This blog post covers just my breastfeeding journey. Other details of our pregnancy, home birth and postpartum journey will be covered in later blog posts. You can find all the topics I’ll be sharing about here.
Sharing our knowledge and experiences is so important because it can help out someone else in their journey, or one they’ve yet to embark on. It’s also a way to say “I’ve been there. I’ve gone through what you’re currently going through, and here’s some information that may help you!” That’s why I’m being so open about our pregnancy and postpartum journey. My hope is that someone (maybe you) can gain something from my experience. I’m excited to share my breastfeeding and exclusive pumping story and some tips that may be game changers for any current or future exclusive pumping moms out there.
I intended to breastfeed Andrew once he was born. I had heard from other mom friends that breastfeeding can be difficult, but I told myself I was tough and could figure it out. We took a great breastfeeding class leading up to his birth, we jotted down extensive notes, bought all the supplies I thought I might need, and tidied up my cute little breastfeeding cart that I planned to wheel around the house wherever I would be feeding Andrew. I was committed. We were going to do this thing! And then … all those good intentions went flying out the window! 😅
If you read Andrew’s home birth story or our NICU experience, you read that Andrew struggled to latch from the start. I had heard all about the “breast crawl” and a baby’s natural instinct to climb right up your chest and pop themselves onto your boob for their first meal. While a lot of babies do do this, I believe that Andrew’s lethargy right after birth made it difficult for him to breastfeed. We also found out later that he had a tongue and lip tie that affected his ability to latch well.
While in the NICU, we had two lactation consultants come by to help with breastfeeding. They showed us some tricks, but his latch was still so shallow and he tuckered himself out trying to breastfeed. We didn’t want him to burn more calories than he took in at the breast, so in between nursing attempts we fed him donor breastmilk from a bottle so he would have all the calories and energy he needed. Anything he got from me was just extra. I was pumping every 2-3 hours to get my milk to come in and to try to build up a supply for him to come home to when we were discharged so that we wouldn’t have to rely solely on formula. We weren’t against formula supplementation as a short term solution (the boy had to eat something), but it was important to me that he be fed breastmilk in the long run.
When they discharged us from the hospital, our nurse sent us home with some extra donor milk and formula to get us through the next few days. Our hope was that my milk supply would ramp up soon while the donor milk and formula bridged the gap. I had a small supply waiting in the fridge back home that I was proud of — a whole four ounces! I remember being so proud that I had four ounces of my own milk for him. I thought those four ounces would get him through at least a couple feedings, but that boy was hungry. Once we got home from the hospital, he blew through those four ounces so fast and I quickly realized I was going to have to pump a lot more to satisfy this little guy. I think he was trying to catch up from those first couple days he didn’t eat much.
In just a few days, he finished the donor breastmilk, half of the formula our nurse had sent us home with, and the milk I was pumping each day. We had a little bit of formula left and my supply was increasing, but we were concerned that we wouldn’t have any formula to supplement with if he were to need more than what I was pumping. This was also during the formula shortage, so we knew we needed to order some quick for it to come in in a decent time. We noticed that the formula from the hospital (Similac) seemed to sit heavy on Andrew’s stomach, and he was also more likely to spit it up. It wasn’t my favorite option, but it was all we had on hand. We did some research on formula brands and became aware of the formula brand Holle, which is an organic European formula brand. We knew with the shortage of American formula that this might be a good option because it would arrive quicker (imagine that!). We also liked the ingredients and felt confident that it would be a healthy option for him if we needed to supplement with it. We actually never ended up using it because my milk came in hot over the next several days. I continued to pump and put away lots of milk for him, which was a huge blessing! That part was going well, but nursing was still a struggle, so we continued to feed him from a bottle. To get some breastfeeding support, I made an appointment with a local lactation consultant, Breastmilk + Honey.
At our first appointment with the lactation consultant, we showed her what Andrew would do at the breast — shallow latch, suck a few times, get frustrated because he wasn’t getting the same milk flow like he got from the bottle. She showed us how we could try breastfeeding with the help of a nipple shield and the SNS (supplemental nursing system) flowing into the nipple shield. The SNS basically looks like a hanging IV bag. You put milk in the tube and it flows down through the line into the nipple shield. The nipple shield was supposed to help Andrew latch on better and the SNS would give him a more consistent flow of milk and some positive reinforcement that the breast is the place you come to for milk. We agreed to give the SNS/nipple shield method one week and go from there. The goal was to eventually be able to nurse without the SNS/nipple shield, but that was the first step to help Andrew achieve a better latch in the meantime.
After our lactation appointment, we also made an appointment to get his tongue and lip tie clipped to help with his latch. By the way, if you ever end up doing this for your baby just know it will be an unpleasant experience. We did it to help with breastfeeding, and then when we didn’t stick with it I felt guilty that we got it clipped because breastfeeding was the whole reason we decided to do it in the first place. However, I’ve read getting the T&L tie clipped can also help with some other things like speech later on down the road, so I felt in the end it was a good thing to do.
Over the next three days after our lactation meeting we saw some slow progress with the SNS nursing method, but there were several issues with this method. Daniel had to hold up the SNS while I held Andrew to breastfeed. I had to constantly adjust or reapply the nipple shield. When Andrew stopped eating for a second, the free flowing milk down the SNS line would leak out through the shield and get all over him and Daniel would have to pinch the line to get the milk to stop until Andrew was ready to suck again. Then the nipple shield would fall off or Andrew would unlatch or get frustrated. It was a messy, stressful ordeal and we both dreaded every feeding. The mental stress of it all brought me to tears several times and I began to question the whole thing. Why was I was putting myself through this and feeling burdened to nurse at the breast? No one was holding a gun to my head and telling me I had to do it or else. And anyway, my biggest reason for wanting to breastfeed was so that Andrew could get breastmilk. As long as he was getting that from me pumping and putting it in a bottle, I was okay with not continuing on with the nipple shield/SNS nursing method or nursing in general. I was also exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally, and the whole set up was taking a toll on me. I didn’t want to continue on with nursing if I was going to dread every feeding and get impatient or frustrated with Andrew every time. That’s not the kind of mom I wanted to be or the attitude I wanted to have toward him.
Daniel and I began talking about how much easier and less of a burden it would be if we just bottle fed Andrew. He would still get my breastmilk and it would be way less stressful than rigging up the SNS set up every time. Plus, when he returned to work after his paternity leave ended I wouldn’t have him there to hold up the SNS for me when it was time to feed. I would have to figure it out myself. All of these reasons led me to the decision to pursue exclusive pumping and bottle feed Andrew. I remember feeling elated when I gave myself permission to no longer drudge through the SNS nursing method and nursing in general, but I was also nervous to tell our lactation consultant that I didn’t want to continue on with nursing and instead exclusively pump. For some reason I felt like she would be disappointed in me for not having the guts to stick with nursing, but her response during our next meeting was so encouraging and exactly what I needed to hear as an exhausted and frustrated first time mom.
She assured me that exclusive pumping is still breastfeeding. That was so encouraging for me to hear. So when people ask me, “Are you breastfeeding?” I say, “Yes!” Because it is breastfeeding, just a different way of doing it!
She also clued me in on some great pumping tips that I want to share for anyone planning to exclusively pump or who finds themselves choosing this option after difficulty with breastfeeding, but still wants to feed their baby breastmilk, like me.
- Hands-free pumping. This is huge if you ever want to get anything done while the baby is awake and you don’t want to be hooked up to your big pump. I had heard that the Elvie and Willow pumps don’t have the best suction or size of collection cups, plus they are very expensive. I can’t speak to how well they work or not because I never tried either, and I know other moms love them (Not hating on those brands!). But our lactation consultant told me about another option for hands-free pumping that I highly recommend — the Zomee pump. It’s small, but mighty and way more affordable than the Elvie and Willow. It has great suction (I usually get the same output with this pump as I do with the Spectra), great battery life, and since it’s so tiny, you can stick it in a fanny pack and be hands-free when you pair it with the Legendairy silicone collection cups. Sure, you’re gonna look like Dolly Parton, but who cares. You’re hands-free, baby!!
- The Spectra S1 is worth the extra money. A hands-free pump is great, but sometimes you gotta call in the big guns: the Spectra. When I was looking at breast pumps my insurance covered, I noticed that it only covered a portion of the S1 model (the more expensive Spectra model). In my opinion, it’s 100% worth the extra money than the S2 model. The big selling point for me is that the S1 model is rechargeable, meaning you don’t have to be hooked up to an outlet when you’re pumping. I carry mine around the house all the time and do a lot of things one-handed, which is so much more freeing than having to sit there next to an outlet and keep the baby entertained while pumping.
- Invest in flanges and inserts that fit. If this was the single thing we learned from our lactation consultant, it would have been worth it. The default flange size for most pumps is 24mm. Our lactation consultant told me that most women’s nipples aren’t 24mm. Get measured and get some properly fitting flanges and inserts. If you end up exclusively pumping you’re going to spend a lot of time on the pump, so you might as well invest in some comfortable and well-fitting parts. Don’t forget to buy back up parts as well!
- The Baby Brezza will be you best friend when it comes to cleaning your pump parts. If you decide to exclusively pump, know that you will have a million pump parts to wash, and often. I was spending way too much time doing this, so I invested in a Baby Brezza, which is good for sterilizing bottles, bottle nipples, pacis, other small toys, and all my breast pump parts.
- You don’t have to wash your parts after every use. This was something else I learned from our lactation consultant. Instead of washing after every use, throw your flanges in a gallon Ziploc bag and put it in the fridge when you’re not using them. Wash everything at the end of the day instead of after every time you pump.
- Get a nursing pillow, even if you’re not technically nursing. We used our Brestfriend pillow all the time to feed Andrew even though we didn’t end up nursing. It provided extra support while we fed Andrew laying on his side.
- Brewer’s yeast powder can help boost milk supply. I really like this brand and mix it in with yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, etc. If I see a dip in my supply this always does the trick!
- Drink tons of water! That breastfeeding thirst is no joke. Make sure you’re replenishing what you’re pumping. I bought a cheap 50 ounce insulated tumbler from Target that works great.
- Other helpful products for pumping: Earth Mama nipple butter, drying rack and tree for pump parts and bottles (I like the brand Boon for both), breastmilk storage bags, Ddrops (I put one drop in one bottle each day for Andrew so he can get his daily vitamin D), Evenflo bottles (Some popular bottle brands didn’t work well for us. Evenflo might be a great option for you too!), Kindred Bravely nursing and pumping bras (Great quality bras. I wear mine daily!).
My Biggest Breastfeeding Takeaways:
- Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out the way you planned. Look at what’s going right! My mom reminds me of this often. In my situation, it was/is my milk supply. Even though we didn’t end up nursing at the breast, I’m still able to offer Andrew my breastmilk by pumping. I also love that pumping and bottle feeding allows you to see how much milk your baby is getting, which is something you don’t always know when nursing at the breast.
- Mama/baby bonding is a big reason women pursue breastfeeding. Personally, I don’t feel any less bonded to Andrew because we don’t nurse at the breast. There are still plenty of sweet cuddly moments when I’m feeding him his bottle, so don’t feel that you are breaking your bond with your baby if you choose to pump instead of nurse at the breast. Perhaps exclusive pumping will help you show up as a better mom for your baby. This was certainly the case for me. Rather than dreading every feeding and bringing my negative emotions to the table, pumping allowed me to get back the joy of feeding my baby and took a lot of pressure off during those really hard newborn days.
If you’re an exclusive pumper and have some other great tips I didn’t mention above, I’d love to hear from you! We’re seven months in and still going strong, and I’m always up for learning new tips from other moms! Comment below or send me an email!
Happy pumping! 🙂
The fourth post in this pregnancy, birth and postpartum blog series: Tips for boosting milk supply from an exclusive pumper.
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