I exclusively pumped breastmilk for my twin boys for 15.75 months. (Lol ok 16 months we’ll say, it was a few days shy of that.) It wasn’t my original plan and it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done to date.
I also made my goal of pumping over 500,000ml of milk!
Like many preemie moms, we obviously can’t breastfeed our child/children right away as they’re whisked away to intensive care, with breathing tubes and unconscious. Besides, a 27 weeker baby isn’t set up to properly digest milk right away anyway.
So, I pumped. As any of you who have breastfed know, you must start right away. Making milk is all about supply and demand – you gotta demand it for your body to make it. 🙂 I couldn’t just wait days or weeks to pump when I wanted to, I needed to start right away (a few hours after birth) and then for every 2-3 hours around the clock, 24/7 365 after that. (I did eventually space out to every 4 hours but not until after 10 months since I needed to keep up supply for two.)
Many moms, especially preemie moms, aren’t able to produce a lot or any milk due to their baby simply being premature (the signals haven’t gotten to your body yet to start making any milk, cuz you’re still supposed to be pregnant!) or other medical problems during birth (loss of blood, life threatening problems for the mom or other issues).
I felt so lucky I was able to produce as much as I did. My boys were solely on breastmilk only for 8 solid months. After that, we had to start introducing 1 formula feed per day occasionally as I could no longer keep up with what they needed. (Or, should I say, what their feeding team dictated they needed – which I actually think was too much and a big reason they vomited so much… but I digress.)
After about 11 months, it became 1-2 formula feeds per day. My supply just wouldn’t increase past 1400-1600ml per day no matter what I tried. Again, I still just felt lucky to make that so I wasn’t too concerned.
In the NICU, pumping meant a lot to me. Often, it was the only thing I could do for my boys that no one else could and I loved that. It also became my “me time”. I spent all my time at the hospital, and I’m someone who needs to get away for solitude to recharge and when I get upset. Pumping let me do that every 3 or so hours! I pumped in the boys’ NICU room, but there was a little curtain area and I would feel like it was my oasis when I was back there. I’d pump, scroll on my phone, have a little mind break (or try to, obviously impossible on the tough days).
Some days, I’d scroll medical studies of whatever new complication they told us one of the boys had. Outcomes, surgeries, what it meant for the future. Obsessively reading studies. Other days, I would post on Instagram (even though I didn’t share the negative news publicly back then) and most importantly, I started to connect with other NICU moms online. That was, and still is and probably always will be, the single most helpful source of support for me (besides my amazing husband).
In May 2018, we took the boys cross-country for their first MEDEK/CME physio intensive, and I still kept to my every 3-4 hour pumping schedule the entire time, but pumping on a plane and holding a baby on my lap, plus our gruelling therapy schedule and stress from other events going on (government a-holes, paperwork etc), started to take a toll. From May onward, my supply kept dipping every month even though I spent MORE time pumping than ever before.
It became clear to me I was fighting my body to produce. But, I had set an original goal of pumping until they were 1 year corrected age, which would be their original due date of July 24.
I kept going, fighting my body the entire time after that. I dropped to 1300mls, then 1200, 1100, 1000… I was frustrated by the decline when I was trying so hard, but again I still felt glad that over half their intake of 900ml per day each was still breastmilk.
Once I hit my goal date of July 24, I started gradually weaning down my number of pumps per day. I was so afraid of getting mastitis (a special needs mom doesn’t have time to get sick, lol!) so I went super slow.
My last pump was on August 19th, 2019! August 26th would have been 16 full months. 🙂
I am so proud of myself for reaching my goal. I am still struggling with the feelings of stopping. On one hand it is SO nice to not always be so stressed about when my next pump is, how to fit it in with 2 screaming babies, appointments, driving hours a day, etc. And to have the freedom to get dressed in the morning without having to pick a top I could easily lift up and pump with!
My appointment schedule now with the boys just wouldn’t be possible if I were still pumping. I am so glad to have the time to take Jaxon to the chiropractor, more physio sessions, all day appointments at Children’s Hospital, etc.
That was the single biggest hurdle to my pumping: medical appointments for the boys! Which sounds like an oxymoron, because shouldn’t a Children’s Hospital care that I’m pumping and want to help if they could (I.e. consolidating appointments so I don’t have to drive there 1890 times a week, etc). But no, getting to appointments and finding a place to pump while I was there was the single most stressful part of it, let alone staying on a 3 hour schedule.
I’ve pumped in my car, in a hospital lobby, in a hospital lounge, in their NICU rooms, in hospital rooms when impatient for Jaxon’s shunt and Axel’s g-tube, at appointments, at airport gates, on planes, at physio centres, at airBNBs, at friends houses, and at McDonalds (lol I was urgently hungry).
I’ve gotten a lot of comments about pumping too, both on social media and in real life. 90% of those being supportive and helpful! The other 10, being anything but.
I’ve been told there’s no point, there’s no benefit to breastmilk (I believe there is, especially to preemies with brain damage if you read the studies). I’ve been told to just stop. To not complain. To “give myself a break”. Their doctors and feeding team CONTINUOUSLY referred to what they were getting through their tubes as 100% formula when I specified every time that it was either 100% breastmilk or a combo of. They refused to acknowledge my pumping by calling it what it was which is such a small and insignificant detail, but it made me SO angry.
I’ve been stared at, made to feel like I’m doing something wrong by pumping in public when I had no other choice (and was fully covered with a nursing cover where you could literally see NOTHING). I’ve been embarrassed on a flight, and had friends say I should stop so I could “go out and have fun” with them.
It’s true, pumping is a lonely life. I couldn’t get out much for a break from the boys, which I desperately needed. I went out sometimes for 2-3 hours, the maximum I could go without pumping during the day. It was so nice to get out, but there was always a ticking clock of my pump app (and sore boobs) to get me back home as soon as I started to relax or get absorbed in a book, finish the grocery shopping, or whatever other task I was doing.
Nowadays, I can get out for longer, not worrying so much about the time I need to be back at. (Only possible on a weekend day here and there when my husband is home to watch the boys, of course, since no one else can.)
I’m writing this post at Starbucks as a matter of fact.
I felt like quitting early so many times. I got about 4 hours sleep a night (on an average night) for over a year. Especially due to Jaxon waking up 2-6x a night to vomit (from reflux). He would start to choke and aspirate on it too, so we always had to listen and get up right away to turn him to his side and sometimes suction his mouth and nose so he could breathe. It was gruelling on us (and Jaxon too obviously).
Thankfully, he is a better sleeper now. He sometimes still vomits 2-3x per night, but usually just once or so, so sleep is a bit longer. As well, since I don’t have run 3 night feeds for the boys, ending at 2am and pump during that time, then get up at 6am to start the day, it’s been a lot better.
Managing appointments, trying to advocate for care, do physio exercises, clean up 20 vomits a day, console screaming babies, etc etc AND pump for a total of 5 HOURS a day, every single day, was gruelling. This was my life for 15 months.
I’m sad they no longer have breastmilk, especially as flu and RSV season approaches, but I am still proud of myself for reaching my goal.
My Top Exclusively Pumping Tips
- Get a good pumping bra! It makes it a million times easier (especially post c-section). I loved my Pumpease bras.
- Get the knockoff valves, membranes and flanges on Amazon (if you use Medela). They work great and are much cheaper. Replace monthly if you pump a lot! (See all my fave pumping gear here.)
- Pump every 3 hours from start to start – i.e. start at 7pm but don’t finish until 7:30pm? Doesn’t matter – start pumping again at 10pm! (Yes, it sucks.)
- Don’t go more than 4 hours at night without pumping for at least the first 3 months.
- Eat a LOT.
- Drink things like Vitamin Water, electrolyte drinks, coconut water etc. Also just regular water and a lot of it. Hydration = milk!
- Don’t stress. Ha ha ha just kidding, pumping is fucking stressful.
- Get a battery travel pump if you go out a lot! I loved my Spectra S1 (rechargeable), Baby Buddha (rechargeable) and Ardo Calypso (AAs).
Did you pump for your baby? How was the journey for you? Share with me in the comments. 🙂