The ups and let downs of pumping

Sometimes we create our own heartbreak through expectation.

If there is one thing that motherhood has taught me in the short few months since I’ve embarked on this journey it would be to go easy on myself, while doing the very best that I can.

Not only did I expect my pregnancy to go smoothly and my delivery to be nothing short of “normal”, but also that breastfeeding and latching would be a breeze. Boy was I wrong.

My sweet Dallas boy had a rough start to say the least. Not being able to hold him and immediately having skin-to-skin contact was rough. I didn’t get to hold him for at least two days and the moment I had dreamed of, the movie scene I had envisioned of them handing me my sweet boy, when time stops and Dad has to pry him off of my chest with a fork lift, wasn’t reality. In my mind Dallas would lay on my chest for at least an hour and then once Dad and I hogged him for as long as we felt necessary we would call Grandma.

Instead, after pushing for three hours and possibly passing a kidney stone in labor (we still aren’t exactly sure) the moment D came into the world, he was set on my chest for maybe 30 seconds for them to take him away and rush him to the nursery where they hooked him up to breathing tubes, and everything else. That is another story.

He didn’t latch that first day. In fact it took him and I at least a month to be on the same page, or even reading the same book. The nurses in the NICU were tough. I am a very shy person, they expected me to whip out my boob, know exactly what hold to put him in, hand express colostrum from my areola to get him interested in suckling and BAM my baby would supposedly latch.

I spent hours and hours the week we were in the hospital trying. I met with lactation specialists, I prayed, I cried.

I knew I wanted Dallas to be on breast milk only, so I began to pump. Pumping is tricky. There are so many variables that can make or break your desire to push through and pump for three to five hours a day. I told myself that no matter what I wasn’t giving up. With the help of my husband, I woke up every two hours in the hospital and pumped. I was exhausted, recovering from an infection and riddled with fear regarding the health of my baby. But if there was one thing I knew it was that you can’t give up when the going gets tough. I finally told the nurses at the hospital that I was going to pump and bottle feed exclusively. They were very insistent on not using bottles as it could cause nipple confusion. At first we bought what they were selling but after four days of torturing Dallas, putting him in every hold there is imaginable to get him to latch, and watching his tired eyes look up at me saying “Why are you doing this to me, Mommy?” we decided that we were going to bottle feed breast milk. He’s still getting the nutrition he needs, right?

Standing up for ourselves and making the decision as new parents to pump and bottle feed was the best decision we made.

Now I have a happy chunky baby, a whole freezer full of frozen breast milk, and pumping is a breeze.

I would like to share with you my tips for pumping as it would have helped me tremendously if someone close to me had explained how to pump, when to pump, and how to calm down so that my milk would let down.

My first tip, hands down, is to purchase a hands-free pumping bra from Amazon. I tried purchasing the Medela pumping bra from Target only to find out that it did not fit right. I ended up finding a $24 bra on Amazon with Velcro on the back, zippers in the front, and adjustable straps. All of these are very necessary for growing and expanding breasts.

The week I was in the hospital I spent holding my pumping flanges up to my breasts, and having a very sore aching back. Not to mention Baby Daddy had to massage my boobs while my milk came in because there was so much I was beginning to have clogged ducts. I mentioned that I was shy. When they say “Have a baby and all of that goes out the window,” they are right!

A hands-free pumping bra allows you to distract yourself from the constant pull and tug of the pump. You can text, read Wenatchee Mom Blog, even hold your baby in your lap like I did. I would sit in my rocking chair with my feet on the ottoman, prop Dallas’ head on the Boppy facing me, and smile and coo with him while I pumped. Talk about a cute distraction!

Before I knew it I had two full Medela bottles of liquid gold. Not to mention I could squeeze my own boobs when they would slow down. Righty has always given me problems. She’s high maintenance!

The second tip is to be patient with yourself. The more you stare at your milk flow and watch the tiny drops hit the bottle, the less milk you are going to get. The more stressed you will feel, and there will be much less of a chance for a second or third let down. I have always had a great milk supply, but when I stress and freak, my boobs know it. They are smart! I, like many of you, read mommy forums online. I was convinced that milk thistle, oatmeal, one beer, mothers milk tea, and you name it would increase my supply. Nope, not at all. What increased my supply was drinking a big glass of water before each pump, making sure my flanges were in the right spot, keeping calm, and pumping religiously every 2.5-3 hours max. When Dallas was a little guy I would wake myself up in the night to pump to keep up my supply.

Now that I have put in the hard work for months my supply has regulated and I can sleep through the night! You heard that right, we are both sleeping through the night! Dallas goes to bed between 9 and 9:30 p.m., eating six times a day (every three hours) and he wakes up around 8 a.m. I would not suggest sleeping through the night before your milk regulates, as this can cause mastitis, clogged ducts, and pain. Also, fun fact: Your body produces the most milk between 1 and 5 a.m. Never miss this pump!

For moms that breastfeed and pump, GREAT! When I finally got Dallas to latch the milk would come out so fast that he would only finish one breast, or fall asleep before I was empty. This caused me to pump once he was done breastfeeding to be sure my boobs were mostly empty. It also caused my body to know that it needed to produce more milk, hence my over-supply.

Some women say that over-supply is the biggest reason for mastitis or clogged ducts. For me personally, I like an over-supply. It allows me to feed him 30-36 ounces daily and freeze 30 ounces. That to me is like having life insurance.

This is the reason that I chose to exclusively pump even after I got him to latch. When I breastfed I had no idea what amount he was eating. I felt like it was a lot more work to breastfeed, pump, wash the dishes, repeat. When I could say “Here Dad, you feed him while I go pump.” That allows Dad the opportunity to bond with baby while he feeds and it gives
you a moment of solitude while you sit in your nursery and pump.

This brings me to my next tip: Purchase extra pumping pieces. I had a good friend hand down four or five extra sets of pumping pieces. This allows me to take a break from doing dishes all day long. I can pump four or five times and then do one set of dishes. Huge time saver.

I have heard many mommas say that pumping is too overwhelming and they feel attached to their pump. I will admit that I have to be very smart with my schedule in order to feed him, get my errands done, and be back home within 2.5-3 hours to pump. There are definitely times it feels like a burden. I realized quickly it’s all in your attitude. Instead of focusing on the negative, I chose to decide that my body is a wonderful milk machine, and I am LUCKY to be able to pump and feed him the best of the best. When we took our first road trip over the mountains for the holidays I purchased a power chord that would plug into my cigarette lighter in the car and Voila! Pumping on the go!

They will tell you at the hospital to pump for 15 minutes at a time. When you first start out, 15 minutes is sufficient. It stimulates your boobs to make colostrum which shortly then after turns into milk. I have to be real here. I have always pumped for at least a half hour. When I told the nurse at the hospital this she about died. “YOU HAVE BEEN PUMPING FOR HOW LONG?!?” (cue hormonal laugh attack) But in all seriousness, if I pump for half hour I can get three to four let downs. This allows me to have a much higher volume of milk. Early morning pumps after sleeping all night do take 10 to 15 minutes because my boobs are full. Normal pumps though, especially the last pump of the day take a half hour. My early morning pump is usually pretty clear. Nothing is in my belly yet, and my boobs are so full that I’m not
tapping into my hind milk. Hind milk is the “cream” de la crème. It’s the fatty milk that settles on top of your bottle once it’s been in the fridge for a bit. I have to pump a crazy amount first thing in the morning to see any hind milk.

Not to worry though. Throughout the day my milk becomes creamy and Dallas’ thighs are proof that he’s not short on cream.

One of the most important lessons that being a mom, carrying a baby, and my pumping/breastfeeding journey has shown me, is that every baby, every body is different. What works for me may not work for you.

You may wonder if pumping will ever get easier. I remember the first time I pumped I was popping my toes, grinding my teeth, wondering how the hell I would ever make it a year, squeezing my nipples to death like this. Instead of expecting to make it a year right off the bat, I set a smaller goal. Six weeks. Passed that. Three months. Passed that. Six months. Passed that. I can honestly say pumping is easy. It barely hurts anymore (I’m serious!), my milk supply is regulated, and there is no doubt that god forbid nothing happens I will make it to a year which was my big picture goal, and maybe even longer. I even have extra breast milk to mix in to his sweet potatoes and avocados to make his homemade baby food more nutritious.

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