In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to write about something completely unrelated to home renovations and DIY. Today we thawed and gave the last bag of breastmilk to our 19-month-old son. I actually stopped pumping ~9 months ago, but this occasion marked the finish line on a long journey with exclusive pumping.
Looking back, I received a lot of advice about pumping that was wrong for me (whether it be physically or mentally). Everyone is different and this is your journey. It’s easier said than done, but do what is best for you and your family. Since I’ve stopped pumping, I’ve thought about what advice I would give to other exclusively-pumping moms. While it starts with you and your decision, there are so many other things that can help you along the way. Below are ten things I couldn’t have gone without –
1. A cordless pump – All pumps are not created equal. I learned this the hard way when I had the bust out the pump a day after E was born. After starting with the insurance-supplied pump I quickly splurged for the Spectra S1. The Spectra S1 is great for multiple reasons. The big reason is that it is cordless. I truly can’t imagine exclusively pumping without the ability to be mobile. I consider it a luxury to have been able to pump on the patio in the sun while E napped.
2. Spare pump parts – Things like extra flanges and membranes are a must. I quickly bought 3 sets of flanges so I didn’t have to wash anything overnight. I also purchased extra tubing and other spare parts as a way of assuring myself I would never be stranded without a useable pump.
3. Pumping Bra – The whole concept behind a pumping bra is “hands-free pumping.” This is obviously is c-r-u-c-i-a-l.
4. Nursing Bra – I’ll admit that I started wearing nursing bras during pregnancy. I tried one on and never looked back (goodbye underwire, hello comfort!). And even though I wasn’t nursing, I continued to wear a pumping bra most days for the first 9+ months. In addition to comfort, it made things convenient during pumping. With a nursing bra, you can simply unclip and wear the pumping bra at the same time. Whether you are pumping in the middle of the night, in the car, or on a quick work break, easy access makes a huge difference!
5. Food scale – Not a necessity but definitely good to have. Rather than eye-balling the volume increments on the bottles I weighed my filled bags on a food scale to know how many ounces were in each.
6. Pumping bag – Treat yo self. If you plan to go back to work and pump or take the pump outside of your house at all, you might as well feel good about it! There’s a pumping bag option for every budget.
7. Manual pump – At some point, you are going to be out past your pump curfew, or your pump is going to malfunction, and you are going to wish you had an alternate option. In the beginning, I would bring the manual pump in the diaper bag anytime we went out. Fortunately, I never needed it in a pinch and I wound up getting the most use out of it when traveling. I’ve also heard a manual pump can be a godsend when it comes to clogs.
8. Formula – I introduced formula to E at 6 months because I didn’t know how long I would pump for and I wanted him to have some breastmilk each day for as long as possible. The best way for me to assure this was to build up my freezer stash. So I started replacing one bottle each day with formula and freezing the excess breastmilk. My freezer supply wound up lasting us 9 months and I can definitely give some credit to formula for that. Whether you have undersupply, or are looking to extend your supply, formula is not the enemy, feeling inadequate is the enemy.
9. A support network – I remember two feelings from the early days of pumping. 1 ) an overwhelming feeling of isolation 2) a wave of relief when I learned that exclusive pumping was an option and other women were on the same journey. I’ve yet to find a more supportive network of moms than those who exclusively pump. Though some may think they do, no one understands the struggle as much as another mom who has set alarms to pump in the middle of the night and attempted to cradle a newborn while pumping.
I’ve always referred to exclusively pumping as “pump island.” You might feel stranded at times, but just know that there are some really wonderful women on the island with you. A good starting place is an online community such as the Facebook group “Exclusively Pumping Mamas.” From there you might even discover women already in your life who exclusively pump.
10. Self-recognition – Everyone has different feelings about exclusively pumping. It took me over 7 months to fully embrace exclusive pumping. If I could talk to postpartum me, I wouldn’t say things like “there are other ways to bond with your baby” or “one day you won’t care as much.” Both of those have proven to be true, but at the time none of that mattered. Such comments usually made me feel like something was wrong with me for having any amount of grief. Instead, I would say “the fact that you are continuing to pump shows how strong and selfless you are.” Give yourself credit when credit is due! In my opinion – credit is due from the moment you pick up a pump to the moment you prepare the last bottle of breastmilk.