Over the past eight months, my breast pump has become my surrogate best friend. Seriously. There are few people with who I have spent more time with than my pump. It’s a long story, but after encountering issues breastfeeding, which led to a few awkward trips to see a lactation consultant and enough tears to cry Justin Timberlake a river, I decided to jump on the exclusive pumping train. As a vegan mom determined to give her daughter breast milk, it seemed like the only option. And guess what? Eight months later, I am still riding the pumping train! Choo choo!
So, instead of other moms having to reinvent the exclusive pumping…uh…pump, here are ten tips that have helped me survive the ups and downs of my breastfeeding journey.
1. Two words: double electric.
It probably sounds pretty basic, but it doesn’t hurt to state the obvious: having a fantastic pump sets the foundation for being able to pump successfully. I have a Medela Pump-In-Style double electric pump, and I cannot imagine using anything but a double electric. There are about a bazillion options on the market, so I read many reviews on Amazon to see what other moms thought before making my decision. And it is an investment, for sure, as the best pumps do not come cheap. But that takes me to my next tip of…
2. Contact your health insurance.
Gone are the days when moms were left to bolster the hefty cost of a pump and all the supplies on their own. THANK GOODNESS! With all of the pricey things you need to buy for a new baby, who wants to spend money on a modern-day torture device, anyway? I was thrilled to find out that many insurance companies cover the cost of a pump (or at least part of it). Why, you ask? Due to the antibodies baby gains from mama’s milk, insurance companies see providing pumps as a cost-saving measure in the long term. If babies get sick less because they are drinking breast milk, they don’t have to see the doctor as much, therefore saving insurance companies lots of cash. Kinda brilliant.
3. Make (and stick to!) a schedule.
Exclusively pumping is a commitment—a big one. When my daughter was a newborn, pumping felt like (and time-wise, actually was) a full-time job. Eight pumps a day, at 30-40 minutes a pump, add up. Plus, you have to factor in washing/sterilizing your bottles and pump parts, as well as the additional time you need to feed the baby from the bottle rather than right from the breast. It is a lot, and it can be daunting. But it is critical to stick to a schedule and make sure that you get 7-8 pumps in a day in the newborn stage to establish your supply. When you see your output, it will be worth it!
4. Invest in extra pump parts.
I had no idea that having dry parts could increase your output, but it does! I only had one set of pumping parts for a long time, and since I washed them after every use, they were hardly ever dry. Once I invested in a second set, I noticed a difference. So go ahead and stock up on spare parts. You can even use Health Savings Account/Flexible Spending Account dollars to cover the cost!
5. Read directions.
You’re more exhausted than you ever thought possible, and you have a screaming baby in your arms; is it really necessary to read the pump directions? YES! Please make time to do this, preferably before the baby arrives. I hate reading directions, but when it came to setting up my pump, I was sure to read over everything and watch the informational videos Medela created. This not only aided me in making sure that I was using my pump properly from the get-go but gave me insight into the seemingly little quirks on my pump that were critical pieces of information.
6. Buy a hands-free bra.
For the love of pumping, please buy yourself a hands-free bra! When I first saw a hands-free bra on the shelf at Babies R Us, in a box with a photo of a woman typing on her laptop while pumping, I must admit that I judged anyone who would buy such a bra. But after reading some advice on breastfeeding blogs, I decided to invest in one, which changed my life. You laugh, but I mean it! I suddenly could use my hands to text, press play on the next episode of “Friends” on Netflix, or, most importantly, bottle-feed my daughter, all while pumping! It was a miracle! I suggest buying your hands-free bra a bit on the snug side, as they do stretch out and can become big, especially if you lose some baby weight along your pumping journey.
7. Don’t be afraid to say no to events.
As with many other new baby-related things, pumping is most definitely a viable reason to pass on various events. Will people get it? No, not necessarily. But they will survive. Staying on a schedule is important, not only to maintain your supply but for your level of comfort (going too long between pumps can be painful!). If going out someplace will cause you lots of anxiety because you have no idea where you’ll pump, where/how you’ll store the milk, and so on, I (and other pumping moms) permit you to pass. It’s okay. I promise.
8. If you have a pump that travels well, bring it with you.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to rush back to my house to pump. It’s stressful, inconvenient, and can cut into valuable time out of the house. If your plans end up changing or taking longer than you thought they would, having your pump with you can save many headaches. So take it with you, even if you don’t think you will need it.
9. Find a support group.
Exclusive pumping is a challenge and comes with many questions and concerns. I had no idea who to turn to when I needed help. Somehow, I came across a few fantastic pages on Facebook made up of exclusively pumping moms. And they have been lifesavers! If I have a question, I can post it on the wall, and I get responses from other experienced moms, usually within a few minutes. It has made such a difference in my pumping experience, and I’m honestly not sure I’d still be pumping if I didn’t have these fellow pumping Facebook friends to lean on.
10. Enlist your partner for help.
One of the best parts about pumping is the fact that other people can feed your baby. So take advantage of it, especially when it comes to your partner. From the beginning, when our daughter would wake up in the middle of the night, my husband would feed her as I would pump. This was a great opportunity for the two of them to bond, but it also let me be sure there was enough milk ready for her when she woke up hungry again. It also allowed me to get some much-needed rest because if I was responsible for pumping AND feeding, I don’t think I would have ever slept.