Exclusive breast pumping - hooray.

When I started exclusively pumping breast milk, I found it to be a very difficult subject to find information on. The world that is cyberspace really made it seem as though exclusive pumpers were far and few between and that it wasn't something that was feasible for any significant length of time. Pretty discouraging since exclusive pumping quickly became my plan. After talking to just a handful of mamas, I found that the seemingly nonexistent world of exclusive pumpers couldn't be further from the truth. I found that plenty of moms decided on exclusively pumping for their babies, some for a few weeks, others for several months. So in an effort to shed some light on the secret world that is exclusive pumping, including a few tips and tricks I've learned along the way, I give you this post...

So if you're not super into breastfeeding, or you're my dad, then feel free to skip this doozey of a post. Otherwise, buckle up, you're about to the read the word "nipple" far too many times whilst discovering everything-you-hoped-you'd-never-need/want-to-know-about-breast pumping. Woohoo!!!

FIRST, A BACK STORY:
My experience with breastfeeding Ms. Navi was definitely not the blissful cup of tea that I had planned on. After several unsuccessful nursing weeks, countless failed latch attempts, a couple of nipple shields, a visit with a lactation consultant, shed tears all the way around and feeding a few bottles of expressed breast milk, I decided that I was going to focus my lactation efforts on the pump. This was by no means a decision I came to hastily. I knew breastfeeding was hard work and took a lot of practice for both mom and baby to become whip-your-boob-out-anywhere-feed-while-sleeping experts. But when feeding time became a dreaded part of the day and a source of stress for both baby and I, I knew in that mommy-intuition way that it unfortunately just wasn't going to work for us. After getting over my sadness for not being able to nurse, I decided that it was still very important to me that she was fed breast milk exclusively (at least for the first few months) which is why I committed to pumping. Long story short (kinda), Baby had some disagreements with several different formulas and also some issues with my milk if I ate anything with cow's milk in it, tomatoes as well as peppers. Talk about a fussy little tummy she has! So what I found to keep everyone happiest all the way around (happy baby=happy mama=happy papa!) was to keep pumping past my original "3 month" deadline. Little did I know that a year after baby was born I'd find myself just digging out of the trenches that is Pump Land, and the life of a dairy cow... now for the details...

THE SCHEDULE
In the first 3 weeks or so after Navi was born I religiously pumped every 3 hours for about 15 minutes each time. I'm not sure exactly how many ounces I was getting daily during those early weeks but it was A LOT! Way more than baby could eat that's for sure. So I did a lot of milk freezing using these bags.

After the first month or so I trimmed my pump sessions down to every four hours or so (yes, I was getting up in the middle of the night to pump). My schedule was as follows: usually first thing in the morning while husband fed/snuggled baby, lunchtime-ish, 3pm-ish, 6pm-ish when husband got home from work, 10pm-ish before bed and then once in the middle of the night whenever baby woke up to eat. Each time I would pump for 15 minutes or so, sometimes a little longer depending on my flow situation (sexy, right?). The lunchtime and 3pm pump were the only two pumps I had to do without husband home to entertain the baby so those two were the most challenging. With a little newborn I didn't have that hard of a time finding ways to occupy her while I pumped. The 3pm pump I did while she napped and the lunchtime pump I did while she was in her bouncy seat and I'd usually read books to her. As a teeny baby, she was perfectly content sitting still for this amount of time... later on as a 6 month old, not so much.

By 6 months I was pumping four times a day (7am, 1pm, 5pm, 10pm) for about 20 minutes at a time and getting about 40 ounces a day. Then by 7 months I was pumping three times a day (7am, 5pm, 10pm) and getting between 30 and 40 ounces a day. I started introducing a few ounces of formula everyday around 8 months because I knew I would be cutting back my pump sessions the following month. {I found Earth's Best Organic Soy Infant Formula to be the one that most agreed with her tummy. It mixed nice, didn't smell funny and best of all didn't make her puke or be constipated, score!} At 9 months I was pumping just twice a day (7am and 10pm) for about 30-40 minutes at a time and getting around 20 ounces a day. Finally, at 11 months I dropped down to one pump a day in the morning (I always was able to get more milk in the morning than at night). At 1 year, I said goodbye to my pump.

In the early days it was more important to empty my breasts completely and frequently to keep my milk supply up. Then, around 6 months or so, I was able to empty them less often and as long as I emptied them completely my milk supply didn't change a whole lot despite me cutting out a few sessions of pumping. When I started pumping less often I would make each session a little longer but I would finish based on when I felt "empty" rather than how many minutes had passed.

WEANING
Weaning wasn't quite as challenging as I thought it would be. I was super nervous about engorgement and mastitis but neither of those things ever happened to me. I think because I cut out my pump sessions so gradually my body adjusted relatively quickly to dropping that last pump. After my final pump I started drinking a few cups of Earth Mama Angel Baby's No More Milk Tea every day. I had a few days of my boobs feeling pretty full, a few days of night sweats and a few tears shed because I'm a bit of a weirdo, but nothing major.

One week after I stopped pumping I developed a painful lump in my breast and according to Dr. Google I was looking at a plugged duct. I tried some compresses and such to get rid of it but after several days of getting gradually worse and fearing an infection, I decided to bust my pump out for one more rodeo. I pumped for about ten minutes (just long enough for the lump to go away) and then applied some oregano essential oil to combat any infection. I used the oil morning and night for three more days and I never had any other issues.

TIPS AND TRICKS
  • You can find my favorite breastfeeding/pumping products, here.
  • For storage/organization of my refrigerated milk I just stored it in Medela bottles (I used these and these) and used tiny sticky notes with the date and time of when it was pumped. I followed the Rule of 6's that my lactation consultant taught me regarding how long my milk was good for (6 hours room temperature-6 days in the fridge - 6 months in the freezer).
  • Around the time baby was 4 months my milk supply took a giant dip for whatever reason. Probably because I was getting pretty relaxed in the pumping department. Sometimes cutting a session short or stretching out the time between each pump. Also I dropped my lunchtime pump so I was *just* 7am, 3pm, 7pm, 11pm, 3am at this point. I found Earth Mama Angel Baby's Milkmaid Tea to be incredibly helpful in bringing my milk supply back up. Here's how I got my supply back up: for two weeks I pumped about five minutes longer with each session, drank 2-3 cups of tea every day and ate oatmeal for breakfast. At the end of two weeks my supply was back up to normal. I was a goddess of lactation once again.
  • As far as breast shields go, I found that I needed to size up from what size everyone (including the lactation consultant) told me use. I found that when using the "correct size" for me, pumping was more uncomfortable and resulted in less milk output. So consider experimenting with different sizes to see which ones work best for you when beginning your pumping journey.
  • Don't underestimate the power of a good nipple cream, it can really make all the difference in the world. Early on in my pump days I used Lansinoh HPA Lanolin after every pump. I hated it. It was sticky and uncomfortable to apply and I think it also contributed to a lot of the discomfort I had during my pumps in those early months. Then, I found Earth Mama Angel Baby's Natural Nipple Butter and have never looked back. It goes on easily and moisturizes great between pumps. This cream is a definite must-have for pumping mamas! For a list of all of my other "pump essentials" check out this post.
  • Speaking of nipple cream... should you have pain in your nipple during your pumping journey that resembles signs of thrush, Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm (yep, the stuff you put on baby's butt after a diaper change) works wonders. I had a few occasions where I would have shooting pain in my nipple after pumping. Like someone sticking a needle-in-your-nipple pain (cringe!) Putting this cream on in place of my usual nipple butter took care of business in about two days. Obviously if you have a severe case of thrush, you need to see a doctor about proper treatment. But any signs that one could be on the horizon and this cream just may be your ticket back to Happy Nipple Land. *Side note*, you do need to pat any remaining cream off before your next pump so it doesn't make its way into your milk. **Double side note*, if you are breastfeeding and you have thrush then both you and your baby need to be treated.
  • Things that saved my sanity while pumping: The internet, an iPhone and books. During my pump times I read tons of books, stayed way too up-to-date on current events and celebrity gossip, learned how to use Photoshop and really perfected the art of online shopping ;-). Despite its drawbacks, especially the fact that it was so exhausting in the beginning (trying to pump only when baby is sleeping so as to not miss out on any awake-baby time meant not a whole lot of down time), towards the end of my pumping journey I was able to look at my two daily sessions as a scheduled-in block of "me-time"... where I just so happened to be making food. I enjoyed my aimless internet searching time. Also, specifically in reference to my morning pump, I liked that baby got some one on one time with her dad before he left for work every day- he played with her while I pumped. I got to wake up slowly and Chris got to spend an extra 40 minutes with his sweet girl every day, win/win.

2,000 WORDS ON BREAST PUMPING?! WRAP IT UP!
At the end of the day, yes, pumping sucks. No, I will never in a million years look forward to plugging in my Medela and hearing that pulsating hum. But am I glad for the opportunity to give my daughter breast milk when I otherwise wouldn't have been able to? Absolutely. Pumping certainly isn't for everyone. And I would never in a million years frown upon any mama who formula feeds- at a year old, Navi is now exclusively on soy formula and  I'm thankful that I have that option to choose from. (Myself and both of my sisters were formula fed by our wonderful mama and I think we turned out pretty darn great ;-). I think how a mom feeds her baby is a very personal choice- there is no one right way- each person should choose to do whatever works best for their baby and their family. This is what worked best for us. And I hopehopehope that breastfeeding will work out better for us the next time around.

Happy, bottling, nursing or pumping, mamas. These are your first meal-time memories with your little one, enjoy them :).

Here's a pic from Navi's milk-guzzling-hay-days. I grew that sweet bundle of chubby baby goodness... And I'm one proud mama. :)

Please note that this information is not meant to be used in place of a doctors advice or your own better judgment, this is just personal experience.

update: the lovely Jessica also did a post about her pumping experience... you can read it here if you're hungry for more tales from Pumpland... 

20 comments

  1. What a great mama you are to commit to pumping like that for your sweet baby! We are weaning now and I am so nervous!

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    1. For me the emotional aspect of weaning was much worse than the physical aspect. I agonized over the decision for what felt like forever and then had crazy guilt and "my baby is growing up too fast" feelings when I finally went through with it. Looking back now, Navi never seemed to miss a beat though so all my worry was for nothing. Good luck!

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  2. Just found your blog and I love it!! I'm not exclusively pumping, I do a mix of breast feeding and pumping, but I loved this post. My daughter is (just about) 8 months and I'm starting to think about the weaning process and it makes me so nervous! I'm getting ready to be done (although I really will miss nursing!) because I am dealing with some serious lopsided boobs over here. About a month or so ago my daughter decided she loved one boob more than the other, which resulted in her eating more from one side, which led to one much larger (and always fuller) boob. Ahh! All this to say...I may be ready to start the weaning process soon and this was very helpful! (Especially the "no more milk" tea!!)

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    1. When I cradle Navi she likes to be held with her head in my left arm so I always said that if I were breastfeeding her I probably would have had lopsided boobs the whole time because she would've refused for me to hold her on my right side. Ahh, boobs and babies- they sure can give us the run around! So glad you found the post helpful and good luck to you with weaning :)

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  3. What an awesome post! I nursed my babies and can only imagine the dedication you would have to have to exclusively pump. When Harlo started to self-wean at 6 months, pumping exclusively wasn't even an option I considered. My hat is truly off to you, my friend!

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    1. Thanks! It was a big job, no doubt. Needless to say, should I be blessed with another baby some day, I definitely hope to have better luck with the boob ;)

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this! It's nice to know other people have made it through! I'm on month 5 and counting down the days until I can pack the pump away! Makes. Thanks!! :)

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    1. Haha, you can indeed make it through! Honestly, looking back on it now it really seemed like such a small piece of time. Congrats on making it to 5 months... hang in there, mama... you're doing a great job :) xoxo

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  5. Thank you so much for this post! I'm exclusively pumping and we've just reached our 3 month goal. I planned to try to wean off onto formula, but my daughter also has big problems with milk. We've tried numerous formulas to no avail. He stomach just cant handle any of them. And she is so sensitive to cows milk that if I have even butter, the poor little thing breaks out in a full body rash :(
    The EB soy was last formula that I was going to try. But after all of these trials and errors and her little sensitive tummy, I'm thinking that I'm going to give it a few months before I try it out. I'm glad to hear that worked for Navi. It gives me hope that it might work for us when the time comes.

    Thanks again for the post. Have a great day!

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    1. Hi Tami! Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you were able to find something in this post to help you along in your pumping journey. So sorry about your little's body rash... ugh, thats just terrible! We've had great luck with the EB soy and I'm so glad to have found something that worked for Navi when I finally put my pump away. Best of luck to you and congrats on making it to 3 months, thats a wonderful accomplishment! :) xoxo

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  6. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I'm a first time mom to twin girls and after breastfeeding them for a month I switched to exclusively pumping. They turn 1 in 10 days and I'm finally beginning the process of weaning off the pump-hooray! It's hard to find moms who pump and are willing to share their experiences with it, so I appreciate your post and look forward to using your tips for weaning gradually!

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    1. Hi Maren! Thanks so much for your comment, so happy you found a few helpful tips, it made my day :) And exclusively pumping for twins?! No way! You rock, Super Mom! Congratulations what a great gift you've given your babes. Best of luck with your weaning :) xoxo

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  7. I also had a similar pumping experience… It's true, pumping sucks, but I recently dropped to two pumps and am now making about 14 oz per day… I'm OK with it because my baby girl is almost 10 months old and wouldn't be opposed to transitioning her completely to formula. I can't believe how judgemental some mothers can be - it's a personal choice. anyway, what a nice story to stumble upon. ADORABLE little baby!!!

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    1. Thank you so much Jennbee... we pumping mamas gotta stick together, the trenches of Pumpland are no joke! Congrats on ten months of mama's milk for your baby girl! xo

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  8. I just found your post and I have to say that it was so refreshing to read! I too have found it difficult to find information on exclusively pumping. I have been pumping since week 2 and my daughter is now 8 1/2 months old. She had a decent latch but was so lazy that she'd nurse for 1 1/2 hrs and since she was on a 2 hrs feeding schedule that only gave me 1/2 hrs before she was ready again. After several days of her being attached to me for 5 - 6 hrs at a time, only 2 hrs of sleep a night, losing 20lbs, I wound up with let down issues because I wasn't taking care of myself and was so stressed out. Long story short I realized I wasn't going to be able to take care of my baby like this and decided to start pumping. It's been very hard work, I still pump 8 times a day and dont have the greatest supply, but it's doable. I really wish there was more support available. I know no one who even breast fed, so if it wasn't for my lactation consultants I'd have given up a long time ago!

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    1. Oh geez, so sorry about your struggles mama. Breastfeeding was no cup of tea for us either.. obviously :( Here's to hoping for better luck the next time around ;) You're doing an amazing job, supermom... keep up the great work, you should be super proud of yourself! :) lots of love to ya <3

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  9. I have been referencing this post during my 11 months of EP journey. Thank you, Tisse, for sharing your story and tips! I think I am ready to wean and currently at 2ppd, 20oz/day. I wonder how you cut down to 1ppd and then weaned completely. I get blocked ducts on the regular and am afraid of Mastitis (got it on Mothers' Day).....Thanks!

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    1. SOOO sorry that I'm so late to responding to this... sometimes these comments just get lost in the mix. I'm assuming that you've weaned by now since this note is from a while ago but just in case you still needed some tips, here goes: i started pumping for less time when i was ready to go from two pumps to one. then once I stopped getting engorged and my milk supply started slowing down I went to one pump. Then, when I was ready to go to zero pumps I did the same thing- just gradually started pumping for less and less time. Kind of like how a weaning baby will naturally take less and less milk per feed, if that makes sense. For blocked ducts oregano essential oil has been a huge help to me. at the first sign of a plugged duct I put a drop of oregano oil dilluted with a few drops of v-6 oil around the area. I do this usually three times per day and then pump and massage with a warm cloth etc. be sure to wipe this off before pumping though as oregano is a "hot" oil and you wouldnt want it coming into contact with your baby/milk. Hope that helps and sorry again for the delay. Good luck! xo

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  10. Just found your post and I love it!... I EP for my 6 month baby girl. Breastfeeding wasn't for me and I wish I had more info and encouragement with my first daughter ( now three years) to pump instead of formula because it caused serious constipation and I battled with it for a long time. But now I am very happy with pumping, my baby gets 7 ounces every 3-4 hrs and so cubby . Thanks to blogs like yours I can keep on pumping for as long as my body allows me. Much love all mammas, we don't have a easy job but it's the best :)

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    1. So glad that you found this post helpful! Best of luck to you in your pumping journey... its definitely not an easy road but looking back I don't regret it for even one minute :) xo

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