I did not anticipate having problems nursing. I feel like most women don’t. When you’re pregnant, you’re told how important it is to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months - 1 year, and how it is natural and beautiful, etc. And while it is these things, it is not something that COMES naturally. I will be the first to admit, I didn’t take any breastfeeding courses, so that is on me. But the first time they put my son on my chest and told me to feed him (literally that was the only direction I got) - I had no idea what to do! And he didn’t either.
I was fortunate enough to have access to lactation consultants in the hospital for the duration of my stay. Due to a few issues we both had, I had to use a nipple shield to nurse him. I still experienced pain and discomfort, as well as extreme engorgement because he wasn’t getting a great latch/effectively emptying the breast. When we went to his 1 week pediatrician appointment, he was still losing weight, so the pediatrician recommended either supplementing with formula, or pumping milk to bottle feed him. Since my milk supply was pretty good, I decided to try pumping to see how that went. And at his follow up, he was gaining weight!! Even though I was bummed that nursing wasn’t going to work out for us, I was happy that I was still able to provide him with breastmilk. So since then, we have been exclusively pumping.
Now let me tell you, exclusively pumping (EP) is NOT easy. There is a lot to learn, such as choosing the right pump, getting the correct flange size, learning how to clean and sanitize - plus it is time consuming! But on the flip side, it allows other people to feed your baby which can be a HUGE help!! So let’s break down some of the things I have found helpful so far on my EP journey!!!
PREVENT CLOGS!! Turns out, it can be easier to get clogged ducts/mastitis when you pump (baby is better at effectively draining all the milk ducts!) I unfortunately experienced this 3 weeks post-partum and it was HELL. I now take sunflower lecithin daily (I love THIS brand!), massage my breasts with my hands and with THIS massager while pumping/in the shower, and use heat to increase milk flow (these heating pads are my favorite!) You want to keep the milk moving through your breasts to prevent any clogs. And if you do experience a clog, PUMP PUMP PUMP (and massage/use heat) to get it mobilized, or else it can turn to mastitis quickly!
Connect with other EP mama’s!!! Sharing about switching to EP on my social media was a little scary (hello mom shamers) - but it connected me with several women who also EP! Their tips and support have been invaluable. I also joined a Facebook group that has so many tips and tricks + support. There are also several Instagram accounts dedicated to educating women on EP. These are my favorites! @pump_momma_pump @exclusively_pumping @bemybreastfriend
Get extra pump parts!!! Once you figure out your flange size, I highly recommend purchasing extra parts to cut down on the amount of cleaning!! I personally have 3 sets of parts for my Spectra pump, and then have a hands free pump (Freemie). This way I am not always waiting for parts to dry or cleaning around the clock!
Get your partner on board!!! If my husband was not supportive of me pumping, I would’ve given up after a week. Seriously. You NEED that support - especially because it means your partner needs to step in to help you!! I personally have found it difficult to pump AND feed/play with the baby at the same time. Especially in the middle of the night. So our nightly routine is that I get up and pump while my husband gets up to change/feed the baby. We are now down to 1 nightly wake up session, but in the beginning we were getting up 2-3x a night. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work!! He will also take over baby duty when I need to wash dishes/prep bottles in the morning or at night. Because like I mentioned above - the cleaning/sanitization for pumping is involved and time consuming! I know that if my husband was not supportive of me pumping, this would create a lot of resentment and/or fights between us and honestly that is the last thing we need as new parents! (to see the guidelines around cleaning/sanitizing - check out the CDC recommendations HERE)
I will leave you with this - not everyone is going to understand your decision to EP. And that’s okay. As a mom, you are doing what is best for you, your baby and your family. Whether it’s exclusively nursing, exclusively pumping, a combo of both, a combo of breastmilk and formula, or exclusively formula - YOU ROCK MAMA!! There is no “right way” to feed your baby - FED IS BEST. This is hard stuff, and I will never judge another woman for the way she chooses to feed her baby!
If you are a fellow EP mama, I’d love to hear your experiences or best tips and tricks in the comments! :)