To my Peanut Face, Hazel Bean, Cutest of the Cutes, Stinks, Minnow, Baby Baby, Littlest Baby, Chicken... Little Miss Roth... I can't believe you're already a year old. I know I've told you a...
Feeding Hazel: My Pumping Journey
Nobody in the history of the world is like, “Oh my goodness, I’m so excited to get pregnant, I just can’t wait to pump!” In my opinion, pumping is one of those things that NOBODY talks about and trust me, I totally understand why. Let me be clear – there’s NOTHING sexy about pumping. That said, when you really stop to think about it, how cool is it that our bodies can not only grow, but be the sole source of nutrients for another human!?! This is THE REAL DEAL and I had no idea what I was in for feeding Hazel. So, I figured that maybe sharing my journey might at least sorta help some other mamas (or soon-to-be mamas) and at the very least be something I can show Hazel when she’s older and says I never did anything for her. Ha!
Before I really dive in, I just want to say that my goal is NEVER to knock how anyone feeds their baby. We’ve all met people who are like that and honestly, if you love your child and you’re trying to do what’s best for them – that’s all we can do as parents! I always joke that “I didn’t choose the pumping life, it chose me” and I think that with lots of different options for how to feed your baby, no two experiences are the same. So whether you’re a 6-child mama and this is all old news or you’re just thinking about having kiddos, know that even the best laid plans very rarely work when it comes to feeding your little and THAT’S OKAY!
Okay, I don’t want to get TOO GRAPHIC and completely scare everyone off, but if you read my birth story, you know Brett and I had Hazel in a hospital and as soon as she was born they placed her on my chest. BEST MOMENT EVER!!! And in true Hazel form (if you’ve been following her eating journey you know she’s a little ??) she started eating right away. Now, in the breastfeeding class (I took the one through Hoag Hospital and Brett took it with me) they made it sound like this moment would be magical. And while it was super magical and surreal and unbelievable and all the things… it was also SUPER PAINFUL and quite candidly pretty awful. By the time we made it back into our recovery room and Hazel had tried to nurse twice, I was BESIDE MYSELF. It felt like knives were being jammed into my boobs!
Long story short, after multiple lactation coaches, the doc diagnosed me with underlying sensitivity that left me unable to breastfeed comfortably. In retrospect, maybe I should have just shut it down and switched to formula, but it was the middle of a pandemic and I had this underlying guilt (mom guilt from minute 1!) that I might not be giving lifesaving antibodies to my newborn. I had planned to breastfeed, but really I had planned to pump when I went back to work, so the latter seemed like the logical next step.
That said, looking back on it, I had no clue what “pumping” really meant or entailed. I just knew it was something that moms do. Never did I expect to become a mom that “exclusively pumped” (meaning Hazel only ate my expressed milk from a bottle) for the better part of 10 months. Basically, all my plans went by the wayside and Brett and I jumped with both feet into our pumping journey.
The first couple weeks were REALLY, REALLY hard. Most new moms experience engorgement, nipple sensitivity and cracking, and all-around discomfort – but pair that with the feeling of someone jabbing knives into you during every pumping session… Let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant. In general, I consider myself a pretty reasonable and even keeled person but pumping brought out the worst in me. I had to go into a room, alone, and just sit quietly to get my milk to flow.
Now, this might not sound like that big of a deal until you realize you have a newborn that needs you and in the beginning I was pumping 8-12 times a day. That’s at least 20 minutes, every 2 hours, and by the time you clean your pump and get everything set up for the next session, you’ve got about 1 hour before you’re “back in the saddle.” So if you’re thinking of exclusively pumping, just know that it really takes a dedicated partner and it’s truly a group effort. Or at least in our experience it was!
Here’s how my pumping journey went:
- Week 1: 8-12 Pumps Per 24 Hours (very little production)
- Week 2-3: 8-12 Pumps Per 24 Hours (4-8 oz / day)
- Week 4: 8-12 Pumps Per 24 Hours (16-26 oz / day)
- Week 5: 8 Pumps (See Schedule below, 26-31 oz / day)
- Week 6-7: 7 Pumps (THRUSH, 32 oz / day)
- Week 8-22: 5 Pumps (29-35 oz / day)
- Week 23-27: 4 Pumps (29-33 oz / day)
- Week 28-29: 3 Pumps (22-29 oz / day)
- Week 30-31: 2 Pumps (16 oz / day)
- Week 32-33: 1 Pump (9-3 oz / day)
Now, if you’re in the middle of pumping those numbers are probably important to you, but if not they’re probably just a bunch of well, numbers. But basically the way it works is that you go somewhere private (oftentimes your car with stuff hung on the windows) and hook up this whole pumping contraption and then sit there for 20ish minutes until your boobs are empty and you can disconnect. Think dairy farm without the bad smells. Ha! Sorry, still trying to make light of what honestly wasn’t a very enjoyable experience. That said, there are a few things that helped me.
What Helped Me in My Pumping Journey
1. Get on a schedule and stick to it.
Whether it’s 8 pumps a day or 2, generally pumping at the same time every day helped my production and it helped my sanity. A bunch of my friends asked when I started sleeping through the night, and I waited until about week 10. In retrospect I probably would have tried around week 8. Basically, if you can go that long and not notice a huge decrease in your supply, in my opinion sleep always wins.
8 Pumps Per Day Schedule
2. Use wipes to clean your pump.
When I found these wipes, it was a game changer for me. Since I was pumping on the go a lot, washing my pumping parts with soap and water wasn’t always an option for me. And also, when you were pumping as much as I was, it was just too time consuming. These wipes work great!
I bought the larger quantity because they come in individual packages that I could stretch for 2-3 cleanings. PRO TIP: Wear a rubber glove and keep a towel on hand to protect your nails and cuticles. Again, nothing sexy about a rubber glove, but in my opinion it was necessary!
3. Don’t plan on getting anything done while pumping.
?? As the ultimate type A, this was a tough one for me. But once I “gave in” and realized that it wasn’t realistic I was going to pay my bills, post on my social media, take a conference call, and design a house while pumping… it made it a lot more bearable and the milk flowed a lot better.
4. Track your pumping.
If you’re like me, you’re already doing this or this is a no-brainer. But I was surprised to find out that many of my mom friends don’t track their pumping/feeding sessions. For me, it was invaluable to be able to look back and see how my body had changed and the progress I was making. In the moment, these 9.5 months felt like an eternity, so having a tangible way to “celebrate the small wins” (like a record pump or pumping perfectly on my schedule) was so important for my psyche. I used the Medela Pump Log, an app that came with my pump, but I’m sure there are lots of options.
5. Don’t wait to ask for help.
Oh boyyyyy, did I learn this the hard way. Maybe you’ll remember that I had to have a follow-up surgery at 7 weeks postpartum to clean up some birth complications. I went into the surgery center and I was A MESS. I couldn’t even let the gown touch my boobs because they were so tender and inflamed. The doc came in and took one look at me and was like, “You have thrush and a gnarly infection and you’re starting meds today.” I had my surgery and started meds and was SO MUCH BETTER 24 hours later that I wished I’d gone to the doc sooner. (Another game changer for me was a cream called APNO, or Newmans Ointment which was prescription only and felt like a dream!) So basically here’s a good rule – if you think you “maybe” should go to the doctor or lactation center for some advice – GO!
Honestly, I could talk/write about this experience for days and not give all my advice or details. Pumping became a huge part of our lives and like it or not, we made it through with a very healthy baby girl. I recently stopped pumping (HALLELUJAH – CUE THE CHOIR!! ??) because I had stored enough milk to last Hazel for her first year. And just to be clear, I’m saying “our” journey and “our” lives because I couldn’t have done this without my husband Brett. It was hard (like REALLY TOUGH, you guys) and he stuck with me and was there every step of the way.
Okay okay, so that’s my story and while I’m happy to say it’s over (like, THANK GOODNESS, although stopping was a whole other issue and probably another post with a lot of cabbage and peppermint tea) a little part of me is sad because it means that my little Hazel Bean is growing up and while she’ll always be my little baby, she’s also turning into a little person.
So I’m going to leave this story right here on my blog and choose to think about all the minutes I spent holding her while she drank a bottle, or slept next to me while pumping, and not take one single second for granted.
My Must-Have Pumping Items and Why:
I know there are other mamas and partners reading this, so if you have your own pumping tips, please share the knowledge in the comments!