My Experience with Nursing and What to Do When Pumping Doesn't Work

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After 6 months of exclusively breastfeeding my son I'm finally getting around to talking about my experience with nursing and pumping (which sucks, literally and metaphorically.) I struggled for weeks with pumping not working. I would pump and get drops after just 45 minutes. I finally figured out a way to make pumping work and now get about 5 ounces from one side when I pump! Before getting pregnant I hadn't thought about breastfeeding much. I didn't have any overly strong feelings toward it, but I knew I wanted to try to do it for as long as possible for the health benefits. I quickly fell in love with it. It was so peaceful and calming and was such a beautiful way to connect with my son! This photo was taken three days postpartum, as we moved from Alabama to Florida. Yes, we moved states three days after he was born, and moved again to Alaska when he was six weeks old! Nursing

I had a lot of pain the first few weeks. TMI alert: I was either bleeding or badly scabbed the first three weeks. His latch was too shallow, but by the time he was hungry he was so frantic to eat I didn't have the heart to pull him off and keep trying to re-position him. Eventually we both got the hang of it.

Motherlove nipple cream helped, but I read online that just airing them out after each feeding would help them heal faster. It makes sense, the air would help dry them out and form a scab quicker. I gave the right side a break from nursing for 24 hours and after that didn't have to deal with the severe scabbing I had been again.

The pain persisted for the first 8ish weeks. I would cringe whenever Travis brought me the baby because he was hungry. It would hurt for about 20 seconds and then be pretty much painless. Everything online said to just give it time and eventually it would be pain free. I honestly thought pain free meant "still hurt a little when they latch and the entire time they are nursing."

No, after 3-4 months it literally became 100% pain free. Now, it's amazing. I love nursing. It's so nice to be able to just sit down with him as he eats or naps (he always naps on me after eating.)

How sweet is this photo of Salem cuddling with us as baby nurses? I miss my sweet cat. IMG_2776

When baby was 3 months old I began pumping.

I HATED pumping.

Through my insurance I received the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. I would try to pump in the afternoon after baby had eaten so I wouldn't 'be empty' when he'd be ready to eat again in two hours. Well, making milk doesn't work like that. Milk doesn't just store up in your breasts waiting for baby to eat. Some milk will fill them up, hence why you can feel full and get engorged, but after a few months it works more like supply and demand. Whenever baby is sucking, there is milk being produced. I was worrying about being empty for no reason.

I would try to pump both sides at once and literally get an ounce total in 45 minutes. Given he was eating probably 3-4 ounces at once it was taking me 4 days (I'd only pump once a day) to get enough for one bottle. Since I work from home I didn't necessarily need a huge supple built up, but I wanted a stash in case I ever had to be away from him for some reason.

After about two weeks of that I gave up for a while. I was getting so stressed every time I tried to pump. I did everything I read I wasn't supposed to do, but couldn't help it. I'd sit there and stare at the bottles attached to me as they remained empty after 20 minutes of pumping. The more stressed I got, the less milk would come.

Finally, I read two things online that explained pumping in a way that made me attempt it again. First, your body needs time to learn how to make milk for the pump. You should try to pump the same time every day so your body can 'expect' it and respond to it better.

Also, only pumping 1/2 to 1 ounce per side is totally normal. I was watching videos of women pumping to try to figure out what I was doing wrong and they were getting 6-8 ounces per breast! I felt like such a failure.

Since supply is highest in the mornings I decided to try and pump one side while he nursed on the other. Pumping one side while the baby nurses helps with let down. I can also tell a huge difference in how much I produce when he is actively sucking versus just using me as a pacifier. When he's actually drinking the milk will flow like crazy on the other side.

After a few days I suddenly started pumping 2-3 ounces at a time, from just one side! I was so proud! After a few weeks that turned into getting 5-6 ounces on a good morning. I've now got a stash of about 100 ounces saved up. We give him a bottle of 2-3 ounces before I nurse him before bed to try and 'fill him up' in hopes he won't wake up to eat (it rarely works but we keep trying anyway.)

Long story short: If you want to pump and have issues with it at first keep at it. Try to pump in the morning, while baby nurses the other side, stay relaxed, and drink a ton of water. If I'm dehydrated at all I'll only get an ounce or two out.

I've had a few women email and ask what nursing must have's I'd recommend. In no particular order:

  • Nursing tanks/clothing. I thought I'd only need 1-2 and could make regular clothes work. No. It's so much more convenient to have nursing tanks then try to finagle my boob out of regular clothing when baby boy is hungry.
  • A boppy pillow. We still use it every time I nurse!
  • Nursing bras or very lose sports bras.
  • A water bottle. I love my Camelbak and nursing will make you so, so thirsty.

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That's about it. One of the best things about nursing is how simple it is. Everywhere we go I've got food ready for baby that requires no mixing or heating up!

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask. I'm certainly not an expert but I learned a lot in six months and know how frustrating it can be at times.