Mama Pumps

My exclusive pumping diary.

Welcome! This blog is my way of documenting my pumping journey -- all the beautiful, challenging, unexpected parts of it. I hope sharing my story helps other mothers out there who are already pumping or considering pumping. There are so few resources for pumping mamas, so I hope my journey -- the successes and failures -- will be a resource for you!

Things to do with your baby while you pump

Monday, March 1, 2021

One of the most challenging things (for me) about pumping is figuring out what to do with my baby while I pump! There are those serendipitous times when the baby will be napping when it's time to pump, but when he's not, here are some things I do to entertain him:

  1. Place him on his floor mat and sit next to him. This allows me to dangle toys in front of him and keep a hand on him, which he likes.

  2. If he's hungry, feed him at the same time! To do this, I'll put him in the boppy lounger and feed him a bottle with one hand while massaging my breasts with the other as I pump.

  3. (When desperate) Cradle him. The ability to do this will totally depend on your arm strength and anatomy, but if nothing else will do, I've been able to cradle him by holding him *above* my breasts while pumping. This is definitely not ideal, but again, something that can work when you're desperate.

  4. Applicable for any of the above positions: Sing to him and/or talk to him while pumping. This keeps him interested and engaged with me even though I can't interact with him physically the same I could if I wasn't pumping.

  5. If you're like me and have one pumping session that's longer than the others, time that pumping session for when you're fairly sure the baby will be sleeping or when someone else can hold him while you pump. I think limiting my pumping time to 15 minutes when I have the baby really helps him not get too bored and cranky while I pump.

Why I started pumping

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

I never imagined being an exclusive pumper (and I certainly never thought I would be such a proponent of it) so much so that I never even bothered reading my pump's manual before I had my baby. I figured pumping was something I'd start once I returned to work after my maternity leave. Or maybe something I'd gradually learn to build up a freezer stash. My husband and I had taken at least four different newborn/breastfeeding/giving birth classes, and I honestly don't recall pumping even being mentioned once! Well, maybe once in passing, but the only thing pushed was NURSING. Nursing was presented as the only viable breastfeeding option. And, I believed that it was. Nursing = breastfeeding, right? Oh, how WRONG I was!

I delivered my baby boy at 10:31pm on October 27, 2020. He was placed on my chest, and I felt an overwhelming sense of his weight there. Here he was! No longer an idea -- a reality. I held him in my arms and fell in love. I had heard all about the importance of establishing the breastfeeding relationship within the first hour after birth, and I felt fortunate to deliver him in a hospital (and with a midwife) who wholeheartedly supported that. He latched on during that first hour, and it was wonderful. I felt like a super mom :)

During our hospital stay, we had access to a couple of lactation consultants. I felt like my baby and I were doing pretty well with breastfeeding (in that he was latching and I was producing plenty of colostrum), but I remember struggling to find a comfortable position (we had brought the My Brest Friend pillow with us to the hospital). My sweet husband was such an active participant and helped me attempt to execute what we had learned in our classes. The classic "football hold" was our go-to position. Anyway, as I was saying, we were visited by two different lactation consultants in the hospital. The first was nice enough, but there was an unfortunate language/heavy accent barrier. I also felt that she rushed through her advice and tips rather quickly, and I didn't really feel like asking her to slow down or repeat anything would be helpful. Luckily, there was another lactation consultant we met with our second day in the hospital who was calmer and easier to understand. She gave us some good tips like letting us know it was okay to unlatch him if the latch wasn't good, etc. When we left the hospital, I felt satisfactory about nursing. He was latching, but it didn't always feel good, and it was difficult finding a comfortable position.

At home, my husband, baby, and I lived in those three hour cycles for a few weeks: wake, feed, cuddle, and go back to sleep. It was a sweet time for all of us, and we fell more and more in love with our baby every day. Nursing was becoming increasingly difficult, though. It was painful at time, and hard to find a good position at others. Our baby would fall asleep at the breast, and we'd struggle to keep him away. Then, he'd want to cluster feed sometimes, and I felt that my poor nipples were at their breaking point. When I went to my midwife for my 2 week checkup, the only advice I got was "if you're doing it the right way, nursing shouldn't hurt." Well, thanks. With COVID, we couldn't go see a lactation consultant or anything like that. We were offered phone consultations, but that's basically pointless when you're trying to get advice about something so physical.

Then, one night, at some ungodly hour, my baby latched onto my left nipple, and I burst out in tears. It hurt SO MUCH. My husband stepped in and said that we at least had to try pumping -- he couldn't bear to see me in such pain. We sleepily read the manual and tried that instead. It was SUCH a relief! It wasn't painless on my poor, cracked nipples, but it felt so much better! A few days after that, I was still nursing on the right side, but pumping on the left. I had every intention of eventually being able to go back to nursing on both sides, but as more time passed, I realized that pumping was actually so much better than nursing (for me!). My husband could occasionally feed our son a bottle, giving me a break to do something for myself, I could see the number of ounces he was getting, and best of all, I wasn't in anymore pain, and I no longer braced myself for pain when I was feeding my son.

Even feeling all this, it was still an extremely emotional decision to stop nursing, and I continued nursing for a little while (just on the right side). Over time, though, I realized that the right decision for our family was for me to continue exclusively pumping, and I'm proud to say I've been exclusively pumping since then!

Pumping schedule - down to 4 pumps per day!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

I am finally down to 4 pumps a day! I thought going down to just 5 pumps a day was an improvement, but let me tell you -- 4 has been amazing! I think I can definitely keep this up until I return to work from my maternity leave (in mid-April) and maybe even a while after that! Here's my current schedule:

  • 6am

  • 11am

  • 4pm (or 5pm sometimes)

  • 10pm

I've been sticking to this schedule for about a week now, and I have definitely noticed a decrease in my supply, but I'm still able to store 12oz a day for our freezer stash, so I'll count that as a win! I won't lie that I was emotional after noticing a supply drop, though. Thoughts of "Will I still make enough milk to feed my baby?!" swam around my mind and all that. Oh, mom guilt ;)

Figuring out the pump settings...3 months later

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

I was three months into my pumping journey before I realized how to properly use my pump. I use the Spectra S1 Plus, and as those of you familiar with the pump will know, there are two different settings: the cycle and the vacuum. The vacuum setting is simple enough -- you have the option of L01–L12. As you increase the numbers, the vacuum suction increases. Makes sense. The cycle, though, is, at least for me, the confusing part. There are six cycle speeds: 38, 42, 46, 50, 54, and 70. These numbers represent the number of cycles per minute (CPM), but idk -- that feels very unintuitive to me. Why can't it just be a simple 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 like the vacuum setting? Sure, behind the scenes, the pump can be doing the various CPMs, but does the user need to know the exact CPM? I think it makes the whole thing more confusing, but maybe that's just me?

To complicate matters more, there are two different "modes": massage mode and expression mode. Massage mode is also known as let-down mode and is meant to mimic that quick sucking babies do when they first latch on and are trying to get the milk to come ("let-down"). For massage mode, you set your pump to 70 CPM (and then the only vacuum settings it will let you use are L01-L05). Expression mode is meant to mimic the slower, deeper sucking babies do once they've been drinking for a while. Here, you can choose among the five remaining cycles (38, 42, 46, 50, and 54) and choose any vacuum setting you'd like from L01-L12.

Are you still with me?

Now, here's the catch. Spectra's website says, "You will want to mimic your child at the breast as much as you can during a pumping session." So, in order to do so, that would mean starting with the quicker massage mode and then transitioning to the slower expression mode after your milk has started to let-down. However, when you turn on your Spectra pump, it starts in expression mode every time, and you have to manually change it to massage mode. This makes zero sense to me and only leads to more confusion (in my opinion!).

So, anyway, when I first started pumping, I didn't know any of this. My husband and I quickly read the pump's manual at some ungodly hour when we were desperate, so none of this clicked in my mind I guess because all I know is that I had the whole thing backwards. I would start in expression mode (since that's the mode the pump started on), do that for a few minutes, then switch to massage mode (at that rather intense 70 CPM) for the duration of each 15 minute pumping session.

Then, one sleepy night about three months into my pumping journey, as I scrolled Facebook's pumping communities during one of my middle of the night pumps, I realized that I had been doing it all wrong! My poor nipples! Had I damaged them forever? What about my milk supply? What would happen if I changed the way I was pumping now? Would it plummet? I scoured the internet for answers, but, as with most questions about pumping, couldn't find any good resources on this topic. A month later, I have switched to the "schedule" below, which is the way the pump is intended to be used, and I'm happy to report, my nipples are just fine and my milk supply did not drop.

At first, I was so embarrassed this had happened -- what kind of mother was I if I didn't read the manual properly before starting to pump? Now, in the clear light of day, I realize that there is nothing to be embarrassed about. This stuff is confusing, and there aren't nearly enough resources out there for pumping mothers. So much of what is out there is geared for women who are breastfeeding and *maybe* pumping occasionally. So, I wanted to share this story with you to let you know that if you're in the same boat and have been pumping "wrong," you (and your nipples) are going to be just fine.

Here's what I currently do:

  • 1 minute on 70 CPM with the vacuum at L03

  • 1 minutes on 70 CPM with the vacuum at L04 (I do this until I see milk come out)

  • 2 minutes on 54 CPM with the vacuum at L05

  • 2 minute on 54 CPM with the vacuum at L06

  • 8 minutes on 54 CPM with the vacuum at L07

  • 1 minute on 38 CPM with the vacuum on L07

Resources mentioned: