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Sometimes... breastfeeding didn't work out like what we had expected... whether it is a latch problem or something else, some moms end up not being able to continue latching their babies as planned.
However, it is possible to continue providing breast milk by doing exclusive pumping. Now now... let me give you a heads up beforehand. If breastfeeding can be challenging especially in the first few weeks, exclusive pumping is even more challenging!
Today, I'm so delighted to feature Kristina Niemiec, an exclusive pumping mom who managed to keep pumping exclusively for her baby for at least 6 months old (when she shared her story) while working full time after 12-week maternity leave.
Let's hear her story out, and I'll summarize the tips and schedule right after that.
My Brief Exclusive Pumping Story...
I knew that I wanted to breastfeed before even getting pregnant, so once I was pregnant with my son, I read a few books and took the Lactation Link online classes to try and prepare myself for learning what I needed to do to be successful at it.
When my son was born, I thought we were doing everything right: from expressing a little bit of milk before having him latch, to feeding on-demand, to trying different positions, etc. However between his 2-day and 2-week check-ups, he wasn't gaining back his birth weight, so his pediatrician referred us to a breastfeeding specialist, and recommended that I start pumping after feeding to try and supplement each time I breastfed.
After another 3 weeks and 3 appointments with test feedings with the specialist (along with adding fenugreek supplements, renting a hospital grade pump and various other trial and errors), we found that the combination of the roof of my son's mouth and the size of my nipples was making it too hard for him to latch on correctly.
Pumping around the clock...
At this point I decided to switch to exclusively pumping, since I would only have about six more weeks before I needed to return to work, and at the time I was basically feeding and pumping around the clock/not getting out of my house much at all. So for every time my son would eat, I would make sure I also had time to pump, so I would be able to stay ahead of him (i.e., he would eat every 2 hours, I would try and pump at least every 3 hours - even in the middle of the night).
Finding the right breast shield size...
After switching to exclusive pumping, I started to realize that I was in more pain than I really should have been, and decided to start trying to find the right breast shield size. I initially thought I needed larger shields (because I was experiencing a lot of rubbing), but going bigger was even more painful! I discovered that my nipples are extremely elastic, and would expand to fit almost any size shield I tried (leaving me in swollen pain), and the correct fit was actually smaller than the standard/medium size.
Boosting my milk supply...
Between trying to figure out the right pumping frequency and shield size, and stopping putting my son to breast, I saw a few dips in my supply, so I did a two-week long power pumping bootcamp to ramp up my supply before heading back to work, and actually saw great success!
I was able to build up a little bit of a freezer stash (~100 oz) before I eventually returned to work after 12 weeks. At this point the amount of milk my son was drinking each day was about on par with how much I was producing, so it was a matter of learning that I needed to stay very consistent with my pumping schedule (which I didn't at first, and saw some dips which required another power pumping bootcamp), and feeling OK with using the freezer stash that I had built up to feed him when we needed to.
Today, my son is almost 9 months old (I can't believe it), and we are still going strong with our routine! It has helped a lot that at the beginning of the year he started sleeping through the night. This means that I am actually able to get ahead of him a little bit, and maybe even start building back my freezer stash just to take a little more pressure off myself.
PS: Not sure how to do power pumping. Check out my complete guide here.
Exclusive Pumping Tips From Kristina
1. Take a pumping class
Kristina was very lucky to get access to breastfeeding and pumping resources even before the baby arrived.
"My sister bought me the 3-class Lactation Link pack for my birthday when I was expecting. This included Breastfeeding Basics, Intermediate Breastfeeding and a Pumping and Storing Breastmilk class.
These classes were my main source of learning how to breastfeed and understanding what types of things I may need to look for or could expect in the very beginning.
It was also a big part in helping me to know how to prepare for pumping and storing breast milk (which I knew would be a part of my journey since I had to go back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave - I just didn’t know how big of a part it was going to be!).
I think the biggest help was that there were actual videos and pictures of women breastfeeding, which makes a big difference vs just looking at a picture/drawing of how to do things."
(2) How to maximize your pumping output
The best thing that I've found that helps me pump faster and produce more milk is hands-on pumping/massage while pumping. If I don't do breast massage while pumping, I can really tell a difference (it's usually .5 - 1 oz of milk!).
(3) Tips to balance between pumping, caring the baby, and doing the chores
My husband has been a tremendous help in sharing the new responsibilities that are required to make sure our family is taken care of.
a. Sharing feeding responsibilities
Since we both work full time, we knew we would need to share in the parenting responsibilities, but since I'm EP instead of direct latch breastfeeding, it also means we can share in the feeding responsibilities. One example is with the late night feedings.
Our son is still usually waking up twice in the middle of the night, and once we both were back at work, we made a game plan that any time he woke up before 2 am, my husband would get him/feed him, and any time after 2, I would wake up with him.
This translates really well into our daycare drop-off/pick-up schedule because my husband leaves the house early in the mornings, while I get the baby ready for the day and drop him off at daycare, so then my husband can leave work earlier in order to pick him up from daycare.
b. Weekly routine to tackle household chores
In addition to trying to figure out a way to share feeding responsibilities that helps us both get as much sleep as possible, we have learned to balance other household chores by creating a weekly routine.
The first thing we did to try and make our lives a little bit easier was we started using a grocery pick-up service, so we can order all of our groceries online on Saturday and pick them up Sunday morning. Then, I usually do all of our lunch and dinner meal prep for the entire week on Sundays, that way our evenings can be focused on playing with the baby until it's his bedtime.
My husband has also taken over most of the cleaning chores, so while I'm cooking, and the baby is napping, he is dusting, cleaning the bathrooms and wiping down the kitchen, etc. We also make sure to have a load of laundry going a few nights a week so that doesn't ever pile up too much.
(4) How to boost your milk supply with solely pumping
The thing that I think makes EP more tiring is the fact that my supply is dependent on the pump.
A lot of the advice out there about increasing your supply is geared towards women who are doing a combination of direct latch and pumping, and are told to "put the baby to breast" as much as possible.
Since my baby can't help me bring up my supply, I carry that responsibility myself by needing to be diligent about my pumping schedule, and when I have seen a dip, I've had to do power pumping each morning/night for a week (I've done this twice in the last four months).
PS: Need a complete online resource about exclusive pumping at an affordable price? Check out The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping course from Milkology.
(5) Exclusive pumping hacks to streamline your pumping routine
a. Use ziplock bag / wetbag in between pumping
My son has six or seven bottles a day, and I also have to make sure all my my pump parts are ready to be used, so that means we spend a lot of time doing dishes. The most helpful things I have found to decrease the amount of time I spend at the sink are using either a ziploc bag or my Sarah Wells Pumparoo bag (while I'm at work) to refrigerate my pump accessories in between pumping.
This makes it so I only have to wash my pump parts twice a day: after my first pump in the morning, and after my last pump at work.
b. Having multiple sets of accessories
Make sure to have extra bottles / pumping parts ready so that you don't have to worry about not having clean containers to pump to.
c. Use Medela cleaning wipes when out and about
I have also found that Medela's soap/water free wipes are great for cleaning when I'm out and about.
d. Getting comfortable with pumping on the go
Honestly, the things I have done to help make exclusive pumping easier to stick to this frequency (whether it's a work day or the weekend) is getting really comfortable with pumping on the go (with a breastfeeding cover, hands-free bra, car charger/using my battery-powered Spectra pump).
How to Find Exclusive Pumping Schedule that Works
It definitely took me some time to figure out the right pumping frequency to keep my supply up, and to stick to a consistent routine (around the rest of my work schedule/weekend schedule).
When I first got back to work, I had blocked off three times in my day so I would be able to pump; however, I very often found myself moving these times around and in the first few weeks, I was missing one of my sessions almost every other day.
In order to fix this, I started waking up earlier to pump before getting ready/getting my baby ready for the day, so I could pump first thing when I got into work (and not get caught up in meetings/the craziness of the day).
I try to have at least 2.5-3 hours between my pumping sessions, and I figured out that if I can get all three of my sessions in at work, I can usually fit two more in during the evenings/before I go to bed.
I think the biggest thing that I found was needing to pump for at least 10 minutes, even if I only get 2.5-3 oz. In the long run, the few times I had been too relaxed about my pumping frequency, is when I saw a slight dip in my production and needed to do a week of power pumping to bring it back up.
My biggest focus is more about sticking to the routine, and getting at least six pumps in a day, regardless of my production (but because of this, I usually have a pretty consistent production!).
After making tweaks my schedule, this is what a typical weekday looks like for me in order to get at least six, but usually seven pumps in every day:
6:30/6:45 am - Wake up and pump (I usually try to do this before the baby wakes up), wash pump parts
9:30 am - 1st pump at work
12:30 pm - 2nd pump at work
3:30 pm - 3rd pump at work, wash pump parts
6:30-7 pm - Pump
10 pm - Pump before going to bed
2-4 am - Pump after waking up to feed baby in the middle of the night
The weekends are a little different, but I still try to stick to the schedule of pumping every three hours, and pumping at least six times each day.
I hope you find the exclusive pumping tips and schedule that Kristina shared useful for you.
If you need more info about exclusive pumping, Amanda Glenn from exclusivepumping.com has a great and detailed resources about exclusive pumping, from how to start until how to wean from your pump.