Pumping 101, Part 2

Finally, after a prolonged absence due to a smidge of travel (Zoya had her first road trip – yay!) and a cold that swept our whole family, I am back to write the second installment of my top tips for pumping success!!!

To read part one, you can access the earlier post here. Those ready to dive into part two, let’s do this!

5) Create a milk organization system that makes sense for you and your family early on in the game. Any sort of confusion surrounding storage of breast milk is just plain stressful.
When I initially began pumping, I inadvertently had an oversupply because my tiny NICU baby only required about an ounce per feed. I was doing a lot of freezing, but did not have a systematic method to the process. In fact, I did not even realize the necessity to record the amount of ounces in a bag (face palm)! My freezer was a disorganized mess.
Pinterest has a wealth of information on maintaining a beautifully organized freezer stash as well as user-friendly ways to store fresh milk the fridge. There are also a lot of apps that help keep track of the running total of pumped and frozen milk; Pump Log is a favorite. Once I figured out a system that worked, I needed to go back and reorganize my deep freezer. This was an hours-long process that could have been avoided had I done my homework ahead of time.

4) Find your support system. We can’t do any of this mom stuff completely on our own, so this is imperative. For me, the central support figure was definitely Vlad. He woke up in the middle of the night to feed Zoya so that I could pump simultaneously. He washed pump parts. He bought me a deep freezer. He was invaluable.
However, a partner certainly does not have to be the main support (or at all, if they aren’t present).

I had girlfriends who had done the pumping gig come alongside me, nurses in the NICU who cried with when I was engorged and frustrated, and a whole other slough of people I drew from when I needed to.

Funny enough, someone suggested joining a pumping support group on Facebook. Even though I thought it was kind of silly, I went ahead and requested to be a member of the Exclusively Pumping Moms group – and it was a great decision. A whole community of women who were going through exactly what I was going through, sharing tips, stories and humor opened up to me. Having that network proved to be ever so important as I ran into problems or just needed someone who had been there to hear me out.

3) Never quit on a bad day – this was a saying prevalent in the pumping support group. I found myself repeating it to myself fairly often.

Truly, there are going to be days that you want to quit and never look back. Days on which you need a shower but can’t get one, days on which there are more tears than smiles, days that you can’t find a bit of the beauty of motherhood everyone talks about.

I know I had all of those days – more than just once. They evoked some very intense emotions that I knew could cloud my rational judgment and ultimately influence my commitment. The last thing I wanted to happen was to quit out of frustration and be wrought by major regret. If I was going to wean, I wanted to come this conclusion when I was truly ready, not at a time when I was overwhelmed by a crappy day. Looking back over the months, I am confident that sticking to the resolution of not quitting when I felt like it most actually allowed me to keep pumping way longer than I have otherwise.

2) Walking up a hill is so much easier than climbing Mt. Everest, is it not? Therefore, set small goals for yourself. Out of the gate, I thought I was going to pump exclusively for a year. As I realized how truly tough exclusively pumping was, one year seemed impossibly far. I frequently told myself,

“Just get through this day. Ok, now get through this week.” Reaching these seemingly tiny goals was actually a big deal because of the created a sense of accomplishment. Plus, every small goal completed is really just an excuse to celebrate your hard work and reward yourself accordingly. Now, I know we can all get behind that.

1) Finally, if you do nothing else, simply acknowledge that your pumping journey is unique. Comparison is the ultimate joy thief – especially when it comes to freezer stashes, post partum bodies, and the like.

Your merit as a mother is not measured in ounces.

You are doing the best that you can and working hard to provide food for your little one. You know what is best for you and your family – more so than any other human. Don’t allow others to disregard the hard work that you are doing. Or to set the rules on how you should be doing it. Use any ignorance regarding breastfeeding or pumping that you come across as an opportunity to educate others.
Remember to give them grace, and save some for yourself as well.

Thank you for allowing me to share the bits of wisdom I have gained on this topic as I have gone through the months exclusively pumping for Zoya. Our journey is drawing to a close. However, I am still available as a resource to anyone who may need it. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need advice or just to vent – it can be very therapeutic, trust me!

Pump on, ladies.

Pumping 101: Part 1

Do you decided to venture into this whole pumping arena…now what? Pumping (and especially exclusively pumping) is like a whole new dimension of reality that you step into, blinking from the blinding light, and proceed to stare at in amazement while not really being sure of what to do next.

Welcome to my two part series in which I will share the top 10 nuggets of wisdom that I have gleaned from personal experience.

Just remember, we’re in this together.

10) Understand your body. Knowledge is power right? At least for me, that’s very true. The more I learned about the why and how of breastmilk production, the more I became aware of what I needed to do to help myself in the process. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s so much harder to be steadfast on a journey when you don’t know much about where you’re going or how the heck you’re gonna get there? The whole pumping gig actually became easier (at least on a mental level) when I did the right research – so I highly suggest you put those Google skills to good use early on! Here are my top favorite pumping resources in case you need a jump start:

This brings me to my next point:

9) Create a regular demand in order to establish supply. The more often your breasts are emptied on a regular basis, the more your body will be signaled to up its milk production. This can be achieved via breastfeeding, pumping or a combination of the two. Expect to create a pumping schedule that mimics a newborn baby’s eating habits. Under the guidance of the postpartum and NICU nurses, my schedule was 20 minutes every 3 hours for the first 6 weeks around the clock. Those the dark ages. After we made 6 weeks I was OK’d to go 6 hours at night without pumping. I gradually got myself on an every 4 hour schedule – at which point I was able to maintain an excellent supply and freeze extra.

Whatever you do – remember that the first 12 weeks are crucial to establishing milk supply. And consistency is key. If you go too long without pumping, not only will you experience the discomfort of clogs and engorgement, but your body will start to think it doesn’t need to be making as much milk and your supply will drop dramatically.

Wether you’re trying to establish or increase your supply –

8) Do make a middle of the night pump a habit. Quite frankly, this sucks. I know. After trying to get tiny post-NICU Zoya to take her bottle at 2am for up to an hour at a time and cleaning spit up off the nursery rug, the last thing I wanted was to hook up to the pump. But you know how I was saying that being more informed will make you more driven to actually follow through on the hard stuff? Well, apparently prolactin levels, which is the hormone responsible for stimulating milk production, are highest between 2 a.m and 6 a.m. (Cregan, Mitoulas, Hartmann, Mitoulas & Hartmann, 2002). Prolactin gets released when the breasts are stimulated (through pumping, hurrah!); so knowing that, I felt that there’s really no more opportune time to get a session in.

My only suggestion would be to make that middle of the night sesh something to look forward to. Enjoy the alone time (honestly)! Watch a good Netflix show or listen to a podcast. I became obsessed with playing Candy Crush during my nightly pumping time. It’s so dorky – but it worked!

Once your supply is fully established and you’re comfortable with the amount you’re making you can experiment with dropping that middle of the night pump.

7) Hydrate and eat right like you’re getting paid. I’m not even kidding. The American Pregnancy Association (2017) recommends increasing your calorie count by about 500 for a total of 3,000 per day. Think about it – not only are you fueling your body to recuperate postpartum, have the energy to take care of a newborn and support your daily life functions, but you are also secreting a decent portion of your calories into your breastmilk. I have the tendency to skip meals when busy and definitely noticed a dip in ounces as a result on those days.

I also want to make a point about lactogenic foods – again, good idea to do some digging here. There are foods (here’s lookin’ at ya, oatmeal and coconut) that are correlated with increased milk production while some have the opposite effect. I was enjoying a cup of mint tea on a nightly basis while wondering why I wasn’t producing as much – thankfully I shared with a friend and she set me straight!

Water is also important. Although it won’t actually increase your supply, drinking plenty of water is very important (Mohrbacher, 2010). Lactating ladies need almost a liter more per day than the regular folk, meaning 3.3 liters of H2O on average (Institute of Medicine, 2004). Just like with calories, you’re secreting a decent portion of your fluid intake into your breastmilk and need to replace accordingly. While I was pumping ’round the clock, I felt constant Sahara Desert-like thirst. My solution was to fill a cute 16 oz water bottle and keep it by my pump with a goal to finish it fully during each session. Adequate hydration is key to our bodies functioning at their highest levels, so I guarantee that making this a priority (as well as nutritious, boobie-friendly meals) will give your tired body the respite it needs.

6) Learn to pump on the go.

Exclusively pumping does become a lifestyle of sorts but it doesn’t have to control your whole life.

Put together a really comprehensive pump bag. Mine had:

  1. My on the go pump
  2. A car charger and wall charger
  3. Spare bottles and bags
  4. Wet to dry bag for storing dirty parts
  5. A cute cover
  6. A hands free bra
  7. A cooler for milk (if I knew I wasn’t going to a place with a fridge)
  8. A makeup bag with nipple cream and some feel good extras like a lip balm, dry shampoo and a nice book.
  • Once you have all you need, feel free to roam the world as you wish – just take the time to step away and pump. Own it just like you do your middle of the night pump. Make it something to look forward to as best you can.
  • I love all things efficiency-driven, and this led me to figuring out how to pump and drive simultaneously. I would hook up, put my seat belt on, arrange my cover up nicely, and then drive to my destination. Upon arrival, I would break everything down and store my milk before getting out of the car. Getting the Moxxly Flow Kit (which I describe in great detail in my earlier post, Pump It Up) was life changing because of how much easier the on-the-go process became. I’ve gone through the drive through while pumping numerous times. It’s the best feeling ever to arrive at my destination knowing I had a full four hours of free time before my next pump. I realize everyone’s comfort level with this trick may be different and I definitely don’t recommend doing anything that doesn’t make you feel safe.
  • I’ve pumped while Vlad drove countless times, as well as in department stores, my church bathroom, my in-law’s spare bedroom, at a cemetery during a funeral…as mommas, we all do what we gotta do and I counted this as part of it. It’s not the most glamorous or the most enjoyable part of motherhood – but figuring out how to be mobile while maintaining the schedule is life changing!!! I highly recommend not confining yourself to your house for months at a time.
  • …the final 5 nuggets are to come in the next post. Stay tuned and hang in there!
  • References:
    1. American Pregnancy Association (2017). https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/diet-considerations-while-breastfeeding/
    1. Cregan M, Mitoulas L, Hartmann P; Mitoulas; Hartmann (2002). “Milk prolactin, feed volume and duration between feeds in women breastfeeding their full-term infants over a 24 h period”. Exp Physiol. 87 (2): 207–14.
    1. Mohrbacher N. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, Texas: Hale Publishing, 2010; p 400, 415.
    1. Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes: Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 2004:p 73-74, 153-154, 161

    Pump It Up

    Of all the plethora of information I got from others during my pregnancy, the most prevalent words were, “breastfeeding is the hardest thing you will ever do.” I believed everyone, but I also had a secret fantasy that it would come miraculously easy for me. I enjoyed fantasizing about the amazing bond it would create between my baby girl and I as I snuggled her to my breast, complete with perfect skin and flowing hair. Things did not turn out exactly as planned.

    With her being 8 weeks early and me ending up with a c-section, the odds of my milk coming in well were not great. Because Zoya was so tiny, the work of getting milk from the breast would actually take more calories from her than she would gain. When she was stabilized, I could only put her to breast for about ten minutes so as not to exhaust her.

    A week after Zoya came home, her pediatrician gave the green light for us to try to extend our nursing sessions. However, by that time, all the bottle feeding we did in the NICU had taken hold. She realized it was much easier to extract milk from the bottle than from my breast. Every trial at a nursing session was anxiety ridden as I tried to get her to latch while she was wailing and falling off repeatedly. The girl was hungry! When we did manage a good latch, I spent a lot of time wondering if she was actually drawing out milk or just sucking for comfort. During a time when weight gain was crucial, the idea that she may not be getting any food was terrible. Needless to say, I realized I could not breast feed exactly as I had pictured.

    But I could pump. I started pumping a few hours after delivery. Every 3 hours, round the clock, I hooked up the machine and watched as my body created food for my child. I brought a cooler of milk with me every night when Vlad and I went to visit Zoya in the NICU until the nurses finally told us to stop because they were running out of fridge space. Then we bought a deep freezer and I began building a stash for later.

    Before this journey, I only knew of two ways of feeding a baby – breastfeeding and formula feeding. My situation opened my eyes up to the entirety new world of exclusively pumping. After a few weeks of struggle and anxiety over trying to get Zoya to latch and eat well at home, I made the decision to exclusively pump. I loved the idea that I could still give her my milk in a way that was acceptable to her while being certain of exactly how much she was eating.

    Exclusively pumping is a full time job. I have so much respect for all the mommas out there who choose to do this. Establishing supply in the first 12 weeks is crucial so you have to commit to regular pumping sessions and work them in amidst taking care of an infant. Vlad was extremely helpful in feeding Zoya simultaneously as I pumped when he was home. However, when he went to work I was on my own. Every time I fed her and got her to sleep I wished I could take a nap too…but most of the time I couldn’t because I needed to pump, to wash pump parts or a dozen other pumping related tasks. Thank God for whoever invented hands free pumping bras, because if it wasn’t for those, I would be lost forever!

    Now, I’m over 16 weeks into it and I have settled into a routine. I tote around a giant bag with my on-the-go pump and express wherever I need to – the store, work, most often in my car. I’m always trolling the internet for pumping hacks and gadgets. It’s become a way of life.

    That’s why I was so excited to learn about the Moxxly Flow Kit and even more thrilled when they sent me one to try and tell you guys about.

    The Kit is comprised of bottles and tubing and is designed to hook into your existing pump motor. This includes the Medela Pump In Style Advanced (my on-the-go pump), Medela Symphony, Hygiea Enjoye, Freemie Freedom and, most recently, the Spectra S1/S2/S9 (cue the fireworks as the S2 is my at home workhorse pump). It is designed to give pumping moms a hands free and discreet experience.

    After receiving my kit in the mail, I eagerly opened it, sanitized all my parts and have been trying it out for the past two weeks. Here’s what I’m absolutely loving:

    • You can wear a regular bra! Yes that’s right ladies. When I read about this tidbit I just about screamed from joy. You can ditch that frumpy nursing bra and enjoy looking fine again as long as the bra you choose has some give in the band and is sans underwire (as recommended on the Moxxly site). All you do is slip the flange and attached bottle under the band of your bra, align with your nipple and pump away. The band of your bra holds everything in place. As soon as I got my Flow Kit, I went shopping for some cute lacy numbers and it bumped my confidence level way up.
    • Pumping can be done in public…privately. Because of the way the Flow Kit is worn (once again, under a regular bra) a flowy tunic or t-shirt can easily be worn over the whole contraption. The tubing will run out of the bottom of your shirt and to the pump. I can easily walk around with my Medela PISA in a tote bag, running via battery pack, and pump. No one will note two tiny tubes..and they are totally concealable between the tote and my body. This means I don’t have to hide in a bathroom or a mother’s lounge if I’m pumping on the go. Confession: on Friday while driving home from work and pumping simultaneously I went through a Starbucks drive through and no one batted an eye.
      Set up in a snap. It is so easy to put the parts together and start using. The valve snaps onto the 5oz collection bottles and the flange screws in on top. The tubing is also easy to figure out even if you are too impatient/excited to start using and don’t read directions fully (aka me). I pump and drive to and from work to save time. With my conventional hands-free pump bra system, I would have to take down my nursing bra, put on my pumping bra, then hook everything up and begin. With the Flow Kit, I am hooked up and ready to go in a minute (yes, I timed it) and I didn’t flash the mailman in the process.
      Feed & Pump. Prior to this, feeding Zoya and pumping simultaneously was a non starter. Not only would she wail like a siren as I fumbled with the hookup, the bottles and flanges would constantly get in the way. She would end up pulling and unhooking the tubing several times throughout the feed. Because the Flow Kit is tucked away inside of my shirt, I can relax knowing that our time saving pump & feed sesh isn’t going to turn into a messy meltdown.
    • Feeling the love. I am huge on customer service anywhere I go. A restaurant can have the most amazing food but if the waiter was mediocre I likely will not be back. Moxxly is like the opposite of the mediocre waiter. They employ women who are passionate about supporting moms wherever they are in their pumping journey. Communication was super easy and I was assured that they are here for me if I needed to troubleshoot my Flow Kit or had any additional questions. I felt genuine warmth and care for me not only as a consumer of their product but also as a mother. And hey, we all need a little support.

    A few notes…

      Like everything in life, there is definitely a learning curve. It takes practice to align the flanges correctly and comfortably. Once you figure it out though, the rest is smooth sailing.
      I’m happy to report that my supply did not fluctuate with the new flanges. This is great and the beauty of Moxxly Flow – functionality of the kit while still being able to harness the power of a great pump.

    The Moxxly Flow Kit is available here for $79.99. It is a worthwhile investment for any mom on the go and definitely anyone who is exclusively pumping.

    My current goal is to get Z to 6 months and I am more than halfway there!

    Thanks for letting me share my experience with you guys. Please do contact me with any questions on the Moxxly Flow or pumping in general – I have done my homework and can now employ a consultancy fee (I kid, I kid.)

    Until later,

    Your favorite Mother Pumper