Are you breastfeeding?”
Be it family members, friends, or complete strangers, for whatever reason, it’s likely one of the first questions people ask new moms after they’ve recently given birth. In my case, some people would even ask this question before even finding out what the baby’s name was.
It’s seemingly an innocent question: We live in a society that tells us that “breast is best” and the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, so it’s often the recommendation of your child’s pediatrician as well. But I found people asking me if I breastfed to be invasive, especially as I was navigating the new world of exclusive pumping.
Lactation consultants told me my baby had a good latch, but I cringed in pain every time I put her to my breast — and the experience was sacrificing my ability to bond with my baby. I was overwhelmed with this intense mom guilt that if I wasn’t nursing, I was being a bad parent.
But I’ll clear something up: No mother should ever feel guilty about how she decides to feed her baby. You’re a good mother whether you choose to bottle feed or breastfeed, you’re making the best decision for you and your baby. In my journey, I discovered that nursing or formula feeding weren’t the only options. Exclusive pumpers use a pump to extract breastmilk and bottle-feed their babies with pumped milk instead of nursing directly on the breast. For nearly 1,000 hours of my life, I was attached to the pump (and that didn’t include the time spent cleaning bottles and pump parts, massaging out clogged ducts, and endless hours researching products to increase my milk supply). I pumped while driving, on trains, at an airport… and for the record, yes, exclusive pumping is breastfeeding. It was hard work, but it was one of the ways I felt connected with my baby.
Becoming a new mom can be an isolating experience in itself — and then you throw in exclusive pumping into the mix. Though at the time it felt like no one else I knew was on the same journey, exclusive pumpers account for five percent of American moms, according to a study by the Food and Drug Administration. Some moms might decide to exclusively pump because their baby can’t nurse, they want to have help with feeding the baby, they’re returning to work, or they simply don’t want to nurse. Whatever the reason, pumping is not an easy way “out” and I relied on the advice I found on the Exclusive Pumping Mamas Facebook support group (over 35K members strong), as well as my own trial and error to discover the tips and tricks that made it a little easier. I’m not a medical professional — just a mom with a year of exclusive pumping experience. But if you’re starting off on this journey, check out the advice below:
When you’re attached to the pump at least four times a day, a portable pump makes the experience more bearable by letting you roam the house. Many health insurance policies cover the Spectra S2 fully or partially so be sure to check with your provider. The only difference between this one and the blue S1 version is that the S1 is not portable.
Tip: Finding the right breast flange size is based on the diameter of your nipple. This one comes in flanges that are 20, 24, 28, and 32 mm. Center your nipple inside the flange tunnel and it should not suction in more than five millimeters of your areola (the pigment around your nipple) when the device is turned on. If it does, your breast flange is too large.
For even more flexibility, a portable and wearable pump really makes life a lot easier — especially if you’re a working mom that has a commute. It’s a tubeless and cordless device that slips right into your bra. It’s quieter than most portable pumps and connects to an optional, free app that lets you monitor your output and toggle between the different modes. I felt like the suction and my milk output were better with a stronger device like the Spectra, but when I was traveling, at the beach, or at a public event like a wedding, this discreet option came in super handy.
Tip: If you’re freezing your breast milk, make sure to freeze them into two or three-ounce increments so as the baby’s needs change as he/she gets older, you won’t waste any milk when you need to thaw a bag. For the easiest storage, freeze your milk bags flat on a cookie sheet and once they’re frozen, transfer them into large Ziploc bags organized by week. Store your newest bags in the back of the freezer.
You’ll never end up putting any of your bottles and pumping parts away because they’re constantly on rotation, so perfecting your drying system will aid in keeping things organized particularly during those brutal middle-of-the-night pumping sessions. This device not only sterilizes all your products, but it dries 33% faster than letting them air dry. It can hold up to eight bottles and two sets of pump parts.
Tip: To avoid getting into a situation where your pump parts are still drying when you need them, get multiple sets of parts to save yourself time.
A pumping bra is key so you’re not constantly dealing with wardrobe changes throughout the day. This bra works as both a nursing and pumping bra, which helped me adapt to my changing needs during those early weeks when I was still trying to nurse. The material is supportive, yet stretchy, and it’s wire-free for ultimate comfort. It comes in sizes 30B-44I and has a bra extender to increase your size range. It works perfectly with both the Spectra S2 and the Elvie.
Tip: If you’re prone to leakage you’re using an oil/cream for your nipples, use washable nursing pads to protect your bra from staining.
To increase milk supply, these individually packed cookies contain oats, flaxseed, and brewer’s yeast that are all nutritious ingredients that support milk production. A lot of brands taste like cardboard, but I found myself craving these oatmeal chocolate cookies even when I stopped breastfeeding. These went great with coconut water and coconut milk, which are also great ways to stay hydrated and naturally help increase supply.
Tip: You can also make your own cookies using the same ingredients. Breastfeeding burns up to 500 extra calories per day so consider all your cookie calories guilt-free.
A manual pump is helpful to keep on hand in case of emergencies (like if your house loses power and you can’t charge up your pump). It’s also great for removing clogged milk ducts. A combination of suction, warm water, and one or two tablespoons of unscented Epsom salt can help draw out the clog and help avoid mastitis.
Tip: If you’re using the Haakaa to remove a clogged duct, let the affected breast soak in the salty water for 15 minutes multiple times a day until the clog comes out (it might look stringy).
These reusable heat packs contour to your breasts to help speed up your let-down and prevent or relieve clogged ducts. These won’t work while you’re using an in-bra pump like the Elvie, but they’re great for most regular pumps like the Spectra. You can use these warmers up to 30 times (just heat them up in boiling water) and the heat will last up to 20 minutes.
Tip: For really stubborn milk, I used these breast warmers after using the LaVie Lactation Massager, which gives your hands a break from physically massaging your breasts.
A pump bag that doesn’t scream “pump bag”? It finally exists thanks to this stylish option. The bottom pocket is insulated and perfect for storing breastmilk when you’re on the go. It also contains a spacious top section with plenty of pockets to organize your pumping gear. Plus, it features a removable changing pad so it easily doubles as your diaper bag.
Tip: Pump bottles are notorious for leaking even with the cap, so make sure you transfer all your breastmilk into a milk storage bag. Up & Up Storage Bags have a double zipper, leak-resistant seal and they can also stand on their own for easy fridge storage.
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