I trudge down the stairs into the building’s basement, wind my way through the dark skinny corridor to the Lactation Room, a tiny office that hasn’t been utilized for anything besides storage and expressing breast milk since the 1970s (as is evident by the yellowing wallpaper).
There is a desk and a couple chairs as well as a tub of disinfectant wipes and a small fan that I asked my office to provide. The door locks so that’s a plus, and there is a sink in the next room so I guess I can’t complain. This is where I spend my lunch break every day. It is the story of almost every working mom who goes back to work while they are still feeding their babies breast milk: sent to a closet or small office that was an afterthought, usually thrown together the day before or the day you come back to work. In my case, I don’t just use my pump while at I’m at work, I use it to exclusively to feed my baby.
My journey to exclusively pump milk for my two babies wasn’t easy one but it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my sons. I had issues with latching and there was so much pain. I dreaded feeding time–I hated it–I cried and put off the inevitable for as long as I could, but my babies and I found no connection at the breast, just pain and tears.
A month in with my first, I finally had a heart-to-heart with myself and decided to try the pump. I mean, I was already pumping after every feeding anyway so I switched to just pumping and feeding exclusively with a bottle.
My whole world changed. There was no more pain, no more tears, and I had a happy and well-fed baby.
The weirdest thing about exclusively pumping is getting asked the question, “Are you breastfeeding?” I am never really sure how to answer this question, “No, I mean, I am feeding my baby breast milk out of a bottle because I exclusively pump, so I guess, yes?”
Honestly, I envy the moms who do feed their babies right from the source. You don’t have to lug around a big machine and ice packs and all the extra stuff. You can sit down and quietly feed your baby pretty much anywhere with no issues (yes, I know that some people are jerks and give moms feeding their babies a hard time). It’s hard to be discreet when you have to hook yourself up to a machine to get the food you need to feed your baby.
I have pumped in some pretty weird places: on a plane with a cover, in my car lots of times, airport bathrooms, tailgating at a football game, in campers and tents, banished to bedrooms and back rooms… but it’s all worth it for a few ounces of liquid gold.
My advice for moms struggling with breastfeeding who might be thinking of exclusively pumping: try it. Pump for a few days and see how it goes. If it’s not for you, you can go back to breastfeeding or switch to formula. Do whatever it takes to make sure you have a baby with a full belly.
These are a few things I found that helped make pumping a little easier.
Ask for help
Talk to a lactation consultant or friend who has pumped or send me a message! I wish I would have had someone to show me how to use my breast pump the first time. Thank goodness for YouTube tutorials otherwise I would have probably done something wrong! Many breast pump companies and local breastfeeding groups are great resources, and you can always dive in on social media to find breastfeeding and pumping advice and support.
Try to make pumping a time just for you
Find a quiet place and watch trashy reality TV or scroll through your media feeds. Make pumping your “me time.” If I am home alone with the baby and preschooler I always make sure that baby is fed and happy or sleeping and the preschooler is working on Legos or gets some screen time while I pump. I find that being able to have quiet surroundings helps me relax and I get more milk. When I first got home from the hospital with my second baby, I made my pumping time the alone time I got with my preschooler. Together we played card games or rock paper scissors while I pumped. That always made the time go by fast and I was distracted and not worrying about how much milk I was pumping.
You don’t have to immediately wash all the parts and bottles
I have three sets of pump parts and I usually wash parts and bottles twice a day. I store all the used parts and bottles in a small wash tub in the fridge. (I use the small grey tub from the hospital that baby had his first bath in… take that home with you because it definitely comes in handy!) I use the microwave sterilizer bags every few days to sterilize all the parts and bottles as well.
Get your self a good bag for your pump
There are tons of great pump bags on the market, ones that are way better then what come with your pump! Also invest in a wet bag. These are usually used by people who cloth diaper their babies but they work great for storing used pump parts when you are on the go!
Like everything else in life, there are pluses and minuses to exclusively using the pump. At first it feels tough because you are barely producing and you worry you won’t have enough to feed your baby. Or you can be like me and over-produce; sometimes that can be painful because your breasts fill up quite fast and then you feel like a milk cow all the time! I have overflown bottles and gotten milk all over my pants during my work lunch break so the rest of the day I smelled like breast milk.
Clogged ducts have become a more frequent problem for me while pumping this time around. They are painful and annoying but nothing a hot shower and some power pumping can’t take care of. If that doesn’t work, I have found that dangling my affected breast in a tub of hot water usually clears it up. There’s something about the combination of gravity and hot water that usually works the clog out even though my husband thought I was crazy the first time he walked in the house and I was standing at the kitchen table topless with one boob hanging in a tub of water! You gotta do what you gotta do to make sure the baby gets fed!
On the plus side, pumping is definitely way easier to get some time away from baby. I can leave him with dad or grandma and go for a long walk or a Target run or lunch in the car (because COVID). It was also easier to send my baby off to daycare because I knew I didn’t have to worry about whether or not he would take a bottle.
Exclusively pumping is hard, and so is breastfeeding and bottle feeding and any way a mom chooses to keep her baby fed and healthy.
It’s all hard and we all will have different methods and ways of feeding our children. All that really matters is that they are getting the nourishment their bodies need to thrive, no matter how it gets there!