The world of exclusive pumping

Before I had my baby, I had no idea that there was an entire world of women who were exclusive pumpers. What I mean by that is that these women pump breast milk around the clock as the primary way, or what they hope will be the primary way, for their babies to eat. A lot of reasons exist for why women would do this, but some of the most common reasons include, but are not limited to: babies failed to latch, poor milk transfer, moms do not want to breast-feed directly on their breast because it is not comfortable for them or they just don’t like it; babies are in the NICU after being born and thus are separated from their mothers, and so the moms do not have a way to do skin to skin or to “activate“ their breasts to start milk production; as a result, the moms are forced to use electric pumps to signal to their bodies to create and continue milk production if they choose to breast feed; Mothers want the flexibility of others feeding their baby (via breast milk in a bottle) as opposed to their baby solely relying on their breast for food. I am sure there are other reasons, but these are the most common that I had heard or read about. I suppose I fell into this world myself after being devastated by the fact that my own baby had poor milk transfer, which ultimately hurt my milk supply without my even being aware of it for the first few weeks of her life. Because I was already pumping six times a day on the triple feed program schedule that the NP/LC put her on, I figured that it would not hurt to add in one additional pumping session to get additional breast stimulation to increase my milk supply, but also to produce more milk for her potentially.

And so, I became more aggressive about my research and understanding of the world of exclusive pumping. I never thought that I would be an exclusive pumper, and I guess technically I am not completely exclusive because I still nurse her four times a day now, but I know for a fact that she is not getting a lot directly from my breast, and my goal is to have her get the majority of her food through breastmilk… But through a bottle given the circumstances. I know that every mother has a decision to make in terms of how she wants to feed her baby, and fed is best at the end of the day, but for me, because nursing did not work out as an exclusive form to feed my child, the next best thing in my mind is to try to produce as much breastmilk as possible to feed her through a bottle. I had already invested so much time and energy into learning about breast-feeding, and so there was no way that I was going to give up now. I already have my breast pump and I have already been pumping, so this seemed like the natural alternative for me to explore and continue. For me, if I were to give up now, even if I was, at best at this point, only producing about 6 ounces of breastmilk per day, it would feel like I had failed as a mom in my goal to breast-feed my child, and I do not want to fail. Plus, I have 16 weeks of official maternity leave, so why not use that time to nourish my baby in the way that I ideally wanted to?

Yes, exclusive pumping is not for the faint of heart. It requires an insane amount of time, tenacity, and dedication, but I know that I am capable of doing it. The most aggressive exclusive pumpers pump at minimum 8 to 12 times a day around the clock (so that’s every 2-3 hours, really) for the first 12 weeks of their baby’s life to not only produce milk for their baby but to also optimize their milk supply. Your milk supply, as a lactating person, is dictated by how often you have your breasts stimulated, whether that is through a nursing baby or a breast pump. If you do not stimulate your breasts literally around the clock, you run the risk of ruining your milk supply, especially in the first 12 weeks postpartum when your milk supply is establishing itself and will finally stabilize after the first three months. This is why sleeping a full night’s sleep, so 6 to 8 hours straight, especially in the first 12 weeks postpartum, can be particularly detrimental to your milk supply.

So while I was reading about aggressive pumping schedules on an exclusive pumping mama’s website, I realized right away that there was no way that I could do a pumping session every three hours around the clock for the first three months, or ever. I was the kind of person who absolutely needed at least a 3 1/2 to 4-hour block of sleep, and so my compromise to myself was that I would pump seven times a day and give myself one approximately four hour block of sleep for my own sanity and health. If feeding my baby at least one bottle of formula would mean that I could sleep an additional two hours every day, then that would be worth it to me.

I learned a lot of things reading about exclusive pumping on this site that I had no idea about, that the nurse practitioner/lactation consultant at my babies pediatricians office never warned me about. I learned about concepts like power pumping for 20 –10–10, meaning you pump for 20 minutes or until the milk stops flowing, you stop for 10 minutes, you pump again for 10 minutes or until the milk stops flowing, and then you pump again for 10 minutes. The idea of power pumping is to mimic a baby cluster feeding on you, and you must pump until after the milk stops flowing, otherwise you are telling your body that you do not need to make more milk. The LC at the doctor’s office never mentioned this to me, and it kind of pissed me off. Her version of power pumping was pumping for 10 minutes, stopping for 10, and then pumping again for 10. There is pretty much no documentation of her version of power pumping, which I had been doing blindly with zero results. It really made me feel like the IBCLC at the doctor’s office was totally incompetent. She never centered her the care around me even though she was happy to bill my insurance for my visit as a lactating mother. She never asked me about my breast-feeding goals or taught me about how to protect my milk supply or increase it. She never helped me learn my pump or discuss flange sizing with me, which is KEY. The only thing she suggested in terms of increasing my milk supply was to purchase this $35 bottle of mother’s love tincture, which has fenugreek in it, a supposed milk supply booster. At this point, I had been taking this stupid and disgusting tincture for about 2 1/2 weeks and it had done absolutely nothing for me. I should have known better than to expect some magic from a bottle of random crap. But alas, I was desperate and inexperienced, and I was naïve to think that someone from the doctor’s office would be able to guide me in the right direction. I feel like I learned more about milk supply and pumping from this random website I found than in all the visits with the IBCLC at the pediatrician’s office. And that is sad because this website is fully available for free, and obviously visits to the pediatrician’s office are never free.

So, I am going to try this out and see if my milk supply can increase. Because at the rate that I am going now, I am barely giving my baby any breastmilk, as I am barely producing 20 to 30% of her needs. And as she gets bigger, she is only going to want to eat more. I really don’t want her to be exclusively formula fed, but we will have to see how my pumping journey goes. I did not choose this path; this path chose me.

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