Updated: May 11
When I had my first daughter 6 years ago I fully intended to give breastfeeding a try, I knew it could be hard but I was adamant I wanted to give it my best shot. When she was born however, she had different ideas – she refused to latch. I tried for weeks to get her to latch but she just wouldn’t. I had multiple midwives try to help her and they were shocked that she wasn’t interested; breastfeeding just wasn’t her thing. During these first few weeks, whilst trying to get her to latch I had been expressing my milk for her and giving it to her in a bottle. Because this seemed to be working and I was getting nowhere feeding her directly from the breast, I decided to just go with it and exclusively pump for her.
I ended up doing it for a full 12 months. Something which at the time I wouldn’t have dreamed of and even now, I find amazing that I did. Don’t get me wrong, I had many ups and downs. At first I had times I felt like I didn’t have enough milk, I spent the first 8 months waking up at 2am to pump during the night to keep my supply up, I had midwives roll their eyes at me and tell me I was making life hard for myself, I pumped in cars, on planes, in theatres, in restaurant toilets, upstairs at parties. I’ve spilt full bottles of milk in my bag (sob), I’ve had to go on emergency trips to the shop because parts of my pump needed replacing, I wore breast pads for pretty much the entire 12 months as my supply never really regulated, I’ve had blocked ducts, leakage, you name it its happened. But despite how hard and unglamorous it was at times, I would go back and do it all again.
Exclusively pumping rarely seems like a realistic option for mums. It’s either breastfeeding or formula feeding. Those are the options they give you. I wanted to write down my tips for any mums out there who are going through what I went through and hopefully it might offer some encouragement and support. It’s definitely not the easiest option but it can be done.
MY TOP TIPS
At first (probably the first month or so) pump every 2 hours – when you are first regulating your supply it is important to keep to a similar feeding pattern as a newborn. This means pumping every 2-3 hours, including during the night. This is the time your body is being told how much milk your baby needs and so is important to establish and regulate your milk supply.
Take supplements to help your supply – if you are worried that your supply is dropping there are various supplements you can take. I took Fenugreek tablets, made lactation cookies and drank Mother’s Milk Tea. All three of these things helped hugely with my supply which I meant I could relax a little.
Try to stay relaxed – if you are stressed out or anxious this will affect your supply. Try to stay relaxed.
Drink 3L of water a day – really important. You need around 3L of water a day to keep your milk supply up. So keep a bottle of water on you at all times and every time you sit down to pump, make sure you are drinking.
Buy an electric or hands-free breastpump – make life easier for yourself. The Elvie breastpump is hands-free and fits right into your bra. Unfortunately 3 years ago this wasn’t around and so I stuck to a Medela electric breastpump which I cannot fault. I found it great and very easy to use. But if the Elvie had been around I would have absolutely got one and life would have been a lot easier.
Catch your letdown – whilst pumping from one side, don’t waste a drop and catch your letdown with a Haakaa pump or similar. I wasted a lot of my letdown milk from my other breast as I didn’t have one.
Freeze your extra – once we’d got established with it and I knew what I was doing, I tended to have excess milk. Make the most of it and freeze it for future use. I also used some of mine making breastmilk ice lollies or I added it to foods for my daughter, like mashed potato or porridge.
Never run out of breast pads – because you are pumping your supply doesn’t ever really regulate, not to the same degree as it would if you were breastfeeding anyway. I always wore breastpads in case of leaks, especially during the night. If you do run out of breastpads, cut a nappy in half – they are very absorbent and work as great breast pads.
Take it a day at a time – don’t set unrealistic expectations and goals. Take it a day at a time and if it gets too much, just stop. A healthy, happy mum is what is best for baby.
Be prepared to pump anywhere – I pumped in all manner of places, the car being a particularly frequent place. I also found many public places very accommodating to my needs, I just had to ask. A London theatre once gave me a private room so I could pump in private.
There is no right or wrong way to feed your baby and all methods are absolutely supported by The Nurture Nest. Fed is best. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you want to exclusively pump, it really is possible and will be something that you are so proud of yourself for doing, no matter how long you do it for.