Frankly, I did not expect that I would be an exclusive pumper. I always imagined that I would breastfeed my baby until at least he was a year old. However, nursing ended quickly for me. (See my post here as to why). In spite of that, I was still determined to give my little one breastmilk.
Exclusively pumping (EPing) is a lot of work and very time consuming. I remember in the beginning when I was trying to establish my supply and my baby did not want to nurse (he only nursed once or twice a day), I would pump 9 to 10 times in a 24-hour period just to empty my breasts and induce them to produce more milk. There were some days I would squeeze one or two more pumping session(s) because I was so anxious with what I was seeing online or hearing from people — that I would not be able to establish a good supply if I wasn’t nursing because suckling is the most effective way to stimulate milk production.
Those days were tough. Fortunately my mom, my mother-in-law, and my husband all took turns to help in the first few weeks postpartum. I had to pump every 2 hours (or less) and follow such strict pumping schedule because in those first few days, production was quite low. I was attached to the milk pump. It felt so inhumane — I literally felt like a milk cow. I had to spend more time with the machine than with my baby. It broke my heart every time I would hear my baby cry and I had to sit in front of the breast pump until I was done pumping.
The night times were the toughest and most exhausting because not only did I have to bottle-feed my newborn every 2 hours, I also had to pump every 2 hours. I was alternating between feeding the baby, pumping milk, and cleaning and sterilizing the bottles and pump parts. I was lucky if I got 30 minutes of sleep. In the mornings, I would get about 2 hours of sleep as my husband would take the baby before he had to leave for work.
In the first few days of pumping, I would only get less than an ounce of breastmilk per pumping session (sometimes I could get a full ounce). I was getting discouraged and thought that was such a low production. When you’re EPing, it’s easy to get discouraged because you get so exhausted only to see such low amount of milk after spending 20-25 minutes with the breast pump. Initially, I thought perhaps it was a problem with my pump. At that time, I was renting a hospital-grade Medela Symphony breast pump. However, when I consulted with my doctor and my lactation consultant, they told me that I was actually having a good production especially for a first-time mom and someone who’s just starting to establish supply.
When it became clear that I would be EPing because my baby was refusing to nurse, I bought my own breast pump and a bunch of other pumping accessories in order to make EPing as easy and tolerable as possible.
One day a good friend who also exclusively pumped for her son told me about Pumpin’ Pal flanges. She knew the discomfort from EPing and for the most part, wrong sized flanges have a lot to do with that. Pumpin’ Pal flanges are not angled at 90-degrees so they are more ergonomic and provide a more natural way to pumping breastmilk. They also claim to help boost production because of their design. At that point, I was willing to try everything to make sure that I can produce breastmilk in spite of my baby not wanting to nurse. (See my post here for tips on establishing and boosting breastmilk supply.)
Around weeks 2 to 4 postpartum, I was able to produce about the right amount of milk that my baby needed by mainly pumping. However, this was also around the time when I would often get clogged milk ducts. Because a breast pump is not as efficient as a baby in terms of emptying the breasts, I suffered from clogged ducts almost every day.
Fortunately, by around week 5 or 6, after several weeks of sleepless nights and countless hours with the breast pump, I was able to increase my production to about 25 to 27 ounces per day. By week 8, I was getting at least 30 ounces per day, which was an amount that was more than what my baby consumed at the time. That was when I started building a freezer stash of breastmilk and my schedule with the pump loosened a little bit. I began to drop pumping sessions especially the night time ones until I was doing 7 to 8 sessions in a 24-hour period. By month 3, I was down to 6 sessions per day which included only 1 middle of the night (MOTN) pumping. This is when I finally started to feel like myself again.
At 4 months postpartum, I dropped my MOTN pump in order to get straight 6-7 hours of sleep. I was hesitant to do this at first because I had read that prolactin levels are at the highest from 1 to 5 in the morning which causes milk production to peak during this time. However, up until that point, the longest stretch that I was able to sleep was 3 hours. So I went ahead and dropped my last MOTN pump and I got much better sleep (at that point, my baby was also sleeping for longer stretches). Fortunately, my milk production did not decrease. Instead, it even went up. I guess the sleep helped tremendously.
Now at 5 months postpartum, I am down to 4 pumps per day, no MOTN pump, and getting at least 8 hours of sleep. And to top it all, milk production is upwards of 35 ounces per day! Recently, I was even able to donate over 350 ounces of breastmilk to a mom in need and still able to keep enough stash in the freezer in case of emergency.
I never thought I would reach this point especially during the first few weeks of EPing. Back then I thought I would only do it for 3 months at most because there was no way I would be able to keep up with the demands of pumping. But I pushed through the toughest times and I took it one day at a time without obsessing as to when I could stop. Now I am able to continue to provide breastmilk to my baby and enjoy the best of times with him as well.
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