Of the many things first time mothers daydream about, pumping breast milk is not one of them, at least not on the priority list. And to be honest I didn’t even know it was a thing until a few friends had given birth. I never thought pumping would be necessary until I got back to work (which was 4 months post-partum), or for midnight feeds, which hubby gladly supported with.
After getting my son to FINALLY take the bottle after a 2 month stand-off (which felt like 2 years by the way, and reading and watching a million or so blogs and vlogs I made the decision to exclusively pump my milk and then bottle feed. The thing about exclusive pumping is that it requires A LOT of commitment and patience, because it’s a lot of hard work and takes up a lot of your time, and soap, and sterilizer….you will be washing bottles and pump parts round the clock!
I get asked a lot of questions about exclusive pumping, so I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned with anyone who needs support in that area. Lets get started…
Buying a Pump: So, the first thing you need is a pump, a really really good one. My first pump was a manual pump as part of a Tommee Tippee bottle set I bought, but after using it a few times and experiencing what felt like broken bones in my fingers, I quickly ditched it and bought a double electric pump. I remember the first time I used it and I saw the milk flowing effortlessly into the bottle – I wondered why I had ever bothered with the manual pump?! Anyway lesson learned. It also helps to have a pump that is portable and takes batteries. It gives you the option to pump on the go. I would personally recommend Medela Swing Pump, that’s what’s worked for me. It isn’t bulky, and there aren’t too many pump parts so washing doesn’t become complicated. Most importantly it does a great job at milk extraction. It’s pricier than other pumps on the market, but if pumping is part of your feeding journey with your little one, then it’s worth every penny. I also bought additional accessories (bottles, flanges and tubes). You can consider them, as spare parts, because pumps are machines and need to be maintained.
Establish a Pumping Schedule: Production of breast milk is based on demand and supply, this means (for most cases) as long as you are demanding by either breast feeding or pumping, your body will be supplying. When I started, I was pumping 7-8 times a day. It sounds like a lot doesn’t it? But actually, this is how often most newborns feed (every 2-3 hours). Keeping a schedule is important to maintaining your milk supply. I would pump at 2am, 5am, 8:30am, 11:30am, 2:30pm, 5:30pm and 8:30pm. Each pumping session lasts approx. 30 mins, which I did for 3 whole months, then gradually moved to 6, 5 and 4 sessions daily. Now that I am almost 9 months post-partum, I pump only 3 times a day 4am, midday and 8pm, but I only dropped pumping sessions when I had built up my supply and freezer stash, and when my baby started solids and slightly reduced his milk intake. When it was time to go back to work, I had to find a decent and private place where I could pump. If your office doesn’t have provision for this, you can always pump in your car or a colleague’s car if you don’t drive.
Building Your Milk Supply: Building a milk supply takes time, and it usually takes about 12 weeks/3 months for your milk supply to be established. This is when your body has regulated how much supply you need based on your demand. In the beginning, you will not get much, perhaps 30ml (if you’re lucky!) so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not in factory production mode in the beginning. You can steadily increase this by sticking to a schedule and supporting it with lactation supplements if necessary. You will need to pump as often as you would have breastfed. It’s tempting to want to stretch the period between pumping sessions, just to get a breather, and trust me, that time will come. But not when you are building a supply. Longer periods between pumping, hence fewer sessions will send a signal to your brain that you don’t need as much milk and your supply will drop. I was gradually able to build my supply over time. You can see from the photos that it was a slow start, but in about 3 months, my milk production factory was in full swing! I started with about 30ml/1oz per session, but now 180-240ml. On a good day, I get 300ml, and this is always with my early morning 4am pump. That’s when milk production is at its highest for most women.
Pumping Essentials: Apart from your pump there are a few more essential items to make your pumping journey easy and stress free:
- Breast feeding cover
- Breast milk storage bags
- Portable bag for your pump and accessories
- Insulator and/or Ice pack
- At least 6 feeding bottles
- Adequate space in your freezer*
Dealing with High Lipase: Some babies do not like the taste of thawed breast milk. Some women have high lipase (a protein) which breaks down excessively in their milk and changes the taste. It’s not harmful to the baby, but some just don’t like it. My son has no problem with this even though I have high lipase, but if your child does, you can try scalding your milk (warming it to pre-boil) and cooling it off before storing it in your fridge or freezer. This maintains the taste.
Storing Breast Milk: Always store your milk in airtight storage bags that you can label. I use Nuby storage bags (bought from @babybliss). They have a large capacity and so all the milk from one pumping session goes into one bag. Make sure you date the milk and indicate the quantity. When feeding your child always use the older milk first. Breast milk can be left at room temperature for up to 4hrs, a fridge for up to 5 days, the freezer compartment of your fridge for up to 3 months, and up to 12 months in your deep freezer.
Using Thawed Breast Milk: I thaw breastmilk overnight in the fridge. Thawed breast milk is good for up to 24 hours after thawing. Do not reheat thawed breast milk. If your child doesn’t finish the bottle of thawed breast milk within an hour, the milk has to be thrown out. This is why it’s often recommended that you store milk in smaller quantities so that you don’t waste any of that liquid gold. Thawed breast milk should also not be re-frozen.
This pumping journey has been quite the experience. Though it’s a lot of work, the benefit is that feeding my son is much easier. Wherever we are, it’s really just about warming a bottle, as opposed to whipping out a boob. My husband helps a lot with feeding too, which has built a very important bond between them. To be honest, I do sometimes miss breast feeding. There is something intimate about it that you just don’t get from a bottle. However, that didn’t work for us. Apart from my son relapsing into bottle refusal, he also had a bad latch and never had enough to drink when I breastfed, and this made him super cranky all the time. Since we made the switch he’s been such a happy baby and you know what that means right? Mama is happy too.
I will conclude that this was the decision that worked best for us and I hope this information is useful to mamas out there considering same – happy pumping!