Saturday, March 31, 2012

{Ask a Mommy:} Breast Pumps

Q: What breast pump do you use, and how often do you have to pump? A friend of mine who is soon to be a mommy (yay!) asked me a couple questions about pumping. I remember this being a really curious topic for me as well. I was so intimidated when I first started using that pump! It seemed so hard and confusing. I read the directions over so many times, so I could be sure I was doing it right. I have to admit, it was hard to be motivated to start using it. It just seemed so cold and inconvenient compared to my warm little baby. But it was such a great decision to pump so I could continue to feed November a diet of pure breastmilk, even when we are apart.

My Experience: I actually didn't do too much research. I was just drawn to the Medela Pump In Style. It looked high quality, seemed to be a popular brand, had high reviews online, and was somewhat affordable. We put it on our Target baby registry, because it seemed to be the least expensive there. And, thankfully, my generous grandma purchased it for us. I can't say enough how grateful I am for all of the wonderful shower gifts and hand-me-downs we received from our family and friends! Once I started pumping, I added the Medela BPA-free breastmilk storage bags to the mix.
I ended up putting off my first pumping for quite some time. While it would have been nice to pass some of November's near-constant night feedings off on Spencer, it just felt more convenient to just feed her myself straight from the boob, especially since Spencer had to work so early in the morning. Also, I am such a light sleeper (which is necessary for co-sleeping) that I would wake up every time November did, and would probably have remained awake until she was again back to sleep, regardless of who was feeding her! Sweet Spencer was more than willing to help out, but we just didn't end up doing things that way.

We had plans to enjoy our very first date night early December, during a friend's wedding. November was just under two months old. I think I prepared to pump about a week before this event. In retrospect, I would suggest starting to pump daily AT LEAST two weeks before you think you will need to start using the expressed milk. That will give you enough time to get used to pumping, let your supply increase to accommodate pumping, and collect a decent stash, and start experimenting with bottle feeding. If you want early help with night/day feedings, start pumping as early as you are comfortable. Keep in mind, however, that most breastfeeding specialists suggest not introducing artificial nipples any earlier than four to six weeks in order to avoid nipple confusion.

Since I had waited so long to start pumping, I was a little stressed out about creating a decent stash for November, especially since the first week of pumping produces minimal results. I only got about an ounce or two from each breast after 15 minutes of pumping. Another stressful aspect was figuring out HOW to find the time to pump! November was such a constantly-in-arms was I ever going to put her down in order to pump? At first I tried pumping at night when Spencer was home, but I had read that it is best to pump when your body is producing the most milk, which is most often in the morning. Our pediatrician suggested pumping the unused boob while Nova nursed from the other. This SOUNDED like a great idea in theory, but seemed impossible in practice. Nova would often come unlatched during feedings and needed constant handling; how was I going to hold the pump to my breast AND hold my baby at the same time?

How to pump while feeding: After a bit of trial and error, I found something that worked for me. When it was time for Nova's first post-getting-up-and-out-of-bed feeding of the morning, I would sit comfortably on the floor with the boppy nursing pillow around my waist, and the pump set up in front of me. Now here's the most important thing: make sure you are wearing a pull down bra, like a stretchy sports bra, or a pull down (not snap down) nursing tank. I used to wear just a regular stretchy tank, but I now like the pull down nursing tanks from Motherhood Maternity. I wear these every day in black or white under whatever top I'm wearing.
Pull down your sports bra or nursing top and place the pump shield over the breast your baby will not be suckling from. Pull the top of your bra or tank back up and over the bottom half of the breast shield. If your top is stretchy enough, it should support the shield, leaving your arms free! I'm sorry I don't have a picture to show you how this works. Just try it! I've even done this while wearing a regular bra. Just place the shield over the boob, and stuff the bottom of your boob/shield back into the bra! Now you can latch your baby on the opposite breast, and start the pump. During her next feeding, I would switch boobs, nursing/pumping from the opposite. That gave me two bags of breastmilk a day. I have to admit, it was uncomfortable to sit like that for 10-15 minutes, trying to balance so November doesn't kick the milk bag as I pump over her. But it was totally worth it, and got easier!

First Feedings: I thought, since I had mastered the feed-n-pump, that we were in the clear and it would be smooth sailing. Just pop in a bottle and she'll drink it right up, right? It turns out, November was not a natural bottle-suckler. We decided to have Spencer feed her once a night, leading up to our planned date night in order to get her used to bottle feeding. We had gotten a couple different bottles from our baby shower, and put them to the test. Both styles, with standard sized nipples in newborn slow flow, appeared to be too big for her! She couldn't latch her mouth around them, and most of the milk just poured out the side of her mouth and on to her clothes. I was heartbroken, and almost in tears. I panicked. What if she just can never be bottle fed? How would I ever return to work? How would I ever get a break?

Finally, on the third night, we tried the small Medela bottle with the undersized nipple that came with my pump. Success! It was just the right size for her, resulting in minimal mouth-leakage. We bought three more spare nipples, since the pump only comes with one. Lesson learned? Don't splurge on large sets of one kind of bottle/nipple. Try one of a few different styles/sizes and see which work best for YOUR specific baby. Now that she's bigger, she can use other styles, like Tommee Tippee, but in the beginning, the small nipple was a lifesaver!

Moving forward: She was now a successful bottle-suckler! I continued to pump every day leading up to our date night, which, after practice bottles, provided us with one milk bag per hour that we were gone, plus one to spare. Even though she didn't always drink every hour, I have found that to be my rule of thumb even to this day, especially since some pumpings produce less milk than others. She ended up doing really well with Spencer's sister. She didn't need all the milk, but we were glad that we had left so much; it's already hard enough being away from baby, there's no reason to add stress!

Freeze or Fridge? And how to thaw? At first, I would leave out however many milks I thought Nova would need while I was gone in the fridge, and keep the remainder in the freezer. It turned out it was just as easy to warm up a frozen bag as it was to warm up a refrigerated bag, so I just started freezing all of my milk. This also ensured I wouldn't waste any, since expressed breastmilk has an expiration date! There is a lot of info out there about how long milk lasts, and it's all different. Ask your pediatrician what he/she suggests. To thaw the milk, place the bag in a bowl of warm water, or under warm running faucet water, until the cream mixes back in and milk is warm (but not hot!) This usually takes a couple minutes. Once the bag feels warm, pour it into the bottle. Make sure to drop a little on your forearm, to make sure the temperature is correct! Never microwave your milk.

Pumping and working: I was planning on returning to work a couple weeks after our date night, so I continued to pump daily in order to build our stash. I always made sure I had that 'golden number' (one bag for every hour I wo1uld be gone, plus one or two extra) to leave for Spencer or my mom. Once I started working, I communicated to my boss and co-workers that I would be pumping every two or three hours. This meant I would be taking up one of our only two bathrooms for 10-15 minutes at a time, two to three times a shift. I chose not to pump in the car, because it seemed far more awkward to pump under my nursing shawl in a well-populated parking lot. I also wanted quick access to the faucet so I could rinse out my pump after each use, since I would be using it multiple times before returning home to clean it well. Since our bathrooms have no electric outlets, I used the battery operated power source. I have to change the batteries about every two weeks.

It is pretty annoying pumping at work! I have to remember to stop what I'm doing and spend my breaks in the bathroom, listening to customers and co-workers alike complaining about the person 'sleeping in the bathroom.' When my fellow artists are there, they kindly explain that a nursing mama is doing her business and will be out shortly. My fellow co-workers seem to understand and support what I'm doing, and don't mind me taking up the bathroom. Heck, there are tons of people taking ten minute poops in there daily; I can be granted my time to make milk for my baby (in fact I like to sing 'she works hard for the money' but with the words, 'I make milk for my baby, so much milk for my baby, I make milk for my baby, 'cuz I want to feed her right...')

Maintaining my stash: Once I started pumping at work, I found that I usually pumped the same amount or more than what she was drinking while we were apart, so I didn't need to pump at home anymore. Recently, however, my frozen milk supply has fallen short of demand! All it took was a couple extra-hungry days to wipe out our freezer! I hoped I could just continue to pump enough at work to feed her the next day we were apart, but I realized it would be better to build a bigger stash. So, for this past week, I've been pumping in the morning on my days off. Now that she's bigger and can be put down more often, I have been pumping about an hour after her first morning feeding while she plays in her bouncy saucer.

I'm so happy that I've been able to pump in order to feed November an exclusive diet of breastmilk!

Do you have a question or idea for the next Ask a Mommy? As you can see, I will answer you with agonizing detail! Thanks!


  1. Tessonja, I am so proud of you and your experiments with breast feeding/pumping. November has to be the only happy kid around. You are caring for your first little one much better than most moms. Your information on diet, new recipes, and experimentation contributes valuable know-hows for anyone reading this blog. I love reading your blog on occasions. Thank you for acknowledging me a few times.

    I love you,

    1. Thanks grandma, I appreciate the support!