Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Exclusive Pumping- 1 year strong

When I got pregnant with Baylor, the first thing I was most excited about (besides welcoming another member of the family)...was the thought of breastfeeding, I had absolute wonderful experiences with nursing with my first two, so I couldn't wait to get to walk that journey again with my last baby.  Breastfeeding is one of the hardest, most grueling thing a momma walks through with an infant, but by far the most rewarding and satisfying blessing as well.  There is nothing greater than knowing you alone are the source of your little one's needs and those late night feedings quickly became something I cherished more than anything.  Disclaimer: nursing sucks...it's hard...it's exhausting...it's messy...it's intrusive...let me be real and not make it seem like it's all glorious.  There are tough aspects of the journey too.

Anyway, so I looked forward to that bonding experience the whole time I was pregnant.  Enter Mr. Baylor Jace... way earlier than expected, a month long NICU stay, and an extremely fragile, underweight little stinker.  All my hopes and dreams of nursing him went down the drain that first night I realized I wasn't going to have access to him for a long time while he was in the NICU.  I really was devastated.  I knew this would be a game-changer for me and things were not going according to my plan.  I almost threw in the towel right then and there in the hospital.  I knew I needed my energy and strength to make it through the NICU with Baylor, not to mention having two more toddlers at home.  However, I also knew there was nothing better for my sick little guy than my milk.  That day, I committed to do whatever it took to get my milk to Bay Bay...whether by tube, bottle or breast...he would get my liquid gold.  I immediately sought out help from the lactation consultants in the NICU and I tried my best to figure out the tools necessary to make it long-term with pumping.  I firmly believe my milk helped Baylor fight off a deadly infection and grow stronger and stable enough to come home. 

Here I am 13 months later.  13 months of exclusive pumping.  13 months of around the clock pumping and then bottle feeding.  13 months of a sink full of bottles, pump parts and nipples.  13 months of having an almost empty fridge, but a full shelf of breast milk.  13 months of pure exhaustion and feeling tied to a machine for hours during the day.  13 months of feeling torn between my older children and the drive to pump for Baylor.  13 months of setting my alarm clock to pump in the middle of the night, just so I could make sure to have a little extra just in case I needed to stop early.  13 months of coming home early from events, parties or date nights just to pump.  It truly was a commitment, but one I would not change for anything.  I have always felt that breastmilk, whether given by nursing or bottles is a priceless gift that I could give to my children.
So I want to give a few tips to those fellow mamas out there who may find themselves at a moment of deciding whether or not to pump for their babies...whether because of health reasons or maybe just because it seems to work better.  Whatever the reason...know that pumping is doable and it is just as beneficial to your baby as nursing.  It just takes a lot of determination and perseverance but in the end it will never be something you regret.

Tip #1: rent a hospital grade pump at the beginning and plan to keep it for at least a month.  Those first few weeks are absolutely vital in establishing a good supply and the handheld or single user electric ones just don't have what it takes to get the job done.  Using a hospital grade pump allowed me to get ahead of the game and get my supply where it needed to be.  It was quicker and more effective in emptying my breast which in return signaled to my body to keep on producing more.  This is so helpful when trying to build up a supply in which you can produce more than what your baby needs. 

Tip #2: Recruit feeding helpers.  Those first few days/weeks/months when you are pumping, it can take 30/45 minutes to go through the process, then to have to turn around and feed the baby is just way too time consuming. I always had either my husband or other family member come help feed the baby while I would pump.  Yes, it sucked to have someone else feeding and bonding with my baby while I was stuck to a machine, but I just couldn't physically do it all.  I had to allow others to help me or I would have burned myself out within days.

Do what ya gotta do...

Tip #3: get tons of extra pump parts. You can never have too many pump parts.  At my peak, I was pumping 8-10 times a day around the clock and having to wash/sterilize that many bottles and parts was just too demanding.  Being able to have other parts on standby to where I only had to wash once a day was key.  Sometimes (especially in the middle of the night) I would pump and then put the bottle/flanges directly into the fridge and then just deal with it in the morning.  I used a simple plastic bottle cleaner that would hold about 10-15 bottles and flanges at one time, and you just add water and then microwave for 5 minutes.  It was very effective in cleaning my stuff quickly.  Just know that your counter/sink will be home to about 5307 bottles, flanges, nipples, caps and more for the duration of your pumping but that is ok...it is what it is.

Tip #4: find a good lactation cookie recipe that you like and eat the heck outta those babies.  You will need all the extra help you can get to keep your supply up because unlike with nursing, your body doesn't know to make more as your baby gets bigger.  That is up to you to train your body when you need to make more and those cookies are an excellent way to increase your ounces.

Tip #5: network.  Yep, having a support system in place is absolutely vital.  I joined a group on Facebook that was for exclusive pumpers and not only did I receive very important tips and information, but I received much needed "momma" support.  These women were the only ones who were really walking this road with me and were able to 100% relate to what I was going though.  I also read other blogs of women who had made it through successfully and I made sure to take all their advice and tips. Having the support of other moms and just hearing encouragement and "you can do this" sometimes made the difference in getting through one more pump. I am so blessed to have a husband that is 100% supportive of breastfeeding.  He never once gave me flack for having to go pump but instead he would always encourage me when I was tempted to quit.  He washed bottles and parts, brought me ice water, fed Baylor, entertained the big kids, whatever he needed to do to support me...it totally kept me going.  

Tip #6: Don't stress about how much you are producing.  I know this is easier said than done, but the more I stressed about producing a certain number of ounces per pump or per day, the less I would make.  It's like my body knew if I was monitoring it's output.  I had to learn that each day, really each pump, would vary and no matter what...even a small amount is a successful pump.  If I stressed about making enough, I would always see a decrease.  I had to learn to just go with it, and be happy with whatever my results were.  Stressing only made things worse.  Your body is such an amazing tool and it really does work wonders if you just let it do its thing naturally.  Leave the stress out of the pumping chair and you will see much greater results.

Tip #7: Set very short, realistic goals.  I never once set out to pump for a year, that was way too overwhelming and I did not want to think about actually going that long.  Instead, I would give myself short increments..."ok I am going to pump for 6 weeks and then at 6 weeks, I can stop if I need to." Then once I met the goal, I would set another short term goal...always knowing that when I got to that milestone I could quit if I needed to.  Family comes first and the moment that pumping got in the way of me being an effective mama to my children, all bets were off.  Having a realistic, very short goal in mind was enough to get me through each day. 

Tip #8: If possible, have more than one pump. I am very fortunate that my insurance company provides me with a pump for each pregnancy.  I was able to keep one in my car at all times, one by my bed and one at my moms.  That way I am never in a bind and I always have a pump if needed. 

Tip #9:  My last tip and probably my most important words of wisdom are to know that any breastmilk, whether for a few days, weeks, months or even a year is so valuable.  If you can only do a little, know that it is a priceless gift you can give to your child.  Don't stress about how much or how long but instead take it day by day, pump by pump.  If at any point you need to throw in the towel, know that you gave it your all and did what you could do.  Don't let guilt get in the way of you being an amazing mama.

Here's to all those mama's out there who are doing everything in their power to give their children the best.  Keep on pumping and remember that your boobs will be yours again one day!!! 

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