My son, Isaac, was what the hospital lactation consultant called “a dozer”—a newborn baby who fell asleep at the breast. Every single time my baby latched on, his eyes would flutter shut and he’d fall off my breast. In the hospital, the lactation consultant and nurses would pinch his toes or rub ice cubes on the top of his head to keep him awake long enough to eat. It was not at all how I pictured breastfeeding.
On our second day in the hospital (recovering from my C-section), I saw a nurse wheeling a contraption down the hall and which, for all intents and purposes, looked exactly like the automatic milking machines we’d used on the dairy cattle on the farm I’d grown up on. Thinking that feeding my son pumped breast milk was the ticket to getting my newborn narcoleptic to eat, I asked the nurse to teach me how to pump. I didn’t yet have a pump at home and wondered if I should learn how they worked, in case I decided to buy one.
Read more: Breastfeeding and pumping primer>
“Oh no, these aren’t for women like you because your supply is fine. Besides, you don’t want to deal with nipple confusion,” warned the nurse. The hospital breast pumps were kept under lock and key, the lactation consultants suggesting that I feed Isaac expressed milk from a shot glass or medicine dropper rather than resorting to bottles. Best electric breast pumps
At home, I just couldn’t get the hang breastfeeding. Each time I called the public health nurse for suggestions on how to keep my son awake long enough to feed or ways to improve my latch, I’d timidly ask about pumping. Each time I was warned about the supposed hazards of feeding my son with a bottle: nipple confusion, infection, unbalanced nutrition. So we struggled on with breastfeeding, until one night, both my husband and I had reached our breaking points. We were both exhausted, our son was hungry and I was painfully engorged.
“This is stupid! I’m driving to the drug store and buying a pump and bottles right now!” declared my husband. He returned a few minutes later with a manual pump, his face still flushed with the embarrassment of having to ask the pharmacist for help selecting the right one.
Quite literally, pumping changed my life. For the first time since he was born, my son had a full stomach and everyone in our house slept soundly. I loved pumping for many reasons: I could measure how much milk he was drinking and directly relate it to how much weight he was gaining; I could slowly start exercising again; and, most importantly, my husband felt like he was able to contribute fully to caring for our newborn.
But pumping wasn’t without drawbacks (like the time I fell asleep with a high-powered electric pump and woke up with bruises all over my breasts and milk all over the carpet) and, without support from my public health nurse or lactation consultant, I often felt like I was on my own. Over time, I connected with other pumping moms, like Sarah Linder-Stenzel and Andrea Smith, who were incredibly supportive. Here are our tips for successfully pumping breast milk.
- Ask a lactation consultant for help. Smith’s son was born prematurely and the support of her hospital’s lactation consultant ensured that her baby was fed breast milk while he was in NICU. When Linder-Stenzel found herself unexpectedly in the the hospital recently while her infant son was at home with her husband, the hospital’s lactation consultant secured her a breast pump so she could keep up her supply.
- Buy a hands-free pumping bra. You cannot put a value in having two free hands (especially if you have an active toddler underfoot).
- Buy a manual pump or car attachment for travel. This is especially helpful for long road trips when pulling over for a quick feed isn’t possible.
- Keep a supply of frozen breast milk “just in case.” When Isaac was three weeks old, I injured my hand and had to undergo surgery and he drank the frozen milk while I was in the hospital. I also had to “pump and dump” milk for the 24 hours after surgery to clear the anesthetic and antibiotics from my milk supply.
- Keep a log to track volume. This helped Smith not to worry when she had one low pump session because she could see total daily amounts.
- Ignore naysayers. “Many people would say things like ‘why don’t you just nurse?’ or ‘maybe you should try harder,'” recalls Smith.
- Buy a few sets of pumping supplies. This saves time since you just have to wash and sterilize your equipment once a day. Ask your spouse to be in charge of pump supply cleaning. For both Smith and Linder-Stenzel, it helped their spouses feel involved.
- Know it’s OK to quit. By the time her son was nine months old, Smith was ready to quit pumping. She was comforted by the fact she still had two months left of stored milk. “I find that us moms put a lot of pressure on ourselves to continue. I would always remind myself that the goal is a happy and healthy baby and a happy and healthy mama,” says Smith.
Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.