Patiently Pumping – Our Pumping Journey!
I was very keen on pumping alongside breastfeeding from the very word go as I wanted my husband to be involved with bedtimes, therefore pumping enough during the day time to give him a bottle in the evenings. When Rupert was born, I soon realised that pumping would be a much bigger part of my day for a long while when he wouldn’t latch at all for the first few days and then had issues with feeding for a good few weeks more.
During our time in hospital I was hand expressing colostrum, which we syringe fed him alongside mini formula bottles every 3 hours (as well as offering him the boob which he mostly point blank refused for at least 48 hours). However, I was worried that my milk would not come in with him refusing the breast, so I asked the midwives for one of the hospital pumps. Unfortunately, the consensus in hospitals from most midwives was very much that pumping will negatively affect supply in those early days, so I was unable to get my hands on one and no-one was really willing to take me seriously, especially after seeing the formula bottles hanging around my bedside.
On day two of being in hospital, I sent my husband to a local pharmacy which hired out hospital grade pumps and he arrived that morning with it. I couldn’t have been happier! I hooked it straight up and started double pumping both breasts for 15 minutes every three hours. Looking back I do wish I had taken my own pump to the hospital for this exact reason, stimulating milk supply in those early days is so important and if you have a baby who won’t latch for whatever reason (ours was traumatic birth and tongue tie), then it is definitely worth knowing that you can start to get your milk to come in even if superficially at first.
Once home, Rupert did start to open his mouth but only for a small feed and he still didn’t seem happy doing so. He had a strong suck but would come on and off and it made fully breastfeeding him very difficult. We struggled on and had him seen by an osteo who was certain that some treatment would help him open his mouth wider, but I knew deep down that we would need to get his tongue tie snipped too. For the first 12 days, I fed him for 20 minutes on each side and he then had a top-up from Daddy (expressed or formula in a bottle), whilst I pumped again for 15 minutes. The whole cycle would take around 1.5 hours per feed, and he would then sleep for 1.5 hours before waking or being woken again by me to start the whole thing again.
Pumping is a very personal thing….I have had many clients who just cant pump, or hate the idea of it. I didn’t mind doing it, although it was always a little awkward when a male visitor walked into the room and I was sat there like a cow in a dairy farm pumping away. The noise is one that stays with you forever and it just becomes the background soundtrack to those first few months of life with a newborn.
I chose a Medela double pump which I am so grateful for looking back on our experience of breastfeeding. If someone had told me I would need to pump every three hours for the first two weeks plus, I would have wondered how on earth I would have had the time to do so with a newborn to look after too. But we made it work – Daddy did top-ups where needed, and whilst I pumped I would often just have Rupert on my knee falling asleep to the whilst noise that is the breast pump!
Once tongue tie was snipped and sorted, I made sure to still keep pumping three times a day whilst Rupert slept, so that I could keep my supply going and build up a bit of a back log in the freezer. I was lucky enough to be able to get a good amount of milk in around 10-15 minutes, and would use my pumping time to write emails, eat lots of cake or chocolate (until I had to give up dairy), and just sit down and do nothing. Although the tongue tie and recovery from birth were fairly full on things to deal with, I still have fond memories of time sat pumping to make that precious milk for my baby.
Once everything was established, I continued pumping twice a day (after the first feed in the morning and after dinner in the evening), so that I always had spare milk in the fridge. I would use this milk for his pre-lunchtime sleep top-up, and then for his evening bottle that Daddy gave him. Pumping gives you freedom to be able to leave baby for a few hours whenever you like – I had a cheeky three hour Christmas shopping trip when he was 3 weeks old, my hair done for 4 hours at 7 weeks and a whole night out with the girls when he was 6 weeks old and Daddy was able to defrost what he needed each time I left and bottle feed him.
I would thoroughly recommend investing in a good quality double pump for anyone wishing to breastfeed but who also wishes to be able to give baby a bottle and have some Mummy “self-care” time too. I used the Medela Swing Double Pump and it was worth its weight in gold by the time that I finished using it. It was also an excellent way of winding down breastfeeding, as once we had had our very last and incredibly special breastfeed together, I was able to slowly decrease the minutes I spent pumping each day, over a number of weeks until my supply was gone. It seems a much more objective way of decreasing my milk supply, rather than still breastfeeding and not really knowing whether I was managing to get him to take less and less each time (or indeed confusing him too).
For anyone going through the breastfeeding journey, my top tips on pumping gathered from not just my own experience, but also my work helping Mummies with breastfeeding for the last 8 years as a Baby Consultant would be;
-Invest in a good quality pump. I have used lots of pumps over the years with clients, some electric and some not. My genuine recommendation for a pump is a Medela one.
-Have a “pumping station” which in the early days will include things like breast pads and lanolin for after pumping. Also have water by your side, the TV remote or your phone and a big bag of snacks to keep you busy whilst sitting and pumping milk.
-Having your baby close to you or even thinking of your baby can help with milk let-down. I went through a phase of my let down taking a while to come and rather than getting stressed, I would just play a video of Rupert on my phone and voila it came.
-Use breast compression to help milk let down and production too. It is a super simple technique that can really help how much milk you can collect at one pump.
-Power pumping is a really useful way to up your milk supply. Just like anyone, I went through times where my milk supply would be lower, so power pumping would often help solve this. This means pumping for a block of time (15 mints), having a ten minute break, then pumping again for 10 minutes, having a break again and then pumping again and so on….
-If pumping in the early days, avoid overpumping. I kept my pumps short and regular, just like when a baby would feed. Pumping on too high an intensity for too long can cause supply issues, which is why midwives will often ask you to avoid pumping in those early days. Pumping from the beginning is totally ok if done in the correct way.
-Have a plan and a pattern… Not having a regular pumping plan can confuse your breasts and mean you may end up with mastitis, especially if your baby is not feeding so effectively from your breasts for reasons such as tongue tie or just last latching. If you plan to pump only once or twice a day, try and make it at regular times.
-If you plan to miss a breastfeed and do a bottle, or give formula for whatever reason (which is totally ok!). Try and pump instead even if just for a short period, so that your supply continues. This is especially important in those early days. Another reason we are often told not to give formula to a newborn is because it can potentially reduce breast milk supply. However, if you can pump each time you give baby a top-up or bottle, your supply will assume that you need that milk and continue to produce (noting that a pump can be less efficient than a baby, but a very tired baby will also not feed efficiently, so it can be a good substitute).
Pumping is a huge commitment and particularly if done alongside breastfeeding. It can be an amazing tool in increasing milk supply, or in getting your milk in during those early days – so don’t be scared off by advice that you can’t pump in those first few weeks. Instead question it and look into the best ways to use a pump to your advantage. I genuinely do not believe that I would have been able to breastfeed my baby for as long, or with the milk supply I had if I hadn’t have hired a temporary breast pump in hospital for those first couple of days post-partum and without my trusty Medela Swing for those weeks and months that followed.
Pumping until tongue tie was cut was also essential for us and saved my breastfeeding journey (along with nipple shields!), but it requires commitment, and giving up sleep and sometimes sanity too. It is totally worth it though and you will be able to dedicate less time to your pump and more time to your baby as time goes by. Get support where needed and make a plan…Happy Pumping!