My journey began when my son arrived five weeks early. Even though he was nursing every two-to-three hours, he was not gaining weight. Four lactation specialists, numerous pediatrician visits and weigh-ins, various mommy blogs, much advice (often unsolicited), many tears, and even more self-affirmations later, I learned he was not able to suck strongly enough to get sufficient milk, and I began pumping in addition to nursing.
Triple nursing (nursing, pumping, and bottle-feeding) is as exhausting as it sounds. I tried to keep at least one nursing session a day, hoping my baby’s suck would strengthen, but the truth is, I started dreading it. I was so tired, and the session was often unsuccessful and disheartening. After three months I gave myself permission to stop nursing, and pump exclusively. To do that, I needed to change my perspective on what breastfeeding should be. I let go of my hopes for nursing and embraced the idea that I was continuing to breastfeed, just in a different way.
My baby’s now 15 months, and I’ve found a balance to my pumping, a rhythm even; it’s just part of my day. I’m beginning to wean, and it feels hard to imagine a day without pumping.
After exclusively pumping for a little over 12 months, I’ve learned many lessons, some hard-won. To commemorate those 12 months, I wanted to put together 12 bits of advice to help you on your exclusive pumping journey:
1. The struggle is real.
Let’s just acknowledge it. You will be tired. Your life will revolve around your pumping schedule. Your hormones and emotions will be all over the place. You may struggle with intimacy. You’ll miss out on moments with your little one because you need to pump. I never thought exclusively pumping would take as much strength, discipline, and dedication as it did. Find a support system that will lift you up on your journey.
2. The dishes are endless.
With all the bottle parts and pump parts that need cleaning, your sink will always be full. If you have a partner, put him or her in charge of this.
3. Every day is Mardi Gras without the beads.
From friends to coworkers to neighbors, they will all get used to seeing your breasts and hearing your pump. I learned to laugh at the awkwardness of it all, even embrace it, and I’m still waiting for someone to get me some beads.
4. Get on a first-name basis.
After about nine months, my pump got a name, Peggy.
5. It is that time again.
It may always feel like a bit of drag to pump, even when you’re weaning. Try to not be discouraged. I would often pump while driving or schedule pumping sessions around social plans so I could fully enjoy my time between sessions.
6. Bad days aren’t the days to make decisions.
My husband and I made a rule that things we said in the middle of a long night when our son was up every hour could not be held against us in the morning. I had a similar rule with pumping: I couldn’t make the decision to quit on a bad day.
7. Missing pieces can make for bad days.
A forgotten flange is not the end of the world, but it can certainly feel like it. There were days when a forgotten pump part made me feel so defeated I didn’t know if I could keep going. I would have to remind myself to never quit on a bad day. I learned to keep extra pieces at home, at work, and even in my car.
8. People will constantly give you unwanted advice.
I wish unwanted advice and inappropriate comments only pertained to pumping, but let’s be honest: people will give you advice on pretty much every single thing you do as a parent. You know yourself, you know your body, and you know your child better than anyone. Just keep telling yourself that.
9. Put your hands down.
If you don’t have a hands-free pumping bra, you need one (or two!) now. And lucky you! Kindred Bravely just released its amazing, patent-pending pumping and nursing bra. #lifechanging
10. Netflix and chill.
Pumping is hard work. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat, drink water, and take time for yourself when you can. I used my nightly pumping sessions for chocolate and terrible reality television, and I think I’m a better mom for it. Try to make your pumping sessions more enjoyable, whether that means having a treat or indulging in a TV show or great book.
11. You are strong.
I know you are tired. I know your body never really feels like your own when you’re hooked up to a machine multiple times a day, but you are strong, you are determined, and you can do this.
12. Be proud of yourself.
No matter where you are on your pumping journey, whether you’re a week or a year in, you are amazing, and it is okay to stop. Your body may stop before you feel ready, but know that you did great. Every day that you were able to provide your baby a part of yourself is a day you should be proud of.
I am thankful to have been able to supply my little one with breast milk for this long and to watch him grow stronger and healthier each day. I’m proud of myself and my body for supporting me. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it. I hope my story helps you because the stories of other exclusive pumpers were what got me through. I think I’ve been motivated by how strong we women are, by the fact that we’re all in this together, each doing the best we can on our own journeys.
If you’re a pumping mama, I’d love to hear your pumping story! Please comment below to help encourage other moms on their pumping journeys.