Like many mothers, while I was pregnant, I had decided that I wanted to attempt breastfeeding my baby. So when I gave birth, I was looking forward to the connection that many moms establish while nursing their children.
Post delivery – I nursed Raaya very easily and she was a good feeder. Come day 3 – my milk came in. LAWD HAVE MERCY, that was a painful day. I was rock hard from my chest all the way up to my arm pits. I needed relief – and that too, instantly! I was desperate. Raaya was asleep, and not due for a feed. I wanted out of this agony. I called my sister in law and told her to send over her pump. Once it arrived, I got to work. That first pump was the most painful, but most rewarding pumping experience ever! I probably managed to get 8+ ounces of a colostrum type milk in a matter of 10-15 minutes. I was ecstatic! In the fridge it went.
During this time, Raaya had developed Jaundice and was in the incubator. To feed her – I would pull her out and struggle with my latch till I got her on to feed. I sometimes called in a nurse to help me get her on, and other times – I cruised. Eventually, the doctor recommended that I give her formula to get the jaundice out of her system at a quicker pace and so we fed her via a bottle for the next 3 days. This is where I really lost my latch. I tried to regain the latch through seeing a lactation consultant, my midwife, online tutorials – everything! Nothing worked. I would try – cry – then eventually give her my pumped milk through a bottle.
Here is where I decided that I would exclusively pump because I really had no other option. I didn’t know what I was signing up for because I never knew anyone who had gone down this path.
Come week one – I was pumping every 2 hours for 20+ minutes. This totalled up to about 10 times a day. Luckily, Raaya was an incredible sleeper from the get go. I woke up in the middle of the night – twice a night – while everyone slept – to pump. This was extremely isolating and exhausting but I’m so glad I pushed through it.
It takes about 4 months for your milk supply to regulate so I maintained a schedule of pumping 9-10 times a day, for 20-30 minutes for the first 4 months. I mimicked her feeding schedule. Whenever she would get hungry is whenever I would pump. At the beginning, I would get anywhere from 3-4 ounces a session. I had to make sure my water intake was sufficient and I was eating or my supply would fluctuate. Raaya was drinking 2 ounces in her first month and increased to 3 to 4 ounces up till month 4. I was able to take any milk that wasn’t used for the day and store it in the freezer. I would always give her fresh milk unless I was out and the fridge stash had run out. Only then, would her dad use the frozen milk (very rare). In the first four months is when I got most of my storage done because the baby isn’t drinking as many ounces as they do when they get older.
Come month 5, I reduced my pumping from 10 to 8 times a day, 20 minutes a session. My aim was still to mimic her eating times so I used that as a guideline throughout my entire journey. My day followed the below timings:
6am: Pump 1
9am: Pump 2
12pm: Pump 3
3pm: Pump 4
6pm: Pump 5
9pm: Pump 6
12am: Pump 7
3am: Pump 8
By this time, I was producing anywhere from 30-34+ ounces a day and her intake was 4-5 ounces a feed (6-8x a day). My freezer stash had pretty much gone untouched because I always did my best to ensure that she was getting whatever was freshly pumped but I was now freezing only 1 bag a day or less.
Month 6 is when I dropped my overnight pump. What a huge relief! Ryu was still sleeping through the night and being able to get that extra hour or so was a huge help in my energy levels. This was also when I developed mastitis so pumping got extremely painful again. Luckily, it got quickly resolved and I managed to get my supply back up by power pumping. Power pumping is when you trick your body into thinking your child is cluster feeding. I would take a few baby free hours (with the help of her dad) every Saturday to pump for 15 minutes then rest for 10 minutes for about 3 hours. Its straining so make sure you have snacks and water at your pumping station.
Month 7 is when I discovered DOMPERIDONE. It is a digestive medication that a mom friend (I owe her my life) told me about which has the side effect of increasing your milk supply. It’s utilized very commonly here in Canada but I know in the US, it isn’t encouraged so advising your doctor would be best. Domperidone allowed me to pump less and get more milk out of each session! I started pumping 6 times a day and was able to get up to 40 ounces so freezing a bag was a lot easier for me as Raaya was now on solids as well.
Month 8 – 11 were relatively easier in terms of schedule but more mind numbing because I was getting frustrated with my third arm (the pump) and lack of freedom. I used a medela freestyle which allowed me to be mobile but this meant, I was always taking my pump with me everywhere I go. Imagine sitting at a party, and then getting up in the midst of dinner, to go sit in a bedroom/bathroom by yourself so you can get your 20 minutes of pumping in. It was hard to stay motivated but the consequences of a supply dip was too risky for me. Not only was I worried about a fed baby, but I was also obsessed with feeding my freezer. I couldn’t sleep until I had my frozen bag secured.
Month 9 was the first time I traveled abroad with Raaya. Taking my manual pump for the plane was the best decision I made. It was quick and easy – no connecting parts – and it was quiet. I also introduced Raaya to a pacifier on the plane for the first time. This was a conflicting decision for me. I wanted to make sure her ears didn’t pop during landing and takeoff just in case she didn’t feel like feeding. She was always a self soother and I didn’t want to make her dependent on anything. What the pacifier did was alleviate me from not only calming her down through milk, but her “choocho” did the trick as well. If she ever woke up at night – we always fed her to put her back down. We started substituting that with the pacifier.
Month 12 couldn’t come any faster. Even though I was only down to pumping 2-3 times a day. I was sooooo drained but I knew the end was near. I started mixing cows milk and breast milk at every feed because I knew that I would eventually have to transition her. I noticed that she was now getting up at night with cramps and a tight stomach. The cows milk was making her extremely gassy and not settling the way I thought it would, so I cut it out of her diet completely. She was back on exclusive breast milk after a couple weeks of mixing.
Month 13 – I stopped taking domperidone and allowed my supply to deplete naturally. I had only 1-2 sessions a day so weaning off the pump was easy. I also resorted back to mixing milk but instead used goats milk as opposed to cows milk. Raaya really didn’t settle well with it (still hasn’t) but it was better than the cows milk.
Month 14 is when I totally stopped pumping and started utilizing the frozen milk I had accumulated. It lasted me a whole month and a half.
HOW TO SURVIVE EXCLUSIVELY PUMPING
-Set up a comfortable pumping station with water bottles, snacks, a tv, iPad, magazines, etc.,
-Get a handsfree pumping bra so you don’t have to hold the bottles while you pump
-Buy a mobile pump that allows you to walk around while you pump. That way, you’re not forced to sit in one spot
-Always mimic your baby’s eating schedule
-Eating regularly and drinking water often is extremely important
-Join a Facebook support group for exclusively pumping moms. It has lots of tips and tricks to follow
–A healthy state of mind is imperative for healthy flow
Exclusively pumping isn’t easy. A pump can’t drain you as efficiently and quickly as a baby can. But it’s tremendously rewarding and honestly my biggest accomplishment. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask below! I hope I assisted even one mom out there struggling with this new world and encourage you to stick to it, if you deem it fit for you and your child! Good luck mama bears! Whether you feed your baby breast milk, formula, cows milk, or parathas – just remember that fed is best!