On Pumping

I've started and erased this post a whole bunch of times. I don't know why- it's not like it's an exciting or emotional topic. I think it's that there's so much I want to say. How to get it out in a logical manner is escaping me. Here I go to try again.

Since before Elliott was born, I knew I was going to pump. I knew I'd be going back to work, and I knew I wanted him to have breastmilk exclusively. It was healthiest for him, healthiest for me, and the least expensive option. But, while on maternity leave, I kept putting off getting the pump out and giving it a try. Hooking up an intimidating piece of machinery to my sensitive parts (especially in the early days of breastfeeding) was not something I was at all eager to do. As the weeks ticked by, though, I knew I needed to take the plunge- it's recommended to introduce a bottle between 4 and 6 weeks to avoid nipple confusion or preference. On the other hand, it's also said that a new mom's body is figuring out how much milk to make in the first 6 weeks, and that early pumping can cause oversupply. On the day Elliott turned 6 weeks, I braved the scary machine, and Josh fed him his first bottle. Turns out, none of what I was worrying about was as big a deal as I was making it out to be! And thus began my pumping journey.

Fast forward 10 months. Before I returned to work, I spent the mornings pumping one side while he ate on the other. This milk went into the freezer for an emergency stash. I returned to work at 10 weeks postpartum and found a limited amount information online about how to do this "pumping and working full-time" thing (which is why I'm writing this post- more information needs to be out there!) I muddled through, and I'm thankful it worked out. I started out pumping into bottles, pouring into bags; then pumping straight into bags; now I pump into bottles and leave it there- I was tired of continuously buying bags. My freezer stash grew slowly, and was needed very, very rarely- it is just a buffer in case Josh runs out of milk at home, or we need extra to take to a babysitter or the church nursery. I started out pumping three times a day. I'd pump four times a day for a few days if it seemed like my supply needed a boost. Now I'm down to twice a day, and Elliott's eating lots more solids for lunch. I expect I'll stop entirely at the end of the year, when he's one. The flexibility of my work schedule and my employer has made pumping as easy and painless as possible. I know I am lucky.

I've had stay-at-home mom friends marvel at my pumping regimen, amazed I could keep it up so long, lamenting how much they hate the very-occasional pumping they have to do. I surely don't feel like a hero, though- I've just done what it takes to feed my baby. It's not my favorite, but not awful, either. It just is. The heroes, in my eyes, are the moms who pump around the clock for their babies who are unable to nurse, or the moms attempting induced lactation and adoptive nursing. They are rock stars.

What I learned:
  • Kellymom is a great resource. The information I found there got me started on the right foot about everything from how to pump to how to store milk.
  • Instructing the bottle-feeder is one of the most important keys to success. If I'm pumping the right amount, but the baby's caregiver is feeding too much, I'll never be able to keep up. Josh was great about following Elliott's cues, letting him be done when he was full, and not over-feeding.
  • "Wait for the second let-down". I don't remember where I heard this tidbit of advice, but it was so necessary for me, when I get impatient and wanting to be anywhere but sitting in a room by myself hooked up to a machine.
  • Storage bags can get expensive. Not formula-expensive, still pricey and annoying to buy. Using bottles to wash and store milk definitely worked well for us, was more spill-proof, and created much less waste.
  • Different people have different experiences. I was lucky, and pumping worked out for me. Some don't respond to the pump as easily. Some need supply-boosting herbs, foods, or medicines to keep up a milk supply while away from their baby. I'm beyond thrilled that pumping and working full-time was possible for me.
  • It is worth it. The hours spent in a little room listening to the whirr-whirr of the pump isn't fun, but the knowledge that Elliott's getting the best nutrition for him and we're able to keep up the nursing relationship when we are together makes the time and effort so, so valuable.

What I'd do differently:
  • Buy a new pump. I got one off craigslist (exactly what everyone says not to do), and, while I believe it was safe and sanitary, I see the benefit to the features and technology in a newer model. Next baby, I'm definitely getting a new one.
  • Get right-sized flanges. I have no idea if the ones I have are the right size for me, and, from what I've read, it's worth having it checked out.
  • Donate milk. This time around, my supply was such that I had just the right amount for Elliott. God made our bodies wonderful and perfect in that way. Next time, I'd love to regularly pump an extra supply for the Indiana Mother's Milk Bank.
  • Find support. I'm the only mom I know apart, from online friends, that has pumped and worked full-time for baby's first year. Finding others for support is worth it. The one LLL meeting I attended, I got really, really good tips.
 I can't believe I'm only just now talking about pumping, at the end of my journey. I want resources to be more available. Did you try to pump and work? What worked or didn't work for you? Do you have any questions about it?


ashley @ twentysixcats said...

What a great post! I'm going to share with a friend who is about to head back to work soon.

fullfreezer said...

My children are all grown but I pumped at work for all three of them. I, too, pumped directly into bottles- except on Fridays when I pumped into bags for freezing since I would be home to feed on the weekend. Sometimes for Mondays I would be able to pump enough on Sunday but usually my husband would use some of the frozen stash. It worked out well. I was so fortunate that, even though I was pumping before breastfeeding became commonplace, my workplace had a dedicated room for employees to use stocked with dish soap at the sinks and clean towels. It was great.

Joanna said...

Judy- thanks for sharing your experience! It sounds like you had a good set-up at work to have space to pump- that's really nice.

Anonymous said...

Getting the right size flanges makes a huge difference! Plus, the double-pumping bra is worth every penny and lets you work and pump at the same time.

"The Queen of Free" said...

Thanks friend! I'm sharing this with my cousin who just a had a new little baby and has pumping questions. :) Great resouce.

Joanna said...

Cherie - Feel free to pass on my email if she has any specific questions.I'm all about encouraging new moms!


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