We all know the benefits of breastfeeding little ones.
Hopefully, you also feel empowered to feed your baby however you see fit based on what is best for both of you. When I was preparing for my daughter’s birth, I read all the articles, went to all the classes, and did all the things I could to be prepared for breastfeeding. During the courses provided by my hospital, the nurse passionately let us know, “breast is BEST.” She went on to let us know that if any doctor recommends formula, they should not be our doctor.
Two weeks later my daughter was born via c-section. I was ready. I was determined to breastfeed no matter how hard or uncomfortable it would be.
Two days into our hospital stay our daughter was still struggling to remain latched and was refusing to breastfeed for longer than a minute or two. Her weight was dropping rapidly. A nurse popped into our room while I was attempting another feed and casually dropped a 6 pack of formula bottles on the table next to us. Without even making eye contact she said, “Since your baby won’t gain weight the doctor says you have to give your baby this formula or we won’t release you to go home.”
As a million thoughts ran through my head, I realized I had not prepared for this scenario and I had to re-calibrate. Long story short, in the days following that encounter, I became an exclusively pumping mama.
Here are a few things I wish I would have known before that moment:
You may need to advocate for yourself:
Be clear with your medical team about your plans and what you want for your baby. When the pediatrician and the nurse attempted to force something on me I was not comfortable with, I immediately had to advocate for myself. Before birth, I read that hospitals have breast pumps they can provide upon request. I asked for a breast pump so that I could feed my baby breastmilk instead of formula. This was an option that was never even offered to me even when I worked with the lactation specialist.
Check Your Insurance Pump Options:
Many insurance companies cover some iteration of a breast pump and will have them mailed to you once your baby is born. You will need proof of birth in most cases, so investigate that before your babe arrives so you are ready to act when you need to.
The Power Pump- Learning about how your milk supply works:
During my breastfeeding classes, I learned about how our bodies provide a supply based on demand. A pump creates a demand for milk, so educate yourself on how to integrate a breast pump in to your schedule if you are still attempting to breastfeed. Also, learn about how long and how often you should pump if your baby won’t feed and you find yourself in my situation where you need to exclusively pump. When you are exclusively pumping, it can be hard to maintain your supply. If you find it starting to diminish, research power pumping and block off some time in your schedule for an hour or so to help mimic a baby who is cluster feeding. This can help increase the demand.
Learn about the wireless wearable breast pump options that may be right for you:
Think about how often babies eat. In the first few months, they eat roughly one million times a day. All joking aside, the frequency with which you may need to be plugged into the wall can be downright depressing. I began feeling anxiety each time I would have to sit down to pump. The wireless and wearable pump options are pricey, but in hindsight, if I had it to do all over again, it would be worth every penny not to be pump-trapped. If looks could kill, my poor husband would have been a goner every time he got to eat a meal or hold our baby while I was stuck hooked up to the milk machine.
You don’t have to wash your pump parts every time you pump:
To be clear, clean and sanitized pump parts are important. But what I didn’t put together until almost 4 months into pumping was that I could store the pump parts I had used once in the fridge to be used a second time for a later pumping session. I feel silly now reflecting on how many times I stood at my sink cursing each little pump piece as I hand-washed and sanitized them. This was compounded when I was washing these pieces in the sink of a public breakroom at my office. To take this a step further order a few extra sets of pump parts to have on hand.
Pro Tip Number 1: Order a waterproof pump parts bag to store your items in the fridge between sessions while maintaining a bit of privacy. This is especially handy if you are not at home.
Pro Tip Number 2: Grab some of the microwavable sanitizing bags you can utilize when you travel so you don’t have to boil hot water on a stove.
Headphones during pumping sessions are a must:
Since I was pumping all the time the sound of the pump became like nails on a chalkboard to me. I used to feel anxiety spike the second I heard the pump turn on. Throw in some headphones and listen to something that you enjoy during your pumping session to avoid the pump noise stress.
Freeze your breast milk flat:
One rookie mom mistake I made was freezing the excess milk I pumped in the bags standing up in the freezer for the first few weeks. I later discovered if a placed them flat on a cookie sheet in the freezer I could store them better long term. The organizational freak in me loved seeing my stash build up with uniform bags. Don’t forget to label them with date and volume with a Sharpie.
Hydration and snacks are key to your supply. Have a goodie bag stashed with Liquid IV hydration multiplier, you can grab at Costco or online, and some snacks to enjoy while pumping. You will be running on fumes if you don’t keep up your calories. Drink the Liquid IV half an hour before pumping for maximum results.
Give yourself credit for working a full-time job:
Stats are floating around the internet that estimate breastfeeding takes 1,800 hours per year which is not far from a full time 40 per week fulltime job. If you factor in the planning it takes to exclusively pump, the lengthy pumping sessions and the time washing and sanitizing bottles and pump parts you are effectively working full time to sustain life for your tiny human.
At the end of your pumping journey, it is a strange transition because you may be counting down the moments until you get your body back, but also sad that you are no longer your little one’s source of sustenance.
When I made the decision to exclusively pump after exhausting all breastfeeding options, I set a date as a goal for myself to make it my daughter’s first birthday. Two or three months before that I caught a bad cold. During this time my supply completely diminished. I had a freezer stash of milk, but when I was no longer even producing enough to fill a bottle during a 45-minute pumping session I cried…I mean ugly-cried…many times.
Then we switched to formula. Do you know what happened? Nothing. My daughter had not one negative side effect from the transition. I became a new human. I was sleeping better and felt an enormous weight lifted off my chest (pun intended).
As I enjoyed the transition out of that experience my daughter did as well. It is quite a roller coaster to sustain for another human and no matter how it plays out, just remember you grew an entire human in your own body. However you decide to feed your baby, you are a superhero who is keeping another being alive.
Let yourself celebrate that and avoid comparing your experience to anyone else.