You have a good and normal birth and are now blessed with a healthy baby. And he is hungry. You really, really want to breastfeed, so you give him what you can. But your milk isn’t quite in yet. You wait and wait and nurse and nurse. And wait. And Baby gets hungrier and hungrier. You talk with the wonderful Lactation Consultants, and try all their suggestions. But the milk just isn’t there yet. Baby gets angry because he is hungry. Days later your milk finally arrives (boy does it ever!), but Baby is so fussy that he now refuses to latch on. You are heartbroken. Again you talk to Lactation Consultants and try all their suggestions on getting Baby to nurse. But it’s not happening. Are you destined to be a bottle-feeder? Is formula the only way?
It’s not. I know because this is my story. Except add a second hospital stay because my son was losing so much weight. For some reason (maybe lack of sleep, maybe being overwhelmed first-time parents, all of the above) using formula, even until my milk came in, never crossed my mind. I was so focused on nursing my baby. I was panicked and putting so much pressure on myself until our first night back in the hospital when a great nurse said “Why don’t you just pump and give him a bottle?” That hadn’t occurred to me either! I even had bought a quality pump (my original plan was return to work, which I did for a little while, but ultimately decided to stay home). So that’s what I started doing, and my son’s health turned around almost instantly. We were discharged the next day. After that I tried for several weeks to get him to nurse, but he just wanted a bottle. That was ok with me, because it was still my milk. I exclusively pumped and bottle-fed for the next 18 months.
Exclusively pumping, or EPing as it’s called, means pumping full-time. There’s no nursing, just pumping. It takes dedication, pumping at least eight times in a 24-hour period to establish and maintain supply (then you can slowly cut back, depending on your supply). So basically you and your pump become best friends (or breast friends – see what I did there?!).
After several weeks you can start building a freezer stash (again, depending on your supply) for feedings down the road. If you can do this, it’s great, because it takes some pressure off you. I was incredibly blessed with tons of milk, more than my son could ever eat, and my stash literally overflowed our freezer. I donated to friends in need, and also to the National Milk Bank (I’ve included that info below). But if you make just enough to keep up with Baby’s needs, well, that’s just fine.
As simple as EPing sounds, my experience has been that people don’t really get it at first. I got infuriating questions like why don’t I just nurse and why am I pumping full-time if I stay at home. Twice I went to a breastfeeding “support” group and twice I was shamed for bottle-feeding. I was told that I was missing out on bonding with my son. And while I concede that I was missing out on that type of bonding, there are other ways to build closeness: massage, story time, skin-to-skin, singing, rocking. So you may not get a whole lot of support in the beginning. But I’ll support you. And once you explain what EPing is, loved ones will support you too.
I pumped during my son’s naptime. I’ve pumped on camping trips and at SeaTac and on airplanes. I’ve pumped while driving to Spokane and other places (not the best thing ever). We make most of our milk between about 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., so I awoke to pump in the middle of the night (dubbed MOTN pump; this one was the toughest, especially if Baby sleeps through the night). At the time EPing worked great for our family. But there are cons. Like I mentioned above, you are kind of married to your pump. If you have other children or work outside the home, it can be a challenge finding the time to pump. (There are pumping bras you can buy so you can go hands-free. This may help a bit). You have to deal with cleaning bottles, pump parts, storage containers, etc. Wherever and whenever you pump, you’ll need to store the milk if Baby’s not going to drink it right away (look up the guidelines on how long breast milk can be out at room temp, how long you can refrigerate it, and how long you can freeze it). In other words, pumping is inconvenient. But there are pros too.
Bottle-feeding made it easier to get Baby on a feeding schedule, if that’s a goal. My husband and others could feed him, so I had a bit more freedom. You know exactly how much your baby is eating (now that I’m nursing my second-born, I’m still amazed she gets what she needs – I mean, it’s not nearly as measurable). And if your supply dips for whatever reason, you can pump more often to boost it (the more often you empty the breast, the more milk you will make). Oh, and pumps don’t bite (I say this after a long battle with an infection resulting from a bite from my daughter).
I want to spread the word about EPing, because it is an awesome alternative if, for whatever reason, nursing doesn’t work out. I’ve also heard of mamas EPing while Baby is in the NICU. Whatever your reason for doing it, it is valid.
But, I’ll be honest: if you get a chance to nurse, do it. Having done both, I will say that nursing is a special, special time. I’m so glad I get to experience that with my daughter.
Below are some resources that were invaluable to me during pumping journey:
• http://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/breastfeeding-guidance. Great site on how to fit flanges, how pumping works, etc. You don’t need to have a Medela pump to use this site.
• http://kellymom.com/category/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/ Fantastic site by medical professionals containing everything you wanted to know about pumping, including tips on increasing supply, what amounts Baby should be eating and at what ages, etc.
• If you’re on Facebook, there is a group called Exclusively Pumping Group. Chat with other EPers. They were so helpful, especially in the beginning.
• The Lactation Consultants at Central Washington Hospital: 662-1511 ext. 2994,
• If you’re interested in donating milk, contact the Mom and Baby Unit at Confluence. You can also donate on a more casual basis through organizations like Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies. They match donors with potential recipients.
Milk on, mamas!