Breastfeeding 301: Exclusive Pumping by Kiersten Vondra
Written by Kiersten Vondra. Originally posted on August 13, 2016. Updated August 20, 2018.
When it came time to have my daughter Gabriella, she was born five days past my due date and two days after our second wedding anniversary. They induced me the evening before and although I was fully dilated she wasn’t dropping. My anatomy, according to the doctor wouldn’t allow for her to be born naturally. Plus, her heart rate was hanging out above 200 bpm. They told me I had to have a c-section; this was my worst nightmare after laboring over 24 hours.
While we were in the hospital I tried to nurse her without much luck; she caused my nipples to bleed. One of the nurses gave me a nipple shield and that helped some, but I was still in a considerable amount of pain after the c-section. I also was trying not to take too much pain medication because I was afraid of it getting into her milk. She weighed 8 pounds 10 ounces at birth then lost 12 ounces while we were still in the hospital. They were concerned and told me I was going to possibly have to pump or give her formula. My husband went down to the medical supply store in the hospital for my pump. The lactation consultant came in a few times and made me feel like crap; I felt somewhat discouraged.
When we got home from the hospital I started to pump almost right away. I still was nursing a little at that point, but I just felt for as big chested as I was (36 G before Gabriella’s birth) it was rather painful on my back. Also, she was having latching issues. It seemed like when she latched on, she would just fall asleep and not get milk no matter if I rubbed her cheeks, her back or anything. To my surprise, right away I got like 4 ounces in my first pump!
At first I was pumping because I wanted to make sure she was getting enough to eat. I kept on pumping and at first, I had no sort of schedule. I was extremely thirsty all the time and was trying to drink lots of water to help my supply. I was drinking over a gallon of water a day at first. I soon decided nursing wasn’t for me and that I still wanted to provide her with breastmilk, so I felt that exclusively pumping was my only option. When we went back for her first check-up a couple days after going home, she was gaining weight again and almost back up to her birth weight. As soon as she came home from the hospital, she would get a good five hour stretch of sleep at night. Usually, I had extra milk in the fridge for her so I would try to get some rest as well. Sometimes, I would get up to pump.
At her 3 week appointment, we didn’t see her regular Pediatrician and they asked if she was breastfed or formula fed. I felt guilty that I wasn’t nursing her, but I told the nurse that I was giving her breastmilk in a bottle. They then asked how much she was consuming a day and I told them she was consuming close to 30 ounces a day based on my tracking. They told me that was too much and to cut back the amount; this made no sense since she was healthy. The doctor then asked how often she was spitting up, which was hardly ever. They then decided I shouldn’t cut back how much she was consuming.
At about 8 weeks postpartum, I got my cycle back, much to my dismay. When it was getting close to what seemed to be ovulation my milk supply would drop but was still good. A few months into pumping I really had no schedule and was really beginning to dread having to pump. When my supply began to drop, I tried the Gatorade trick (the powdered light blue kind), as well as eating two packets of instant oatmeal first thing in the morning and sometimes throughout the day to help my supply. I was still producing enough for each day, but just barely enough. I also started to take Fenugreek to try and help my supply, and noticed that for some strange reason my supply was dipping. I quit taking that and my supply went back up some. When I was around 8 weeks postpartum, I started having this debilitating pain across my c-section scar and had a CT scan. I was instructed for the next 48 hours to pump and dump. I was grateful at that point I had some sort of a freezer stash.
Finally, I got added to this exclusively pumping mom’s page on Facebook, where I was able to learn quite a bit! I learned about Lecithin and how it helps with clogged milk ducts. I got some and had it on hand to use anytime I felt like I was getting a clogged duct. I then learned about a supplement called Domperidone that helps with supply. I was contemplating trying it, but I was also making up my mind that I was going to pump more consistently. After a few months of pumping, I went ahead and ordered the Domperidone and soon noticed an increase in my supply. I slowly was increasing my pumping time as well.
The Pumping Schedule
I got in more of a routine and was typically pumping five or six times a day. I would pump when I first got up for the day, at my daughter’s nap times, in between naps and before I went to bed. I was always the last one up because I was waiting to pump. I wouldn’t pump in the middle of the night unless I woke up for some reason and felt I needed to or wanted to pump. Eventually, with the help of Domperidone, I was pumping close to 60 ounces a day and at that point I decided to cut back to four pump sessions a day. Sometimes, I would do a fifth if one pump session was cut short. I would typically pump anywhere from 20-30 minutes per session to make sure I was getting a few let-downs.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night if I had a long time between my bedtime and morning session, I would pump for 50 minutes to make sure I got emptied. One thing I learned is that each person’s amount of milk that they can carry at one time is different. I learned that Goat’s Rue was supposed to help with this so I tried that too; it did seem to help some. Some mornings I would wake up and be able to pump 21 ounces, when before I might have only been able to pump 16 ounces. I battled with clogged ducts again some other times and a milk blister, then eventually pumping just became part of my daily routine. Sometimes, it was still a struggle because there were times when I just wanted to nap or cuddle Gabriella instead. So, I tried moving the schedule around more to doing it when she was napping and sleeping.
I have this app called Pump Log and it helped me track my pumps. It even has a spot for you to put in your goals and how much longer you would need to pump to meet that goal. My initial goal was six months when I was really struggling with wanting to quit pumping. Then that goal became eight months and then that became 12 months. That was based on what she was consuming then. I thought that once she hit six months and started to eat real food that the amount of milk she would be consuming would go down. In fact it did the opposite because we had quite the struggle getting her to eat. Still at a little over a year old it is still some of a struggle.
I loved that pump log because I got to count down how much closer I was to my goal so it made it sort of fun. There were lots of times of pumping in the car, and I remember at first it was awkward doing it. I was using the crappy battery pack that came with my pump and hated it. Eventually I bought a car adapter so I could pump on the go. I ended up having to do that several times, but hey you gotta do what you gotta do!
When I was tapering off pumping, I cut down right away from four pumps a day to two pumps a day for a week, and then it was one pump a day and I would keep spacing the pump time slowly. I eventually got down to one pump a week and was going to do it again two weeks later but, I didn’t end up pumping. As I was tapering off, one thing I would do if I was starting to get that tingly feeling in my breasts, I would pump a tiny amount just to relieve that feeling. I never pumped to empty, because then that would trigger my body to make more milk. When I was finished with pumping, I made it nine months and had well over 3,000 ounces of frozen milk. We had to end up buying two deep freezers to hold all the milk. She turned one on July 29th and I still have close to 500 ounces frozen. That is the thing that I love about pumping.
Now for the past few months I have been able to give all my attention to Gabriella and not have to worry about having milk for her. Some days I kinda miss pumping now that it is all said and done, but I sure enjoy being able to play with our little miracle too! I have decided that if we are blessed with anymore little ones in the future, I will exclusively pump with them as well.
Final Tips and Tricks
- When I first started freezing I didn’t know this trick. Get all of the excess air out of the bag first and then lay them flat, so as to not take up as much space in the freezer.
- After I got a group of ten bags of frozen milk, I would then put them into a gallon sized bag and organize by date.
- When I began thawing the milk, I used a formula pitcher by Dr. Brown. I’d tear the bags open and stick the frozen milk in the pitcher to let the milk thaw so that none of the bags would leak.
- If your nipples get sore from pumping you can use coconut oil to help.
- When using Gatorade to boost supply, I used the powdered kind that I would mix up myself. It was specifically the light blue kind, because some claimed that this kind helped better.
- Another big thing to remember is, sleep is good for your supply along with as little stress as possible.
- If you do decide to exclusively pump and use Domperidone, I should warn you that it can cause weight gain because it empties your stomach faster. Also, to wean off Domperidone I cut down one pill a week. So, if I was taking nine pills a day, I would count down to eight for a week, and then down to seven and so on.
Since this original post Kiersten has had a baby boy named Levi and has had even more success than she did the first time around with a couple of extra quick tips:
This time I had over pumped and saved 7,000 ounces of breastmilk before I was 5 months post partum. My last pump session was July 1, 2018 and it took me about a month to wean down this time around because my supply was so big.
Pump until empty which would usually be 3-4 of so let downs. When I was done I would hand express a bit too. It really helps to have a routine from the beginning. The Spectra Pump is a must have to get more milk than I did with the Medela Freestyle Pump.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, it was such an honor pouring my heart out into this. The most important thing to remember when it comes to your baby, fed is best and you as a mother are doing a wonderful job raising your child. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel guilty for how you feed your child whether it is nursing, exclusively pumping, supplementing or formula feeding. Keep up the great work ladies!