Monday, January 24, 2011

Part 1: A Mother's Story -- Exclusive Pumping

One of my readers, Anne, sent me an email this week with a story about how she has exclusively pumped breast milk for her son who was born with Down Syndrome.  I thought it would be great to share her story here.   This is part of her email:

I always wanted a natural birth but it wasn’t meant to be - I had a ruptured uterus early on in a previous pregnancy, so c-sections seem to be necessary for me.  And I’m okay with that, at least I can still carry a child.  I also didn’t get to breastfeed with my son for more than, oh, maybe a month – once per day if even that.  If I was lucky.  He was a preemie, and tube fed at first and is a special needs child. He has Down Syndrome and has the most unique amazing story to tell . . . but that’s a whole other seizures/nutrition story! LOL  Anyway . .  boy have I learned a lot!  How to stand up to the NICU nurses . . . and that women can pump long term if breastfeeding doesn’t work out (no thanks to the NICU nurses there - UGH!!!).  Even the pediatrician didn’t think I could make it pumping for more than a couple months.

I hope you'll enjoy her helpful hints here and there are mothers out there that will find her story encouraging.   Thanks, Anne, for allowing me to share your story.

"This is for all you Mama’s out there who find yourselves in the difficult position of wanting to breastfeed, but for whatever reason are unable to do so.  Doctors and nurses are too quick to offer formula to the baby who won’t (or can’t) latch.  I am here to tell you, there is another viable option!  It’s called exclusively pumping, or EP’ing for short. 

Doctors and nurses might tell you that you can try, but they will most likely tell you that you WON’T be successful at it, especially not long term.  They will tell you that your body will not respond to a pump, that a baby is much more efficient than a pump, and, well, why bother when you can go straight to formula?  Trust me, ladies, you don’t have to.  You CAN exclusively pump.  Long term, if you want to!  I’ve been doing it for 2 years for my son . . . yes TWO!

Let me give you a little background on our situation: my son, Kaiden, was born 6.5 weeks premature by emergency c-section due to an overly large placenta intent on evicting him (the c-section was necessary from a previous injury) and needed to be tube fed for the first few weeks.  The nurses never even gave me a choice, within hours of his birth, they walked in and said, which formula do you want to use, Enfamil or Similac?  Indignant, I told them I wanted him to have my breastmilk.  They said, well, we CAN wait for your milk, but we’d prefer to give him some food now, so choose one.  I admit, I caved and let them give him formula until I had colostrum to give him, which came in 10 hours after his birth.

By now, the nurses knew I wanted Kaiden to have my breastmilk and their only words of advice were that I needed to pump every 3 hours for 15 minutes around the clock.  That’s it, nothing more, no words of encouragement or more advice, no tips or tricks, nobody even took the time to show me how to use a breastpump.  They did bring in one of the hospital’s Medela Symphony pumps that I could use. It wasn’t too hard to figure out, but I hated that pump; trying to sit up and hold the horns in place while staying near a plug-in was hard on my post surgery body.  I had previously purchased a used Medela Pump In Style and gave that a try instead.  Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t gotten the suction tested when I bought it and as it turns out, that pump was a little too used (weak motor) and I threw it away after the first try.  My supportive husband, seeing me in so much discomfort, took me down to the lactation department and encouraged me to buy whatever pump I desired.  I chose the Medela Freestyle, a nice little portable unit.  It wasn’t cheap, but that pump has become like an extra body part over the last 2 years and was well worth the money spent.

If EP’ing looks like it might be the way to give your baby your breastmilk, let me give you some tips:

·         Invest in a good quality double electric pump. 

·         If you choose to buy a used pump, get the suction tested before you commit to buy!

·         Keep spare pump parts on hand.  The membranes/valve assemblies DO wear out and should be changed every 3 months to keep the suction at its best.

·         For working Mama’s, most workplaces are required to provide a private place for you to pump.  Check your state laws and with your employer.

·         You DO need to pump every 3 hours around the clock, for 15 – 20 minutes per session for the first 6 – 8 weeks.  No skipping sessions.  This establishes your supply just as breastfeeding does. 

·         Follow your baby’s feeding routine: Feed baby, pump, get some sleep.  Repeat. 

·         Do NOT skip nighttime pumping sessions until your baby sleeps thru the night.

·         Same as breastfeeding, be aware that what you eat affects your baby and you may need an elimination diet depending on your baby’s dietary needs.

·         Learn the proper way to hand express milk from your breasts, and do so after every pumping session to fully empty your breasts as possible.  In an emergency situation (like forgetting  your pump AND stored milk at home and your baby is hungry!) you can hand express what your baby needs.

·         Always keep a spare bottle/nipple in the diaper bag.  If you aren’t afraid to breastfeed in public, be warned, there are times you may need to pump and/or hand express in public.

·         You CAN exclusively pump long term.  It just takes a time commitment.

·         Keep up on your calories and fluid intake!  This is not the time to worry about your weight or figure.  Your body needs the extra calories and fluids to produce milk.

·         You may become obsessed with the amount of breastmilk you produce . . . nursing Mama’s don’t get to see the amount their baby eats, but you do.  Try not to get over-obsessed with it.

·         As your baby grows, your supply will naturally diminish.  It is typical to lose a little supply around the 6 – 9 month period, then again in the 9 – 12 month period.  As your baby begins to eat solids, they will eventually need less breastmilk so although it can be saddening, it really is okay to see your supply decrease.

·         If you are still pumping when your post-partum menstrual cycle returns, know that it may decrease your supply for a few days to a couple weeks.  Your milk supply may also follow your menstrual cycle – highest production around ovulation, lowest around your period.

·         Stress can diminish your supply, especially emotional stress.  While it’s near impossible to avoid such situations, you can be aware in advance that you will need to take extra care of yourself during these times by practicing relaxation techniques and not skipping meals.  Especially not skipping meals.

·         There are herbal supplements you can try if your milk supply isn’t what you’d like.  Mother’s Milk tea, fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel are just to name a few. 

·         There are internet forums just for EP’ing Mama’s, I recommend joining one for encouragement and support.


The goal of pumping so much is to build up an oversupply.  While this can be an issue for breastfeeding Mama’s, it can be your salvation.  You can freeze any extra milk to be used during growth spurts or low-supply days, and is a great way to be able to continue to give your baby your breastmilk for awhile after you have stopped pumping.

If you find you have too much milk, you may consider either reducing your pumps, or donating your extra milk to a needy baby.   Because of our special circumstances (which you can read more about in my blog if you wish) I ended up donating somewhere around 1200 oz of frozen milk. 

This is by no means all the tips & tricks you may learn, but it should give you a good start.  Never let anyone tell you that exclusively pumping is impossible!" If you'd like to read more about Anne's story, visit her blog, The Green Child Chronicles.

Two other friends will be sharing their stories over the next few weeks, too.  Alisa pumped for her son born with a severe cleft palate/lip, and Mellanie will be sharing her story of breastfeeding her daughter born with Kabuki Syndrome.  Both are touching and inspiring stories I hope you will enjoy.  I know these stories are near and dear to these mother's hearts and I appreciate their willingness to share them here. 

5 comments:

Tamara said...

Thank you for posting on this topic. I exclusively pumped for 15 months, so I know first hand how hard it can be and appreciate these mother's stories being shared.

Rebecca said...

Forget doctors and nurses telling you you can't pump successfully long term. Without going into details I wasn't able to breastfed with my first. (Though I will say a lot of that did have to with the nurses.) While Pregnant with my second and talking with the midwife she told me the reason I failed at breastfeeding was because I tried to pump to much.

Kristi said...

Great information! Thanks for sharing.

Rob and Mercedi said...

I pumped for 12 months with my first baby. I can't say that I loved it, but at least I was doing what was best for my baby. It was hard. Maybe one of the hardest things I've ever done. I wish I had more support than just my husband. I had an abundant oversupply. I donated over 3,000 ounces and dumped a lot too. But like you said, I was so concered about quantity that I couldn't let it slow down. It's hard to do, but can be done.

Jeni said...

I just wanted to agree that you can pump long term. I exclusively pumped for my daughter until she was a year old. I never had an oversupply, but always managed to have just enough. I do remember that when she started to eat solids more and drink less milk, I still pumped the same amount for awhile so I could build up a bit of a freezer supply.

One thing I recommend is get a pumping bra so that you can pump "hands-free." I put that in quotation marks because I always had to do compressions while I pumped, but I was able to take my hands off for a few seconds while I surfed the web. There is nothing more boring than having to pump while doing nothing else.