby rolls on his thighs. I'm so lucky that I was able to keep up my supply for an entire year. If it hadn't worked out and I had to do formula, that would have been fine too. #fedisbest

This whole posts sounds a little like it was all doom and gloom for me, but it wasn't. Motherhood is hard and trying to figure out how to feed your child can be overwhelming (especially with the pressure out there that only traditional breastfeeding is acceptable). That's why I'm sharing my experience. If pumping is something you're going through right now, I want you to know you're not alone if you get discouraged.

Here are some tips that helped me maintain my supply:

1. Drink lots of water.
I think this is one of the most important things you can do to keep your supply up. It's also probably the easiest thing you can do, but since it's so simple it's often overlooked. ALWAYS have a water bottle with you. I promise, you will notice a difference on the days you don't get enough water.

2. Drink Gatorade.
I read this on every discussion board post about upping supply. I didn't really think anything of it, but the few times I had a Gatorade, my supply sky-rocketed.

3. Try lactation cookies.
There are a million recipes online for lactation cookies. I usually just modified my favorite normal recipe and added in a little brewer's yeast, flax seed, and rolled oats. If you do it right, you can't even tell they're not normal cookies. If you aren't able to find a good recipe, email me and I will hook you up.

4. Eat oatmeal for breakfast.
Maybe I should say first: eat breakfast! Sometimes it's hard to get yourself a meal when dealing with a newborn, but it's important. Oatmeal is a great breakfast food to help with your supply.

5. Continue with your prenatals.
My doctor told me to keep taking my prenatals. They help you get the extra nutrients you need while also helping out your production.

Some things I wish I knew beforehand:

1. You're milk coming in is the worst.
No one really warned me about the pain that comes along with your milk coming in. My milk came in about day two. I had managed to get through my pregnancy without getting any stretch marks, but my milk came in so fast (and in such a large amount) that it caused me to get stretch marks on my boobs overnight. No one told me this was possible, so I'm telling you.

2. You don't always leak.
Some people leak constantly, some only leak when their milk lets-down, and others don't leak at all. I only leaked on rare occasions. As in, I could probably count the times on one hand (mostly at night when I waited too long between pump sessions. I'm counting myself extremely lucky). Don't be too concerned that you'll never be able to go out in public without soaking through your shirt.

3. If your supply decreases, it's not the end.
There were so many times when my milk supply started dropping and I was convinced I was drying up. There are lots of things that affect your supply (periods, hormones, what you eat/drink, how much you sleep, etc.) That doesn't mean all hope is lost. Usually it just corrects itself. If it doesn't seem to be going back to it's normal production, you can pump more often or try some of the tricks I listed up above. You can even usually increase your supply with some work.

4. Getting your body to stop producing can be tough.
I thought when I was finished pumping, I could easily stop my production. When we were in the hospital, the nurse made it sound like if I put cabbage leaves in my bra, my supply would dry up overnight. Not so. It was an intense week of pain as I tried to make my body realize that I didn't need to make milk anymore. There's a lot of tips on how to dry up your supply, but it seems that each suggestion only worked for certain people. Some people swear by cabbage leaves, drinking tea, consuming peppermint in any form, and so on. For me, cabbage leaves seemed to do nothing, but Sudafed helped some. I think it really just takes time (sometimes months!) Hang in there, the pain (and milk) will go away eventually. Pop some ibuprofen in the mean time.

+What are some of your tips, tricks, or 
advice for those exclusively pumping 
(or breastfeeding, bottle feeding, etc)?
+What are some challenges you faced?

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