Hello! I am Rae, mummy to Ivy and I am sharing my experience exclusively pumping. In the lead up to Ivy being born, I was so focused on the birth, I didn’t really think I needed to learn about breastfeeding and just said to myself, and when people asked, I’ll give it a good go and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. However, it wasn’t as straightforward as that, it wasn’t easy to give a good go and it wasn’t easy to just give up either. For me, I just couldn’t bring myself to give up, despite breastfeeding being physically and mentally hard, and on a number of occasions sobbing with Ivy in my arms, whilst she was crying too saying to my partner ‘I just can’t do it anymore’. For something deemed ‘the most natural thing in the world’, it really doesn’t come that naturally.
It takes time and practice for both you and baby, and no one really tells you that…I fed little Ivy directly for 2 months, there or thereabouts, it was so tough, and I believe, the trigger of my post-natal depression. When she fed well, I felt like I was coping, but when she didn’t, I was a bag of nerves, constantly worried – worried whether she was getting enough, how heavy her nappies were, how heavy she was, was she gaining enough weight? Is she hungry or not, should I wake her to feed her, is my latch efficient enough, is she getting enough hind milk? …etc, etc, the list goes on.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I now know that all the above was fine and manageable, I had a forceful let-down (the reflex of milk being released from the breast) and didn’t handle it very well…rather than pull baby off to let the initial release of milk subside, I let Ivy choke and splutter on the fast milk like a firefighter putting out a burning building, because I was worried she wouldn’t get enough otherwise. This resulted in her shallowing her latch to slow the flow (clever little thing), causing my nipples to become misshapen after feeds and very, very sore. I tried so many times to deepen the latch, and she would start off ok, but then gradually slip to be more shallow and in the end we just could not correct it.
I gritted and battled through this pain for about 3 weeks, called the breastfeeding helpline countless times, spoke to my midwife, spoke to my health visitor, had them come watch me feed and saw a IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), twice. Went to all the drop-in clinics to get help too, but in the end, lockdown kicked in and the face-to-face help I favoured the most was not there like it used to be and honestly, my mental health around the matter was so skewed, I don’t think it would have made a difference how much help I’d got, I just didn’t have the confidence to master it. So, after a very long conversation with my HV, I decided to express for Ivy during the day and breastfeed her directly at night when she was more relaxed and sometimes fed better, but that very quickly became me just expressing as it still just bloody hurt!
And so from there I started regularly expressing and, I just sort of never stopped.
The rest is history, I think it took me about 4/5 bottles of formula to catch up with Ivy’s demand and it’s now 15 months later and I’m somehow still going. When I started, the only thing I knew about it was that I should pump every 2 hours and that the middle of the night pump was super important… But I’ve learned a hell of a lot over those months, there’s so much more to it than that and that’s why I’d like to share with you a beginners guide on how to get started, tips to ensure you can keep your supply and just general information it’s handy to know. So here it goes…
What is Exclusive Pumping?
In a jiffy, Exclusive Pumping, also known as EPing, is feeding baby solely on milk pumped at regular intervals from the breast and fed via bottle (sometimes supplemented with formula).
Why choose to pump?
There are many reasons why people choose pumping as their feeding method, ranging from baby being premature/in the NICU, to mental health (like in my case) or wanting to share responsibilities with other caregivers. So, it’s a good option to have in mind from the offset, knowing that there’s not only 2 options – breast or formula, there’s 3 including EPing, so you can continue your feeding journey in this way if you want to continue giving breastmilk and perhaps breastfeeding isn’t working for you.
How often do I need to pump?
Depending on how old baby is, it varies. The rule is, to produce milk, you need to keep removing milk. So, if you’re starting from scratch with a new born, then it is recommended to pump between 8-10 times in 24 hours, as to mimic the feeding pattern of a newborn. This might look a little something like the below:
6am, 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 12am and 4am (10 pumps)
6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, 12am and 4am (8 pumps)
It is recommended that something that looks like the above schedule is kept up for the first 8-12 weeks to establish and maintain your supply. It varies for everyone though, so you may be able to do less or have to do more, it’s very individual so you can work out what’s best for you.
After those 8-12 weeks, you can gradually drop pumps, there are loads of sample schedules online if you type it into a search engine, and can accommodate them to you, so have a play around to see what works best for you and your lifestyle.
How long should each pump be?
The more you pump the shorter your sessions can be, making sure they are a minimum of 15 minutes, otherwise your supply may decrease. As you drop pumps, it is best to add the time you are losing from that pump and spread it across the other pumps left in your day. Making sure that the minimum time pumped in a 24-hour period is 120minutes, and you should be golden!
What do I need?
The basic requirements to get you going are:
o Hospital grade double breast pump
o Pumping bra
o Nipple balm/coconut oil
o Manual pump
o Drying rack
o Bottle brush
o Wash bowl
o Storage/feeding bottles
o Freezer bags for breastmilk
This lot will get you well into your pumping journey, whatever stage you’re at, the list could go on, but stripping it back, this is all you really need!
How much is enough?
This is a hard question, because honestly it really varies! But just know that when born, a baby’s stomach is the size of a cherry, so it doesn’t need a lot. At first it might not look like much but keep pumping and feeding when baby’s hungry and ideally you should make enough, but if not then topping up with formula works for many. If you have all the right things in place, then there’s no reason you won’t make enough, but however much you manage, it’s incredible stuff! The amount babies drink varies also, but on average I read they take about 600-750ml per day. Just go with baby’s cues and you can’t go wrong.
What pump setting?
Most pumps have a massage and expression mode, the massage encourages a let-down and then you switch to expression once the let-down commences. There are different strengths for these, slowly work up until you feel it’s uncomfortable and then take it down a notch to where it isn’t.
Things to know…
o Pumps parts need to be disassembled, scrubbed with warm soapy water and air dried in between each pump, as do bottles.
o Double pump – pump both breasts at the same time
o Use a separate wash basin and brush for your parts
o Lube your flanges before every pump
o Correct flange size is so important!
o Never give up on a bad pump
o Power pumping can help increase supply
o Pumping shouldn’t hurt, you need to troubleshoot!
o Look up milk storage guidelines from the offset
o It’s ok to mourn if your feeding journey isn’t how you expect.
o Baby might take a while to get used to a bottle
o Mindset is everything
I could literally write a trillion things about the above and more, but I will spare you the 100,000,000,000-word count. So that’s it, in a nutshell. If you wish to crack that nut open and have a bit of a nibble, or just want to chat it through, I am always happy to help, which is why I started on my journey with @exclusivelypumpingme and if you’re about to embark, you got this mama, go smash it and I wish you every success on your journey!
Have you exclusively pumped?