14 months of pumping: a pumping mama’s reflection

1,430.83 hours 

59.62 days 

225.07 litres

59.46 gallons 

That’s a lot of time being spent attached to an electric nipple sucker. I still can’t believe I produced that much milk. My husband still calls me an udder. 

Whoever said breastfeeding was easy either a) has never done it or b) got really, really lucky with it. I was not so lucky with nursing despite reading all the possible sources about it while pregnant, taking an online course about it, and naively thinking I was super prepared. I had a useless lactation consultant at the hospital, an arguably even more incompetent and toxic one at my baby’s pediatrician’s office who just assumed I naturally had low supply (the woman shaming truly never ends…).

When I became a new mother, I had no idea people “exclusively pumped” breast milk to feed their babies. I thought they only did this when they were nursing and were separated from their babies. I had no idea “EPing” as it’s called became a “thing” historically because women who had babies in the NICU who wanted to breastfeed started doing it, and these babies, either because of their size or condition, could not latch or suck properly to eat adequately and help mama build and maintain milk supply. I didn’t know my own baby had a “weak suck” until my pediatrician, of all people,  called it out at her 1-month check-up. All I knew from my useless breastfeeding articles and virtual course was to focus on the latch! Latch! That’s all they talked about! WHY DID NO ONE WARN ME ABOUT A WEAK SUCK?! So after a week, my baby’s weight was the same; she wasn’t gaining. In my super hormonal postpartum state, I actually thought my breast milk was poisoning her. So I went down the miserable road of “triple feeding” (nursing, bottle feeding pumped milk or formula to “top up” baby, and then pumping) – every three hours, around the clock – for the next three weeks.

My baby’s suck never improved. So I turned to exclusive pumping, or at least the pumping schedule of someone who DOES exclusively pump. I still nursed baby regularly, if just for comfort and bonding, up until about 5 months, then finally just stopped. I had to let go of my fantasy of being a nursing mom and really sit in my reality: I was actually an exclusive pumper. 

Due to having nearly two weeks without proper milk removal, I was late to catch up in building my milk supply. So I had to find a way to compensate and do it as quickly as possible. That’s when I turned to power pumping (#iykyk), as miserable and time-consuming as it was on top of already pumping 7 times a day. I power pumped at least once a day for two months. I drank endless amounts of water, ate all the oatmeal. I went through many resentful, teary moments, mostly in the middle of the night pumping, wondering why it felt like I spent more time with my breast pump than my own baby I was pumping for. My entire life revolved around pumping. It took me until about 3.5 months to be fully comfortable and in my routine with it. At around 4 months, I made peace with pumping and figured that although I didn’t choose to pump, my pump ultimately chose me. This was my destiny and how I was meant to feed my Kaia Pookie.

I pumped 7 times a day until 3 months; 6 times a day until just shy of 4 months, 5 times a day from 4 to 6 months; then 4 times a day until 11 months. Even after reducing PPD (pumps per day), my supply miraculously just KEPT on going up. At 11 months, I went down to 3PPD, then at 12 months, 2PPD. Shortly before 13 months, my Spectra S1 Plus pump died while traveling, and so I luckily was saved by a local mom’s group, where moms were happy to loan their pumps to me during my stay in Southern California. I will always be grateful for the selfless, generous support I got from that one mother in Fountain Valley, California. But when I came back to New York, Spectra had shipped my replacement pump late, so I had to use my Baby Buddha pump as a backup. Unfortunately, that pump just didn’t jive as well with me since my body was so used to the Spectra, so my supply depleted really quickly. It was then that I knew I had to end my journey at around 14 months.

I pumped in five different US states, three Australian states, and four countries. I have pumped at home, in my company’s mothers’ room (just a handful of times since I’m lucky to work from home), in cars, trains, planes, airport lounges, hotels, hotel lobbies, restaurants, at wineries, in multiple friends’/families’ homes. And don’t even get me started on how many times I had to constantly wash all my pump parts!! Yet somehow, some way, I made it to 14 months of pumping. 

Exclusive pumping is the hardest, most challenging thing I’ve literally ever done in my life. It was more emotionally, mentally, and physically intense than anything, even labor and child birth. And while I do feel liberated that my pumping journey has now come to an end, it is actually bittersweet; I have loved knowing that my body has provided the majority of my baby’s nourishment in her first 14 months of life; I say it repeatedly, but I mean every word of it. At the end, I got to 84.3% lifetime breast milk for Kaia. The haters above never would have guessed that. Pumping to feed my baby gave me a deep sense of purpose, like I was actually doing something that truly mattered. The saying is true: I didn’t love pumping, but I pumped because I love. I am proud of this journey my baby has allowed me to go on. During this journey, I truly came to understand and live the meanings of “perseverance” and “patience,” as no one’s milk supply increases dramatically overnight.

Do I wish I successfully nursed my baby? Yes. Do I wish I had better in-person support for overall breastfeeding? Of course. But I am thankful for my breastfeeding journey, the amazing support I had from Andrea Ramirez, the Cleo lactation consultant from The Latched Life who encouraged me, helped me identify I had “elastic nipples” (yeah, because how does a first-time mother figure THAT one out?!), and gave me the emotional support and empathy I really needed to continue my breastfeeding journey, but perhaps not in the exact way I had originally envisioned; my night nurses who kept cheering me on (one of them repeatedly said to me, “Everything has its time, and then it ends. Cherish it and be proud of what you are doing for your baby!”), my friends who encouraged me, and of course, my loving and supportive husband Chris, the best bottle feeder I know who is planning a mini blog series that details ALL the data behind feeding and raising our now 14-month old Kaia Pookie. 

And that’s a wrap for my breastfeeding / pumping journey. It was a wild ride, but one I’ll always be grateful for.

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