Mom Monday: Adventures in Exclusive Pumping

When I was pregnant, I was absolutely positive that I would breastfeed my son. I had zero doubts and I wasn’t concerned that breastfeeding would be difficult. It is the most natural thing in the world and I didn’t understand why moms would choose to do anything else. Boy, was I naive. And judgmental. Fast forward to shortly after my son, Julian’s, birth and he was refusing to latch. It is a long story as to exactly why this happened, and that is enough to fill another post,  but the end result was that Julian wouldn’t breastfeed.  I was pumping what milk I could and bottle feeding him.  I was forced to decide on an alternative to breastfeeding.  I could have easily stopped pumping and gone straight to feeding Julian only formula. We were already supplementing with organic formula . However, I was lucky enough to have a good friend who exclusively pumped for her little one for the first few months of his life, so I knew that it was a viable option.  I felt strongly that breast was best and I decided I was willing to do whatever needed to be done to feed my son as much breastmilk as I could manage.

 Julian and Mommy - 3 hrs old

I started to research EP’ing. There isn’t a whole lot online about it. I contacted the lactation consultant I had been working with, but she wasn’t particularly helpful or encouraging.  I got the idea that she didn’t think it was possible as a long-term option. The only helpful advice she had was to rent a hospital grade electric double pump and to pump as often as possible around the clock in order to establish my supply.  The electric double pump that I had was a good one, but those are not meant for establishing a supply, just maintaining it. A hospital grade pump is better at that but they are very expensive to buy. After calling around to a few places, I was able to find one to rent at a relatively affordable price.

 Julian - 3 Months - Pumping and Feeding

The first few months were hard! I pumped around the clock (10-12x/day) and it seemed like all I did was pump, make bottles, and feed my son.  One thing that made it a little easier was the homemade pumping bra that I made out of an old sports bra. It allowed me to pump hands free.  I pumped every 2-3 hours, whether Julian was awake or sleeping (it was a lot easier when he was sleeping). I pumped at home,  at other people’s houses, and in doctor’s offices. I pumped in the car while parked in parking lots, on the street, and while driving. I power pumped in the evenings (pumping 10 min on, 10 mintues off, for a couple hours to mimic cluster feeding).  I set my alarm and woke up 1 or 2 times every night to pump. Prolactin levels are highest between 1am and 5am and it is highly recommended to pump at least once during that time while establishing your supply.  I am so grateful for my husband, who has been 100% supportive of my EP’ing and always helped in any way he could. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.

 Julian and Daddy - 7 months

Speaking of supply…. mine has never been good. I was never able to pump enough to feed my son breastmilk exclusively.  I tried all of the natural supply boosters including fenugreek, oatmeal, mother’s milk tea etc. I know lots of moms who swear by these things, but none of them worked for me. I started taking Domperidone, which is a anti-nausea medication that has the side effect of increasing prolactin levels. That medication is what helped my supply the most and has allowed me to feed my son between 50% and 75% breastmilk.

I often felt like giving up. I would look around me at the moms who, seemingly, easily and blissfully nursed their babies and I felt jealous and like I had failed. I hated pumping and it often felt overwhelming. I was so tired and for a long time I couldn’t nap while the baby was sleeping because I had to pump. Everything revolved around my pumping schedule and it could be quite frustrating. Thankfully, I was able to find a few online support groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and Baby Center. These online communities really provided me with the most information on EP’ing and without them, I don’t think I would have been successful. They taught me to take it one day at a time and set small goals that I knew I could meet. I was told “never quit on a bad day.”  So I pushed on and through.

 

Julian and Mommy - 13 months

After the first few months, it got easier. My supply stabilized to where it was going to be and I could stop pumping at night. That was a big deal for me. Not having to wake up to pump was a huge relief. I was able to very slowly reduce the number of pumps per day. I made it to 6 months, then to 9 months. And finally, to 1 year.  I made it to my ultimate goal!

 

Is EP’ing right for everyone who cannot breastfeed? Certainly not. I’ve learned my lesson and I no longer think negatively of those for whom formula feeding is the right choice. But I wanted to tell my story so that people can learn about EP’ing and know that there is a 3rd option out there.

 Happy Julian - 13.5 months

My son is now 14 months and I’m still pumping. I don’t have a specific goal in mind anymore. I usually only pump 3x/day now and that seems like something I could do for quite some time. However, I have decided to start weaning myself off of the Domperidone. I can’t explain exactly why, but I’m feeling the need to get off of the medication and clear my system. I am weaning very slowly and, since I’ve been taking a pretty large dose, it will take about 2 months to completely get off the medication. If I can maintain enough supply to make even one bottle a day for my son, I will probably keep pumping until he is at least 18 months. However, if my supply disappears as I wean off the medication, so be it. I’ve come to terms that it will be OK to stop pumping if that happens. No matter what the future holds, I know that I’ve done everything I can to give my son the best and healthiest start in life.

No Comments

  1. Heather P. -  March 25, 2013 - 5:00 pm

    Awesome job Momma!

  2. Tamar -  March 25, 2013 - 5:33 pm

    I was an EPer too and relied heavily on domperidone! I pumped round the click for 9 months and started weaning off the domp at 7 months on a schedule because I was going to fly internationally with just me and my 9 month old and couldn’t imagine lugging the pump or pumping on the flight alone! I am so proud of mamas like us because its double the commitment. We can’t just whip out a boob or shake up some formula. We made a commitment to pump, then bottle feed breast milk, then wash all our equipment and yes, lose out on the sleep we are supposed to get in order to maintain our supply. We are committed and some might say crazy mamas but I wouldn’t change it for the world! I believe breast is best for my baby. That’s it. I can’t imagine though having to do it for another baby with a toddler running around. The biggest key to EPing is support. It is NOT easy! Thanks for article! I felt like I was reading my own story!

    • Kate -  March 25, 2013 - 6:57 pm

      You did great, Tamar! I hope that this isn’t an issue for my next baby, because I can’t imagine how I’d get it done with a toddler running around, either! But if we wanted to, we would figure out a way!

  3. Xza -  March 25, 2013 - 6:00 pm

    Such a fantastic job Kate!

  4. Franny -  March 25, 2013 - 6:21 pm

    I exclusively pumped as well. My son would NOT latch. After 2 weeks of pure torture I decided to EP. I pumped my little heart out those first few months and was producing SO much milk. And then I went back to work. Thats when it got real interesting. The packing and un packing of the pump. Storing the milk at work, bringing it home, freezing it. Forgetting a breast shield at home, forgetting bm storage bags.. missing a pump session because of a meeting…UGH. The stress of pumping at work really wore on me. To the point of tears. Daily. I didn’t make it to a year. Half that. But I did the best I could. I tried! And tried and tried and tried! I’m glad it is still working for you! Good job!

    • Kate -  March 25, 2013 - 6:59 pm

      Thank you, Franny! You did great, too, because you did the best you could and what was best for your family. Pumping at work is no joke!

  5. Abi -  March 25, 2013 - 8:00 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! It was so encouraging to see another mom has gone through what I went through. So many things went wrong when my Micah was born. And the nurses gave her formula bottles and a pacifier when she was just hours old!! I was so upset. They hasn’t even let her try to nurse yet. She never latched well. And it was frustrating for me and her, she swallowed alot of air and lost so much of my milk. I tried and tried to nurse for 9 weeks! NINE! Finally, my husband and I talked about the option to ep. I didn’t know anyone who did it…so we blindly went forward with that decision. She’s 11 months old and we’re still going! I’m actually 7 weeks pregnant now and my supply is dwindling…but I will continue to pump until she’s 12 months if my body will let me. I am arming myself with knowledge and support bc I desperately want to nurse my next baby!

  6. Abi -  March 25, 2013 - 8:11 pm

    And you are right…EPing is NOT for everyone! Right now it feels like all I do is pump. But I’m so proud of myself..as you should be!!

  7. Melanie -  March 26, 2013 - 3:49 pm

    Thank you for this post. I exclusively pumped for my son for his first year. There’s not a lot of info out there on the subject. Congrats to you for making it so long! It is a lot of work. I too pumped in the car, spare bedrooms of family members houses… Everywhere! It was worth it but it was tough!

  8. Lindsay -  March 31, 2013 - 4:55 pm

    Major props to you and all the mums who manage to EP long term! I remember pumping purely to have milk for my DH to use for feeds when I was asleep or running an errand. It was like a juggling act with the BF and sterilising. I can’t imagine how much work you’ve all put into it. Seriously, we’ll done!

  9. rachel may -  April 9, 2013 - 3:35 pm

    I am so glad i found this, and also a little sad!
    ill explain both!
    first its crazy that your sons name is julian, as is my firstborn (now 4).
    but also that you EP, as I am only my last days of EP for my 14 month old daughter Maya Narae.
    she had her own set of problems prohibiting nursing at breast, and I continued on the longest labor of love ever, EP.
    thank you for writing about it. ive tried and its so emotional i have such a hard time! especially stopping. its time for us, as much as i dont want to. I wish that i could pump 1x a day and maintain enough supply, but that isnt the reality and it has come time to stop. she drinks goats milk and almond milk in addition to what little i make still but Im proud. its a lot harder hormonally and emotionally than i anticipated but I know ive done well!
    keep going mama, as long as yuou can. you are amazing, and if you ever need to chat, i feel for yuou 100% and am here for you!

  10. Raina -  April 9, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    I can’t express how happy I was to read this. My child is physically unable to create enough suction to breast feed, so from day 1 I have been pumping (She’s almost 3 months) and bottle feeding with a special valve. It’s hard work, a full-time job some days, but you make it work. Thank you for posting this; it was awesome to see that someone else shares this experience. Loving the comments, too! =D

  11. Alicia -  April 9, 2013 - 5:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing! It’s so encouraging to see another mom make it so far! I am EP for 6 months now. I had a preemie at 33 weeks and at 3 lbs, she was unable to latch. (I also didn’t even get to see her till the following day and she was born at 4:03pm!! So was never even able to try to let her latch right away!) But I was determined to bf, just never thought it would turn out like this. (I also thought I was having a natural birth with my midwife but after an emergency c-section.. found out your birth plan is only that, a plan! lol) But I too pumped around the clock. Those first few days still in the hospital and nicu are such a blur. It sure is a commitment! Not just the pumping.. but the storing.. and cleaning of supplies… and bottling.. and freezing.. packing it up and taking your pump everywhere with you.. basing your whole life around the ability to pump every 2-3 hours.. It’s more work than I could of ever imagined! Those first months I stopped feeling human.. Just more like a machine.. (or a cow! lol) But with all this work, I’ve been such a nervous wreck that my milk supply would drop.. I didn’t think it was possible to make it this long but your story gives me hope. I have been very lucky with a great supply (bought a deep freezer for all the milk and have over 1500 oz saved up!!!) At around 4/5 months, I decided to try to let her latch.. after one night of tears (for us both) she latched and has been pretty good at it ever since! Once in a while, like today, she is refusing the breast and only wants a bottle. But hopefully tomorrow we will get some bfing done. Wish me luck, my goal is to feed/pump until at least a year and then let my stored milk carry us the rest of the way! If it works out longer, that would be even better but I’m just trying to take it one step at a time! And even though this is one of the most difficult things i have ever had to commit to, it is also the best one and most rewarding one.

  12. Amanda M S -  April 20, 2013 - 6:07 pm

    You’re awesome.

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