Breast milk is wonderful, we all know. We have only been told 800,000 times over. Breast pumping, however, is a means to an end. Some mothers don’t mind the process, others might even enjoy it (I mean, I don’t know who but I can imagine they are out there!). Me?
I hated pumping.
When it came time to gear up that machine, my stomach clenched and a heavy weight descended on me (physically, mentally, emotionally).
I did it for six long months, while my first baby also nursed during that period. I had plans to feed my little one breastmilk for a longer period of time, but it just wasn’t going well for either of us. No matter how much I despised pumping, I did find satisfaction in my ability to provide my wee one breast milk when I wasn’t around. Through the ordeal, I worked hard to find ways to make the pumping process smoother and a tab bit more bearable.
For tips on how to keep Breastmilk cold and protected outside of the home, see my post here!
1. Get a good pump.
It is likely that you aren’t the ultimate decider in your pump choices. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (that considers the benefits of maternity health and wellness), pumps are currently covered by some insurance providers. When deciding between the pumps offered by your insurance, or perhaps an investment you are making outside of those limitations, first, think of your use case. Will you be sitting down in the same spot everyday to pump in the privacy of your own home? Great. You are already a step ahead. You can get a big, hunky, stationary pump with great suction. If you are a little more on the go – or at least would like to be – consider a portable pump. There is also some cool new tech to consider like the Willow Pump or this Naya Health’s Smart Pump (though, likely not covered by insurance). A hand-pump is great for those who will only be pumping in a pinch, like on a delayed flight.
2. Have a pump place set-up.
Find a good place in your home for pumping, especially if you have a bulky stationary pump. Set-up your area with things like snack bars, magazines, books, a cozy blanket, a comfy pillow, and a cell phone charger. You might want to keep your hands-free pump bra here if you don’t wear it normally. It is good to have a table top nearby for water, and obviously, the pump and all it’s necessary gear.
3. It’s all about the hands-free bra.
I am not sure I would have survived a day of pumping without the hands-free pumping/nursing bra. Because of this bra (or this bra), I never even ended up wearing my plain old nursing bras (my advice: if you are going to pump a lot, don’t buy a ton of nursing-only bras). I switched between pumping and nursing almost every feed so it didn’t make sense for me to keep changing my undergarments. I wore my pumping bras for 24-hour periods at a time, rotating them out for a wash. Other than when I was in the shower, I was in the pump bra. It made life so much easier.
My first pumping bra did not double as a nursing bra – it also required me to get dressed and undressed each time I needed to pump (which felt like, all day long). What a mistake, especially when I returned to work and had to get half undressed pump.
The hands-free bra allowed me to use my hands to tap on my laptop, scroll through my phone, or flip through magazines while I pumped. Once I returned to work, I did hair and makeup while I pumped in the morning, and once at work, I took phone calls and sent emails while pumping in our mother’s room.
4. Get the entertainment ready.
The only benefit of pumping (other than the fact that I was producing milk for my baby, of course) was that I got some quiet alone time to ‘relax.’
Okay, this is a lie.
Pumping is not relaxing. But, it was an excuse for my husband to be on-duty once or twice a day and for me to be ‘off-duty’ binge watching Netflix or YouTube for 10-20 minutes at a time. I tried to find productivity or peace during this time by answering emails I hadn’t responded to yet or getting a good laugh at a YouTube video circulating Facebook.
Even though most of my pump sessions included also caring for my little one while he hung-out in his swing or bassinet in front of me, there were still a few moments of peaceful pumping. Cue up your iPad!
5. Have extra gear.
We started with one set of pumping gear (shields, valves, the whole shebang) – we ended with five. I am not even sorry for the overkill, it was well worth it. Having extra gear meant I wasn’t always (always!) washing and sterilizing all the pieces and I didn’t worry if I – god forbid – had forgotten to wash all the gear between sessions. If I accidentally left a set at work overnight? No problem. Having gear to spare made life so, so much easier. If you have a means, it might be worth it for you too!
6. Cool the pump gear.
I read on Exclusively Pumping that you could put your used pump gear in the fridge after your pump session and use it the next session. I did this all.the.time and it saved so much time, energy, water, soap and sanity! I had a big rectangular tupperware perfect for the purpose of storing the shields, valve and even the bottles between sessions. (**This method is not recommended by the FDA: I am not a health professional – take this piece of advice at your own risk and speak to your doctor/pediatrician about all questions related to breast milk and pumping including washing and sterilizing practices. However, two lactation specialist also recommended it to me and I did it with both babies).
7. Track your milk production.
We used BabyTracker to keep record of everything baby and milk production. I really appreciated the data regarding breast pumping in this app – I could understand my patterns of production (I produced more in the morning than at night) and I could easily see if my baby was consuming more than I was produce each day. I knew the supply I had in my freezer without checking the actual freezer, and I knew with a quick glance if I was due for another session. There are a few dedicated Breast Pumping Apps, but BabyTracker worked just fine for us to keep everything baby-related in one place.
Breast pumping is not fun, but combining it with other tasks helps the time pass. Call your parents, your best friend, make your next doctor’s appointment, answer emails, order groceries online. Use the 15-40 minutes you are stuck pumping to solve other outstanding tasks or find ways to enjoy the moment (or at least pass the time) as much as that is possible.
I wasn’t always so lucky to pump solo and get stuff done. Actually, most of the time, I was also entertaining my infant who sat in front of me on his boppy, in his rock n’ play or swung back and forth in his swing. Sometimes It was a three-task event while I washed my face/brushed my hair, pumped at my bathroom counter, and sang twinkle twinkle to my fussy child in his baby-holding-contraption.
Lots of times, I also fed my baby by bottle while I pumped. Yup. That’s right. Some might that think this counterproductive but it wasn’t for us. My tot took forever to nurse but bottle feeding and pumping simultaneously only took 15-20 minutes – saving me another half hour. Additionally, I never produced enough milk at one feeding for him to be full, so I had to combine milk from different pump sessions to get him a full bottle feed. He was in his boppy or bouncer next to me with a bottle while I pumped and it worked out great for us!
9. Make it someone else’s job.
I truly believe that providing breastmilk for your baby is a team effort. Sure, it’s the lactating mother who does all the hard labor, but there are other tasks to be done. Like bottle feeding and washing all the gear. My husband was in charge of cleaning all the pump gear on the weekends, and in the evening, it was his job to ensure I had fresh water, snack and my pillows/blankets set-up at my pumping station for my last session before bed.
Make sure your partner knows how to properly wash, sterilize (if you do such) and store the pump gear. Make sure they understand how the pump pieces go together and how to take them apart again. They should know all milk rules and regulations and should be in the loop on how/when/what to feed. Making this just the mother’s job is a lot of pressure.
If you are lucky enough to have family or friends (or other caregivers) around to help with the little one – make sure they are also well versed on the pump gear cleaning situation and don’t be shy to ask for their help if that is feasible.
10. Pump on the go.
I mom-crush pretty hard on Chrissy Teigen and admire this photo of her pumping on the go (the things we do!). Grab yourself a big scarf or nursing cover (or not!) and toss your pump in the car (even some of the big clunky breast pumps come with car chargers). Pump on the way to work, or riding passenger to your date-night. Pumping while on the move is the ultimate in multitasking.
11. Have an easy carrying case of goods.
Having a little bag or case for the goods you need to move around in your house, work, or from place to place is helpful and saves time. I had a clean set of pump gear/spare parts, a power bar, water bottle and spare nursing bra tossed in a bag alongside the pump stuff I brought to and from work (and around the house). It made it easier to have everything (and spares) in one (mobile) place.
12. Tell yourself the truth.
The last thing I wanted to do with my first child was give up breastmilk. All I read, heard from mother’s groups, friends, doctors, lactation specialists, and social media was how wonderful break milk is for baby and how I was going to ruin their life and health by not giving it to them. Not just that, but I wouldn’t bond properly with my baby if they weren’t actually fed at the breast, and basically, I was a horrible mother if I couldn’t provide or decided not to provide, breast milk and breastfeeding. It weighed on me every moment of every day, it made me cry, and feel a whirlwind of emotions: mad, isolated, frustrated, tired, bitter, stressed, anxious and unhappy. The list could go on. But the bottom line was still the bottom line, I couldn’t provide enough milk. No matter how much oatmeal I shoved down my throat, milk teas I drank, vitamins I took – it was just not happening. I pumped, what felt like, non-stop. I tried breastfeeding every chance I got. Still, my son was left screaming and hungry and I was left defeated. Finally, after 6 long months, we slowly transitioned to formula as guilt made me weep for more times than I’d like to admit.
How I wish I could go back in time and do things differently!
I wasn’t providing enough milk. I never would. I never have. The most important thing in the world was and still is – that my baby is well fed, well nourished, happy, and healthy. It is also important that I am as healthy and happy as possible to be a great, present, engaged, joyful parent. Switching to formula was the best thing I could have ever done for my baby and myself, no matter what science says about breastmilk. With my second child, when my milk wasn’t enough, we supplemented right away and eventually switched over completely. Our bond is no less strong, his health, no less excellent than his peers.
When I visited a lactation specialist with my second child, and cried again, about how hard it was to breastfeed and how this was my job as a mother, and how I was suppose to make this happen no matter. She looks at me and smiled kindly. “Ya know,” she said, “if you lived in a village, like we all once did, and you happened to be a mother who had a hard time breastfeeding, another mother would have breastfed your child for you. That’s part of that whole ‘it takes a village thing’ that we once had, that some people still have. Some would be hunting, others would be building shelter, some would attend to fields, others would make clothing, some would bear children, others might feed them.”
If pumping isn’t for you whether you just don’t want to do it, can’t do it, or if breast milk in generally is just not happening for you, be honest with yourself and your baby’s doctor to decide the right path forward. Feel no guilt, feel no pain. Fed is best. Happy mother is also best. Check out FedisBest on Instagram or the web for inspiration and support.
Top 12 takeaways :
- Get a good pump.
- Have a pump place set-up.
- It’s all about the hands-free bra.
- Get the entertainment ready.
- Get the entertainment ready.
- Have extra gear.
- Cool the pump gear.
- Track your milk production.
- Make it someone else’s job.
- Pump on the go.
- Have an easy carrying case of goods.
- Tell yourself the truth.