The Ups and Downs of Exclusively Pumping
Firstly, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! I hope you got to spend a ton of time with family, that it was happy, and the meaning wasn’t about the food or the presents. It’s weird to think BabyJ just went through his first holiday season and soon it will be the new year.
Now onto the topic of this post – exclusively pumping. I’ve been working on this post idea for a while and it will probably be a series of posts, but it’s definitely an important one. Most people don’t understand what goes into breastfeeding. It’s one of those topics, at least in the United States, that is taboo. BabyJ started out feeding through pumping and supplementing with formula as we worked on building a milk supply and teaching him how to latch. Being as premature as he was, it was important, especially to Brian and I, to make sure we were feeding him breast milk. I was told on a regular basis that I wouldn’t be judged if I decided to throw in the towel and not feed him breast milk because it was difficult. We didn’t, though. We stuck to it and it became a team effort – Brian helped me with Joshua until he became comfortable with latching or when he was more fussy. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the direct breastfeeding became exclusive pumping. Double the work, but just as much gain for BabyJ.
Things I will touch on in this article are:
- Benefits and Downfalls of exclusively pumping
- Things that may affect milk supply
- Some ways to help maintain/increase supply
- Day Care and feeding
- Stress (my own experience)
Some of the benefits of exclusively pumping include:
- We are able to monitor how much milk BabyJ is taking in and ensure he is eating his fill. When a baby has a latch that is harder to fix or a mom has an illness, it’s impossible to tell how much food a baby is taking in when they are directly feeding. It’s true that babies usually will eat until they are full, but this isn’t always the case.
- More bonding opportunities for Daddy. Brian has the opportunity to feed him, since the milk goes into a bottle.
- BabyJ is still drinking my breast milk regardless of how it is coming out.
- You save a lot of money by feeding what is naturally made. Formula is expensive, especially when you have a baby who can only eat certain kinds due to allergies and tummy troubles.
- Less painful nipple-wise (though it can hurt other areas if you pump too long in one session)
Some of the downfalls are:
- BabyJ and I lose out on the closeness of breastfeeding. We’ve found other ways to make this happen though – skin-to-skin and tubby time are great ways to get that closeness. This is especially effective when BabyJ has been sick, as skin-to-skin is soothing for both mom and baby.
- It’s harder to build a strong supply while exclusively pumping because pumping doesn’t pull out as much milk and direct breastfeeding. Additionally, when supply drops when directly feeding, a mom can just feed baby more because simply having the baby suck stimulates more milk production. Pumping can work similarly, but does not have the same level of results.
- The time commitment is a lot heavier. Sticking to a schedule is necessary to help maintain a supply, but life can get in the way. I am spending at least 3 hours a day total pumping. That doesn’t include prep, cleanup, and pausing to take care of BabyJ. Add that to feeding as well, and it’s a commitment for sure.
- Schedules get messed up and pumping isn’t a quick process. Unlike breastfeeding where a baby can just feed directly anywhere, pumping doesn’t work in the same way.
- Because pumping is a more difficult process, the setting and mindset of mom matter.
- Breastfed babies need to burp less, whereas bottle fed babies take in more air and need to be burped more.
- The cleanup is more involved – you don’t need to clean up a boob as much as you do pump parts.
- Bottles need to be warmed before they are fed. Boobs don’t.
- Babies can get more milk from a breast than a pump can. Some moms have difficulty getting any milk when pumping.
The downfalls list may appear longer, but the benefits for BabyJ outweigh any of those. His growth and development are incredible for his premature status, a lot of this attributed to persistence in feeding him breast milk and a very supportive family unit. If Brian didn’t believe in this as much as I do, it would be far more difficult.
So now onto another major component – the things that can affect milk supply level –
- Lack of food and hydration can create a smaller supply. It’s important to take in enough food and liquid.
- Stress and environmental triggers plays a big role in supply, as well. Major life events, illness, change in scenery – they can all impact the amount of milk a mom produces.
- Birth control pills, though there is at least one that doesn’t affect it and doesn’t cross over into the milk.
- Other medications.
- Drug and alcohol usage
- Lack of rest/sleep
Some of the things that I’ve found help maintain current supply or to build a stronger supply when it has dropped are:**
- Sticking to a schedule. My schedule is to pump at least every 3 hours to match Joshua’s daytime eating habits. He recently went through a growth spurt in the last week, so his feedings were a lot closer together causing me to have to pump more. Overnight I have longer stretches between, since sleep is just as important to having a consistent supply.
- Drinking lots of liquid. Admittedly, this is something I don’t always do, but have definitely increased. I find Gatorade and apple juice to really enhance output when done consistently. Apple juice was a whim for me. I had a sudden desire for it last week and as I drank a glass before bed each night, my two overnight pumps were far more bountiful.
- Find somewhere consistent to pump. Pumping at work in a specific space designated for pumping moms (a Mothers’ Room) is very helpful, but not all workplaces have these. My most successful pumping happens when I am at home and can control the environment. Pumping at my parents’ house, in the car, or somewhere else usually only allows me to pump about half to 2/3 my typical pump.
- Alleviate stress as MUCH as possible. I laugh cynically as I type this since the stress level for my husband and I is much higher than typical since I was laid off of work last week. But we’ve been trying to keep to everything we need to in order to build back up and keep stress away. More on this later.
- Utilize supplements/food additions like fenugreek, Mother’s Love, flax seed, oatmeal, lactation smoothie and cookie recipes, brewer’s yeast… etc. There are many different foods and such that you can look into.
- Spend time with your baby. It sounds silly. Of course you will be spending time with your baby. But really, just spending time bonding may help enhance your supply.
- Talk to a lactation consultant, La Leche League, or your child’s doctor.
Stress is the biggest factor for my supply these days. After being laid off of work last week and essentially starting over, I’m sure that stress isn’t hard to imagine. We fought the supply battle in the beginning after BabyJ was born, then again a few times when we were both sick, and when we had to make the transition from direct feeding to pumping and feeding. Those levels of stress are nothing compared to what is going on now, so the battle is real. We’ve lucked out and some of our family understand what’s going on and have been incredibly supportive. I will go upstairs and pump in the middle of a family event or will simply need to take the day in with Joshua so we can wind down and simply bond. Re-centering ourselves has helped Brian and I get a routine down. I’ve been sticking to a pretty strict pumping schedule because we know this situation won’t change for a little bit.
Pumping is not easy, especially when you are doing it solely. Essentially, you double your work because you are pumping and then you have to feed. There are times when Joshua is hungry when I’m pumping and miss out on that bonding of being able to feed him, but we are sticking to our schedule to make this work. He eats more sometimes than I pump and we have to tap into the minimal reserves we have.
Finally, make sure that your day care sticks to your schedule. We are lucky because the day care we use while Brian and I are at work really focus on each baby, helping with development, sticking to an eating and sleeping schedule, and essentially doing what we do at home. The purpose of day care for us is to continue BabyJ’s routine, not simply to watch him while we work.
I love that I can feed my son breast milk, regardless of what it takes to get it. He’s benefiting from what he’s eating, so I would go to the ends of the earth to make it happen. That may mean sacrifices for myself, but his health is a marker that we are doing what we need to be. If the day comes when we can’t continue this routine or we need to switch to formula, then that’s what we will do. There is no shame in needing to convert, but until it is necessary or until he’s at least 1 year old, I’ll pump. BabyJ is the happiest baby I’ve ever met, he’s healthy, and he’s not wanting for anything. We are lucky and we are persistent. In two months he will start eating some solid food, and that’s when this routine will ease up a bit more. Until then, happy pumping! Happy feeding! And continue to make sure I am at my best, so he can get the best.
**What works for me may not work for everyone. Each person’s body will need something different, as we all have different situations and chemistry. This article is solely my experience, what I’ve learned from other moms in lactation support groups, and various resources (some of which are included below).
KellyMom: Exclusive Pumping and Resources
KellyMom: Establishing and Maintaining Milk Supply
Exclusive Pumping vs Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding and Stress
Stress and Breast Milk Production
Factors That Can Decrease Your Breask Milk Supply
My lactation consultant at the hospital swears by KellyMom and I’ve found it to be a very well researched and highly informative site.