My Journey as an Exclusively Pumping Mama
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Before Emma was born, I didn’t know that exclusively pumping was a thing. I thought either you gave formula or you breastfed by nursing. That was it. Pumping was only what you did when you went back to work, right?
Me? I was going to breastfeed. I had shining visions of sitting in our beautiful nursery, holding Emma’s tiny body close to my chest, and smiling down at her lovingly while she nursed from my breast. I’d be providing the best nourishment possible, made just for my baby, while forming a wonderful, unbreakable bond with my tiny human. I scoffed when we received free formula samples at the doctor’s office and through the mail. I wouldn’t need formula! Breastfeeding is natural. Women have been nursing their babies for millennia. If it’s natural, then it must be easy, right? I mean, how hard could it be?
After Emma’s birth, I started trying to nurse right away. I’d read the books. Taken the classes. This should be cake! So I was surprised when she latched and it hurt. A lot. I asked for help. Multiple times. The lactation consultants would have me unlatch and re-latch repeatedly, while asking me over and over if it felt any better. It didn’t. They all said Emma’s latch looked good, but my nipples told a different story. They were covered in purple hickeys by the time we made it home (just 24 hours later). Tongue tie. Revision at 3-days-old. No relief.
Any time I brought my baby to my breast, she’d scream and scream and scream while I struggled to get her to latch. When she finally did, it was all I could do to keep from screaming myself. It was painful. So, so painful. Fire and tiny knives and get her off of me! Those first weeks were filled with lots of screaming and lots of crying. I’d even started having panic attacks. This wasn’t at all what I thought would happen and I didn’t know what to do.
I dreaded my baby. I just wanted her to stay asleep. I never wanted her to wake up, because then I had to try and feed her again. I didn’t want her anywhere near me or my nipples. This was so, so far from the sweet, milky snuggles I’d dreamed of. This . . . this was a living nightmare.
Before Emma, I’d never been much of a crier. After, I cried every day. Every. Day. I would hide in the shower and sob, so that my husband wouldn’t hear me. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t this working? I’d cry to release the pressure/frustration/anger/fear, then I’d slap on a “happy” face, come out, and pretend that I wasn’t slowly breaking apart.
After about 2 weeks of this hell, I had a breakdown. I’d jumped in the shower for my usual cry-fest, but this time . . . this time I couldn’t stop. I cried and cried and cried some more. When I finally came out (still crying), I walked into the living room and held my arms out to my husband to hand me the baby. “I’ve got her,” he said. And in my distraught condition, my response was to scream, “I need my baby!“
He handed her over and I laid on the couch, holding my tiny baby, and sobbed.
Of course, now there was no hiding my distress. He gently asked me what was wrong and the floodgates opened. All my stress and fears and anger and disappointment and guilt came rushing out of my mouth in a jumble of words. I hated it. All of it. The pain, the screaming, the stress, everything. I didn’t want to do it anymore and I felt so guilty for that. I felt like a huge failure. Like a terrible, selfish mother for wanting to quit and I was so afraid he would think I was too. I just wanted to like my baby.
He didn’t think I was a bad mom. He didn’t care if I breastfed or not. We would figure it out.
Ultimately, we decided that in order to preserve my mental heath, I would throw in the towel. At first we agreed to try pumping, but within a couple days, because of the stress and it’s corresponding loss of appetite, my supply had vanished, and to be honest, I was relieved. I just wanted to be done with it all. So, formula it was. And then the best thing happened . . . the crying stopped. The panic attacks stopped. The dread stopped. I was finally able to just enjoy my baby. She was happy and healthy and I didn’t have to sacrifice my sanity for it.
Now fast-forward to being pregnant with Charlie. Even though I’d given up on breastfeeding with Emma, I knew I wanted to try again. This time, I knew that just because it was natural, didn’t mean it would be a walk in the park. This time, I armed myself with a contingency plan.
I really wanted to give a good effort to give this baby breast milk, but I’d also given myself permission to go the formula route again, guilt-free, in order to preserve my mental well-being, if that’s what was needed. There’s more to being a good mom, than how you choose to feed your baby. I am a better mom when I’m emotionally and mentally in a good place.
After Charlie’s arrival, I tried nursing right away. And then tried again. And then again. By midnight, it was clear we were going to have problems again. Bad latch. Was it possible to work with her on it and get her to latch correctly, without pain? Probably. But knowing the mental spiral it put me in last time, I decided to change tactics. I asked the nurses for some formula and decided that when we got home, I would try exclusively pumping. That way she’d still get the breast milk I so very much wanted her to have, she would just get it from a bottle, instead of straight from the tap.
As soon as we got home from the hospital, I pulled out the pump I’d been gifted by a sweet friend. I thought pumping would be easy. Straight forward. How hard could it be? (Notice a trend here? I really need to stop thinking that.)
(Photo Credit: Birdie Fyffe Photography)
I thought nursing was hard. Well guess what? Exclusively pumping is hard too! Very hard. It takes time and patience and work. So much work. Trying to manage a pumping schedule, a newborn schedule, and a toddler is no an easy feat. Pumping takes the same amount of time as nursing (sometimes more) PLUS all the feeding time, and bottles, and cleaning that are involved in formula feeding.
Being an EPer has meant being up for twice as long when Charlie woke in the middle of the night. It means that even though Daddy can help feed her, I’m still on the hook for providing the food. It means planning my errands around when I’ll need to pump. It means stepping away from the family gathering so I can find a private place to do my thing .
Thankfully, since I’m no longer a first-time mom, I already had a Mama Support Team in place. While most of my mama friends aren’t pumpers themselves, they pointed me in the direction of some exclusively pumping Facebook groups that have been instrumental in my success thus far. These fellow pumping mamas are a wealth of knowledge on all things pumping related. How to help prevent clogged milk ducts. Which pumps are the best. Foods that can help boost your supply.
They say that they first 6 weeks are the hardest. And they’re right. I’ve wanted to quit so many times. I’d actually told my husband at one point that I was going to wean. So many mamas set goals for 6-months, 9-months, 12-months of pumping. I couldn’t even imagine myself making it to 3! But the phrase we exclusively pumping mamas like to say is, “never quit on a bad day.” It’s OK to quit. It’s OK to use formula. It’s OK to do what we have to do to care for ourselves. But we need to make sure it’s because we actually want to quit and not out of frustration. I’ve had to repeat that mantra over and over to myself so many times. Forget taking it one day at a time, some days, I could only take it one pump at a time!
It doesn’t matter if you’re nursing or exclusively pumping, breastfeeding is hard. There’s no shame in throwing in the towel if you need to. How you feed your child does not determine your worth as a mother. But for me, watching my daughter drink a bottle of milk, my milk, milk that I made just for her, makes me so very happy. Happy and proud. Proud that I can do this for her. Proud that I’ve made it this far.
Now here I am, 3 1/2 months later, still plugging along, pumping liquid gold for my little pumpling. I’ve battled low supply and lots of clogs. I’ve persevered through sore nipples and cried over spilled milk. But I’m still here. I’ve leaned on my army of women to teach me how to manage pumping while maintaining my sanity. I’ve found a routine that works for me and allows me to balance being an EPer while still caring for Emma and participating in the rest of my life. In the beginning, I’d never thought I’d make it this far. Now I know I can. Next stop, 1 year!
So, to all you fellow EP mamas out there, keep on pumping! We are strong. We are capable. We can do this!
**Update: I’m happy to report that I was able to exclusively pump for 12 months! If you’d like to know how I managed to make it a whole year, check out this post for a round up of all the things I learned
that helped me make the journey a little easier**
August 11, 2017 at 9:51 AM
Pumping with baby #3 now. I can honestly say it HAS gotten easier with each one. Either that or I’m just more relaxed about washing pump parts as often as I did with the other two. I’m at 6 months now and starting to grow a little tired of it but like you said, never end on a bad day. Your photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
August 13, 2017 at 5:51 PM
It’s way easier now than it was in the beginning. It’s all about finding that balance between pumping and living your life. Congrats on baby# 3!
August 12, 2017 at 8:34 AM
I’ve never known how you pumping mommas do it! Just like you said, it’s the same amount of time, if not more, that you’d spend breastfeeding, PLUS the pain in the rear of dishes, preparing bottles, etc. I breastfeed, but I had a medical procedure couldn’t breastfeed for 12 hours afterwards, and I was SO happy when I was able to go back to breastfeeding. Good for you for being able to do this though! I’m so glad you were able to still provide your milk for your second baby!! It’s such an amazing feeling, eh?
August 13, 2017 at 5:50 PM
Thanks for the kind words! It’s definitely work, but you’re right, it’s an amazing feeling knowing I can do this for her! We woman are amazing! We grow humans and make food! 🙂
August 16, 2017 at 12:10 PM
Your story sounds exactly like mine! With my son I had taken the classes, spoken to people, envisioned a wonderful experience breastfeeding my child. Then the pain. The anxiety of if he was eating enough (he was 10lbs when he was born, so he had to eat a lot to maintain and gain). Finding out from the lactation consultant that he indeed was not eating enough. Not wanting to be anywhere near my child when he wasn’t breastfeeding. I found exclusive pumping but after two weeks of misery, it just wasn’t enough. I never had a good supply and after 3 months I gave up entirely and went to just formula. With my second I had the same thought as you, I will try this again but going to formula isn’t the end of the world. When after 3 days I started to have the same feelings as I did with my son, I went straight to pumping. I have been pumping for a little over 3 months now and definitely think about quitting some days but you gotta push through. How do you deal with supply issues though? I have one breast that will give me about an ounce a session (3 hours in between) and the other gives me 2-3 ounces, sometimes more! I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep up supply and demand for too much longer, although my freezer is pretty stocked right now! My goal right now is 6 months worth of pumping.
August 16, 2017 at 1:33 PM
Supply issues are the worst! In the beginning, was regularly a bottle or two behind what she was eating. I did a lot of power pumping (pump until empty, rest for 10 mins, pump for 10, rest for 10, pump for 10). That seemed to help some. Progress was slow, but by the time I went back to work I was making about 24 ounces a day (as opposed to the 12 or so I was making in the very beginning). Unfortunately for me, none of the “milk-producing” foods/drinks seemed to do anything for me. Neither did the supplements. I’m taking domperidone now, and I’ve seen a slight increase in the short time I’ve been on it. I’m at about 27 ounces a day. We’re still supplementing some, because now that Hubby is home with her, he ends up feeds her more often than I did, so I’ve started to be a bottle behind again. I’m hopefully that with the new medication, I’ll eventually be able to stop supplementing all together. That would be my dream!
As for the unequal amounts, I had a similar problem for a time. After a particularly bad clog lasting 2 days, that breast’s output was dropped by half. A trick I learned was to pump just that one breast for an extra 5-10 minutes each pump session. After a couple weeks, things were back to normal.
Keep pumping, mama! You can do it! 6 months will be here before you know it! 🙂
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August 18, 2017 at 7:04 AM
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June 11, 2018 at 1:02 AM
I feel excruciating pain each time i want to breastfeed my 2 week old son. I had latching issues right after delivering him and the breastfeeding team tried to help but to no avail. After discharge from hospital, my baby had to be admitted again for fever where they found he was also seriously dehydrated. Nipple shields helped him latch but it was so painful i cried at each nursing session. Back at home, nursing continued to be painful. Now i’m trying to regularly pump and supplement with formula. My nipples still feel tender, sore and cracked from the last nursing session 2 days ago. Feeling guilty because i’m not able to breastfeed him.
June 13, 2018 at 3:38 PM
Please! Don’t feel guilty! (Easier said than done, I know) You’re doing the best you can and that’s all that really matters. Your son doesn’t care how you feed him, as long as you do. Being a good mother has nothing to do with how we chose to feed our babies. Nursing, pumping, formula . . . none of it matters to our sweet babies. They love us anyway!
November 10, 2018 at 11:58 AM
Jenny I’m so glad you’ve shared your story, and I’m so glad I read it before having Madison. We’ve struggled with nursing from the get go and knowing that exclusively pumping is a thing always gave me a back up plan if we never got nursing sorted out. I’m basically exclusively pumping now, nursing only once or twice a day but it’s working for us. I’m thankful you shared your struggles and you inspired me to give this a try! Thank you!
November 13, 2018 at 9:31 AM
I’m so sorry you’ve struggled with direct nursing but I’m so, so very glad that my story has helped you! Motherhood can feel like a lonely journey, which is why I try and share everything, even my struggles, so that other mamas know that they’re not alone. Keep doing what you’re doing, Mama! You’re doing a great job with Madison and I can’t wait to see more pictures and watch her grow!
November 26, 2018 at 8:15 PM
Speaks to my heart…been pumping since week 2 when BF wasn’t working. I felt like such a failure cause I had my heart set on it. I think it was a first lesson in how parenting might not always turn out like we envisioned or how the internet tells it will (breastfeeding is magical). Doing my best to hang in and keep pumping for little man 🙂