Cheers (of some nonalcoholic wine) to the Exclusive Pumpers.
This is for you if you’ve ever been stuck holding a plastic flange or breast shield to your chest, tubing all around you in the middle of the night, cringing in pain. This is for you if you’ve ever felt trapped at home because you had to pump. This is for you if you felt you had to hide away in a room, like it’s something to be ashamed of.
Pumping is not supposed to be this way. It is such a steep learning curve and can feel very overwhelming and daunting at first but I want you to feel more confident.
It can be so hard to know where to turn or who to turn to and what information to trust. I’ve been there. I exclusively pumped for my first daughter for 14 months. I was able to provide her breastmilk until the day of my second daughter’s C-section at 20 months.
My first daughter had quite a severe tongue tie, which the doctor at my hospital refused to cut. I was pleasantly surprised that everything with directly breastfeeding was going quite well. Until day three in hospital. At first, the midwives thought she was just getting frustrated waiting for my more mature milk to come in. But she had breast refusal. My mature milk coming in made no difference and she screamed and screamed at the breast. It was traumatising. That is something else nobody talks about very much. How traumatising triple feeding can be. Triple feeding is attempting to/breastfeed directly, followed by pumping and a top up with either expressed breastmilk or formula. So I ended up triple feeding from day three. I’d be lucky if she fed for even a minute directly on the breast. We tried every breastfeeding position possible. Now that I am directly breastfeeding my second daughter,I believe my forceful letdown and oversupply was a significant part of her breast refusal and her inability to handle it with her tongue tie.
We undertook triple feeding for eight weeks. When she still didn’t gain enough weight after feeding for three weeks on a nipple shield after her tongue tie was clipped, I made the decision to switch to exclusively pumping. This was the best decision I could’ve made for my mental health. I began pumping 10 times a day to increase my supply. I continued in this until about 13 weeks postpartum, when I started dropping pump sessions. It was a long and hard road, with the steepest of learning curves. I did endless research on products and pumping in general, trying to find Australian accessible items and products to use. And that is how I created To The Pump And Back, which is an Instagram support network for exclusive pumpers. I became a Certified Lactation Counsellor in 2022 so I could understand lactation better and support fellow pumpers.
Many exclusive pumpers feel so alone because they are feeding breastmilk but ugiving it through a bottle. We feel stuck in the in between stage. Not knowing how to answer questions about how we are feeding our baby, and worrying about the judgement that will come with the answers. It can be encouraging to know that WHO defines exclusive breastfeeding as a baby only receiving exclusively breastmilk and no other food or drink.
If the doctor was asking you, when filling out your blue baby book, whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, you would say breastfeeding because bottle feeding implies formula in that checklist. Affirm yourself in this. It can be a hard and confusing line to draw, with so many people who don’t understand the struggle that you’re going through, and the reason you are doing what you are doing.
If you are exclusively pumping I encourage you to be proud that you are breastfeeding. I encourage you to be proud in telling other people about how you are feeding your baby and why. I encourage you to try your best to pump in front of other people and to make it more of a normal way to feed your baby. As the world becomes ever increasingly reliant on working mums, these working mums who have been directly breastfeeding their babies are going to need our help.
You are heroic. Some of us have been forced down this path and some of us have chosen it. Be proud of whatever got you here and however you got here. You made the choice for you and for your family. And you are doing a fantastic job. It can be really hard to not feel so alone in a world where it is breastfeeding and bottle feeding on the checklists. But it is estimated there are hundreds of thousands of exclusive pumpers out there. Let’s do this together.
I want to tell you some important tips about breast pumping that can make a world of difference:
1. Flange size or breast shield size. You may say ‘Oh but my pump only comes with a few sizes and they seem to be okay’. It is very rare for someone to fit the standard sizes that come with your pump. It is a huge disservice to women everywhere that the pumping industry doesn’t invest more money in creating more feasible flange sizes to go with breast pumps. Flange sizing is a tricky thing. I recommend measuring your nipple before pumping or nursing and adding 0 to 2mm to that measurement. Even then, it is still good to be professionally sized or checked. The right flange size can make a significant difference to discomfort, nipple damage and can even increase supply among a myriad of other things. If in doubt check the flange size is what I say.
2. Get yourself a hands-free pumping bra. And make it a good one. People under play and undersell how much they need to invest in certain products when pumping. Yes, sometimes it can be expensive. But I promise you, a fully hands free bra will be worth it for your sanity and your time. If you are unsure of what to get and ideas are overwhelming, you can always reach out to me. A pump strap is always a good place to start.
3. Get multiple pump sets and parts and make sure you are able to double pump. Yes, some people say they respond better when single pumping but this is quite often a myth perpetuated by some healthcare professionals and incorrect flange sizes. Or in fact, pumps that don’t have enough power for double pumping. There are some rarities in which some women do respond better to single pumping, but majority should respond well if using a good pumping set up and the correct flange size. You don’t need to live your life holding one flange to your boob at a time. Make your life infinitely better.
4. Choose a portable but powerful pump. So many of the pump brands that have a significant reputation or a monopoly over the breast pump market in Australia are not sufficient for exclusively pumping. I recommend getting a somewhat smaller and portable option just to make your life easier, but it does need to have a powerful motor behind it. I usually recommend people get a small but portable pump with over 300mmhg, which is the suction power measurement. I am here to help you choose the right pump for you if you need assistance.
5. Pumping should not hurt. You do not need to crank up the suction to more than what is comfortable for you. Your letdown is processed by oxytocin which is not going to operate correctly if you are in pain. If it is hurting there is a problem we need to fix for you.
6. Get yourself some cute, comfortable and reliable breast accessible clothing. Just like the OMM Label! Especially if you are double pumping. You’re not going to want to have your whole chest exposed. Consider what kind of openings and access points are preferable to you when you are pumping. Personally I prefer horizontal openings, or zippers that are vertical or horizontal, as this exposes the least amount of skin while you are still able to double pump.
If you are unsure about any of these aspects please feel free to reach out to me for help and support. You are not alone. Pumping is confusing and overwhelming. There are ways to make it easier. And save your sanity in the process. I want pumping to be achievable for you. I want you to knock it out of the park.