Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. You can read my full disclaimer, here.
Feeding baby is at the top of every mama’s mind as soon as their new human enters the world. And there are all different ways to feed your baby. If pumping is part of your feeding journey, this blog is for you. Like most new moms, when I was pregnant, I figured I would try and breastfeed, do my best, and ultimately feed my baby in any way he needed. I wasn’t quite prepared for the difficult road ahead, but using a little science, I was able to feed my son breast milk for over a year and at times, even enjoy pumping (Yes, I said the word enjoy and pumping in the same sentence!)
The lazy sipper…
Even though he was nearly two weeks past his due date, my son was born small (6 lbs even) and spent the first week of his life in the NICU for a variety of health complications. His health impacted his ability to eat and my ability to feed him. Fortunately, we had some absolutely amazing nurses and lactation consultants who worked with us during our entire NICU stay and for many months after we returned home. Though many breastfeeding difficulties focus on poor latching, my son was unique in that he latched fine, but was a “lazy sipper!” (I am sure that’s a technical medical term…or I just made it up!). That is, he’d latch, but then just casually drink a little milk here and there, but not enough to keep him full for very long, if at all. This caused two major problems early in our feeding journey: 1) I wasn’t making enough milk (my body thought baby just didn’t need to eat very much, and 2) he wasn’t getting enough to eat in each sitting, resulting in an endless cycle of crying, eating a little, being hungry again very quickly after eating…etc.
Breastfeed, Bottle Feed, Pump….repeat!
Our lactation experts swooped in on day two and got us on a solid (but exhausting) schedule of breastfeed, bottle feed, pump. Always in that order – that is, I’d breastfeed as for long and for as much as my son would take (typically not much), then feed him a bottle of previously pumped milk, then pump (to prepare the next bottle for him). For the first 6 months of his life, we did this cycle every 2 hours during the day and each time he woke up in the night (typically 2 to 3 times) – usually a total of about 8-10 pumping sessions per 24 hour period. I’m not gonna lie – it was the most difficult and exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my life! But, it worked very well to help my body keep producing enough milk (and even some extra!) and to keep my son very full and happy. It also allowed us to have dad play a role in feeding (He would almost always do the bottle feed while I pumped before he went back to work). At about the six month mark, I decided that the breastfeeding wasn’t very productive and that he’d still get quality breastmilk if I just simply stopped breastfeeding and did a bottle feed and pump (I later learned this has an actual term – exclusive pumping, but for me it was just more efficient!). So, I skipped a full step, which saved me a lot of time, but still left me and my breast pump spending hours and hours of quality time together every day and night. At month 6, I wasn’t certain I’d make it very much longer. But I was determined to find a way to make it work for as long as I could and to take it one day at a time. What that resulted in is 1 year, 2 weeks and 1 day of pumping and feeding my son breastmilk. I have this number written on my whiteboard in my office still to this day, because I am very very proud of myself for doing it!
So, how’d I do it? Using simple science, of course!
Everyone’s journey is different. If you’re looking to pump for 1 day or for five years, science can be your best friend in helping you meet your pumping goals.
Nobody likes a pump pulling at them for 20 minutes every two hours. It hurts. You know you’re doing something amazing for your little one, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Above and beyond the physical pain, I found pumping incredibly boring. I’m naturally a busy body, moving and doing things all the time. So, being anchored to a breast pump left me thinking of all the things I could be doing with my time other than being tied to a pump. And it drove me mad! I did try portable pumps that gave me the opportunity to walk around and do some things, and I splurged and bought the willow pump, which was incredible and I highly recommend! Several times per day, I also needed the power that my hospital grade medela symphony breastpump (which I rented from Kaiser for a very low price and returned when finished for another mama to use!). The portable ones were also much less stable, and ultimately not very productive. So, I needed to find a way to make the experience of being locked to a pump with limited mobility as fun and productive as possible. To do so, I used the simple concept of pairing. On a basic level, pairing involves taking one thing and putting it with another thing. Often, when you put things together, one can take on properties of the other. You probably use pairing every day. For example, perhaps you drink coffee while working on a difficult work task, or you listen to music while engaged in a not so fun exercise. By putting these two things together, you may start to enjoy the less preferred one more and even look forward to it because of the association with something you like.
So, that’s what I did. I took a bunch of things I enjoyed doing, made a list and planned to do them during my pumping time.
Here are my top 10 things to do while pumping!
- Watch TED Talks. These are a blast to watch, educational and often conveniently timed for the amount of time you need to pump. I started with the 25 most popular TED talks of all time, and then let TED suggest new ones for me based on my interests. You can sign up for an account which will keep track of your talks and suggest new ones for you based on your previous watch history and your interests. Ultimately, I ended up watching over 250 TED talks during pumping sessions and learned a ton of new things, while being entertained!
- Read. If you like to read, this is the time for you. You pick your medium: physical books, e-books or even audio books. Invest in a pair of higher quality wireless earbuds if you can for audio versions!
- Work on baby’s scrapbook. This was a fun one for me. I had all the supplies and all the pictures but was finding I never had enough time to get organized and work on my son’s baby book. So, I used the time while pumping to do so. I needed to be sure to have all the supplies I needed available when pumping session began, but if I did so, I had fun working on the pages of his book!
- Shop Online. You have to be careful with this one so you don’t break the bank, but it really can be a fun way to pass the time.
- Organize. I found I often had a lot to focus on and do in preparation for my time with baby. Meal planning, grocery lists, to do lists. You name it. Having a dedicated 20 minutes every two hours to get through my lists was very therapeutic!
- Eat. This is controversial to some for sanitary reasons, but I didn’t worry about it. Pumping makes you burn mad calories, and you need to replace them to be sure your supply stays up and that you have the energy to care for a newborn. So, pack some snacks the night before or grab some packaged goodies and munch away! These munchkin milkmakers lactation cookies were my favorite!
- Paint your nails. Yep! This is okay too. Get your supplies ready and give yourself a mani/pedi!
- Journal. Both therapeutic and a way to pass the time. Journal about your day, your little one, their development and anything on your mind. This baby phase is very short, you’ll cherish your words and memories about just how you were feeling when your baby was so small!
- Text message friends. I stayed sane by communicating with others during my son’s early days and found that many of my friends loved getting updates and pictures of my son. So, I’d sit down to pump and start saying hi to friends via text message and sending them recent photos. I maintained many wonderful relationships this way and kept my circle up to speed on how we were doing!
- Meditate. I wasn’t big into meditating until I had my son and then I found it critical to my health and wellbeing. There are several apps you can download to support your meditation practice and you absolutely can meditate while pumping. My favorite was the app, CALM. I also loved the community afforded by Peanut and can’t recommend them enough.
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of being in an environment where you feel comfortable and that’s cozy for you. I’ll never forget the look on our lactation consultant’s face when she asked where I had been pumping and I told her the bathroom! This was wrong for so many reasons, but we were new parents and just didn’t know. She quickly told my husband to create a warm, cozy, happy place for me with cushions, great lighting and all the things I’d need to be successful pumping and get my body in the mood to produce milk. I ultimately ended up having 3 different pumping stations in my house (not in the bathroom!!) and rotated based on my mood, and the activity I chose to engage in. Toward the end of my pumping journey, I was back to work, so I either had my travel pump with me at the office, or on work from home days, just hooked it up by my computer and continued to get my work done! Very convenient.
So go on, mamas! Pump with pride through pairing! And have fun with it!