10 things I’ve learned about Exclusively Pumping (from actually doing it)

1. It’s not the easy option Chances are you’re considering a move to exclusively pumping, because nursing didn’t work out for you. Most mamas who find EP find it through this ‘failing’, and because of this, it gets a bad reputation for being an ‘easy option’, for women who ‘gave up’. As someone who does it, let me tell you now- you haven’t failed at a damn thing, and this is NOT the easy option. To suggest that it is, is so fucking beyond insulting. And for those who ask if you are breastfeeding- you most certainly fucking are. You are feeding your child milk from your boob. “Oh, but like not *really* breastfeeding?” Nope, still breastfeeding. You’re confusing breastfeeding with nursing. My baby is on a diet of breastmilk. They are breastfed. It’s quite simple really. Breastmilk from a bottle is still breastmilk.

Don’t be afraid to correct people, especially when your GP/midwife/HV asks if your baby is breastfed or bottle fed. You are not one or the other: you tell them your baby is breastfed through a bottle. If you just say breast they will assume nursing, and if you say bottle they will assume formula- maybe not every NHS worker, but everyone I have come into contact with has. Medically it is important that they know- for example, if you say bottle fed, they won’t suggest that you take a vitamin D supplement, as formula babies don’t need it. It’s important that they know you’re sitting in a third option that they haven’t really given you.

2. You will become obsessed with it

When you make the decision to pump, you’re making a decision about changing your life in a huge way. I often say that EP is like the worst of nursing and formula bottle feeding- you have the sore nipples, the feeling that your body isn’t entirely your own, watching what you eat and drink (and when for that matter) that a nursing mother might have, but then on top of that, you’ve got the bottle preparing, sterilising, expenses, and forward planning that formula mamas have to deal with. You’ll spend money, time, and energy on it, so it’s safe to assume it’s going to be on your mind a lot.

3. Every decision you make is going to be based around your schedule.

Want to go out for dinner? Hmm, it’s going to coincide with a pump. Do I pump before I go, or skip it and do a double session when I get back in? Or, your mid morning pump that you usually do in peace, is being interrupted by a child who won’t nap today. You don’t want to stop your session and risk messing with your supply, but the kid is crying for your attention, and no matter what toy you flap in their face, they’re not going to stop until you pick them up. Or you want to leave the house for the day, which means multiple pumps away from home. So you need to somehow clean and ideally sterilise the parts, have somewhere to keep the milk fresh, maybe you need to find a power source to plug in your pump…

Leaving the house with a kid is already like a military operation, and adding EP into your schedule only makes this more demanding. Your PPD (pumps per day) could be as high as 7 or 8 until your supply regulates between 8 and 12 weeks post partum, and even now at almost 6mpp, I still pump 5 times a day, for around 20 minutes each time. So every 4 hours, I’m hooked up. I’ve found the odd day, if I have to, I can skip a session and not have too much of an impact, but mostly I’m planning my life around my pumps. How long I spend out of the house, how far away we go- there’s no doubt that if I were nursing or formula feeding this wouldn’t be as much of a problem for me.

4. You‘re going to be constantly looking at your supply (and panicking when it dips).

Your PPD and your minutes pumped per day are both important for keeping your supply in check, as we all know that breastfeeding is responsive. So if you drop pumps, your ‘baby’ is telling your body that it doesn’t need that milk, and your supply will adapt accordingly. Sometimes, you’re going to see dips in supply for a myriad of reasons- and when it happens you are going to S T R E S S. Not drinking enough water, an impending or occurring period, not getting enough sleep, going back to work and not being near baby- all of these can have an effect. And sometimes, you’ll just notice that you’re looking a bit light. The online community is 75% posts of women asking ‘how I can increase supply’- and there are so many tips and tricks, including teas, cookies, warm baths, supplements, increasing your PPD, lengthening your sessions. You name it, it’s mentioned. But the fact is, what works for one woman may not work for another. We’re all different. You’ll have your daily amount, and it will be a stark contrast to another persons. You have your undersuppliers (boobs that make less than the baby drinks in a day), your oversuppliers (boobs that make more than the baby drinks in a day) and your just enoughers (boobs that make around what baby drinks in a day). And each type comes with their own set of problems- problems that the other groups would kill for. I won’t harp on about it, but I am one of these ‘Just Enoughers’. I make around 5 ounces extra a day, so I get to freeze this, creating a freezer stash. And then some days, I don’t. And while it was stressful and scary, I’ve learned that that just goes with the territory. I’m happy to supplement with formula on days where I need to, or want to rotate some stash milk to keep it fresh. You’ve got to find ways to make peace with the process and go with the flow.

5. Its not as easy as just putting a pump on.

I’ve said it for months now- this should be taught. We get nursing lessons, and workshops, and consultants, because it’s a skill that needs to be learned. So is pumping. It isn’t just putting a pump on and doing it until the milk stops flowing. It isn’t just grabbing any pump and assuming it will work. From flange sizes, to replacing your parts, to massaging your breasts, to multiple let downs, you can really make the most of the work if you know this shit ahead of time. -Flange sizes- most pumps come with a standard 24mm size flange, but some women will need bigger or smaller sizes. Finding the right size for you will ensure that you get the most out of your sessions, optimise your output, and avoid injury and pain. -Replacing your parts- Membranes around once a month, backflow protectors around every three months, shields and connectors every 6 months- or of course immediately if you notice any damage to any of these parts. As lots of these parts are made of stretchy materials, over time they become overstretched, which can cause dips in supply and substandard pump sessions. -Massaging your breasts- definitely during your session, especially towards the end. I find that it can help me get as much as an extra ounce out sometimes. Applying warmth to your breasts before your session either with massage or heat pads can aid with letdowns as well, and get you more bang for your buck.

-Multiple let downs- Don’t just assume that because you can’t see the milk flowing that it means your session is over! Multiple letdowns are a wonderful thing that ensure your breast is fully empty (top way of avoiding engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis) and get you the extra ounces.

6. Youre going to hate it sometimes

The community says ‘never quit on a bad day’, and that’s important because the bad days *will* come. I think that’s just parenting in general really; some days are excellent, and others are shit. And pumping is no different. Some pumps will just seem longer, harder, more exhausting, not as productive- and sometimes there will be a few of these in a row. And before you know it, you’ve had a terrible day. You wonder why you bother. Lots of women report it taking a real toll on their mental health; in fact it’s the main reason why women stop pumping all together. And that’s fine. At the end of the day, you have to put yourself first, and if you’re noticing a pattern of bad days, then maybe it’s time to hang up the tubes. I always hate it when I’m alone with River, and a pump coincides with a difficult nap, one where I should really be taking him for a spin around the block, but can’t because I’m pumping. By the time I’m done, he’s overtired, and then bedtime later is affected. And I’m annoyed at myself, because I should have prioritised the nap over the pump- however, my next pump might clash with something else later if I don’t stick to my schedule. It can be really tough at times. You’ll probably hear all manner of idiotic opinions (and you’ll find you never asked for these), about how pumping isn’t as good as nursing, or how formula is better, or all the many reasons why pumping is WRONG for YOUR baby. Just know that these people are fucking dicks, and you should feel free to tell them so. Don’t let them be the cause of a bad day. Your child, your choice.

Also, I’m telling you now, even though you *just* did it, it is always going to be time to pump. Always.

7. It’s going to give you freedom

This is where it really gets good, because pumping puts you back in control. You create schedules that make your day seem more manageable, you know what your kid is eating, and you can make estimates on how their naps are going to go based on the ounces they have or haven’t drunk. You can leave your baby for longer than 3 hours, knowing they can still have breastmilk. You’ll still have to pump, but it is on YOUR terms. You can wean as early or as late as YOU want to. YOU CAN HAVE AS MANY GLASSES OF WINE AS YOU WANT (but please leave your baby with someone else). The ball is in your court.

8. But it’s also going to take your freedom away

There’s nothing quite like realising you’re literally attached to the wall. The pump becomes your ball and chain, and you will feel like a prisoner sometimes. Even most portable pumps won’t allow you to tip forwards to pick up your baby without pouring milk all over their faces. Pumping on the go is a lot of faff, especially if you’re trying to do it under a nursing cover. You’re going to miss out on stuff, or at least you won’t feel fully present, because you’ll be sneaking off to pump. You’ll feel guilty when you can’t cuddle them because you’re pumping- and even guiltier when you have to dump a session. Just remember that although it feels like the pump is in charge, it isn’t. You are in charge.

9. You’re going to hear a lot of opinions and ‘facts’

I’m going to write a different post about the myths surrounding pumping, but everyone is going to have an opinion. Either about how it’s not as beneficial for your baby, so you may as well give them formula, or how it’s only a choice for women who have ‘failed’ at nursing. Or how it’s not really breastfeeding. Or how the responsive qualities of milk, and the antibodies won’t be present. Or how you won’t bond with your baby. Or how you won’t be able to maintain your supply without baby nursing. The ONLY thing that you need to remember, is that you have made a choice for you and your baby, and that is IT. Feel free to argue the point with the, and educate them, but that also isn’t your responsibility. You don’t have to defend your choices, ever.

10. Youre going to feel so proud of yourself

You’re a fucking superhero. You’ve taken such an enormous leap to take on this lifestyle, and it can be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. You aren’t going to have as much help and support as you deserve, and you’re going to have to do a lot of your own research as a result. You’re going to feel so low, and so high. Whether you do 2 hours or 2 years, you’re a champ, and you’re going to feel like one too. And you should!

If anyone ever has any questions for me about the EP lifestyle, then PLEASE get in touch! I am so beyond happy to help, because I am aware that it’s a very under-represented group, with not much support or help out there. I’m just a message away x