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

March 31st, 2016 | Posted by Erica House in Life

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!
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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.
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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. 

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12 Responses

  • Jade says:

    That top up bottle prior to going down for the night has always been my nemesis. With both my first two, nothing helped getting them to sleep longer until I felt comfortable sleep training them. So many people advised us to do that or the dream feed, but nothing worked. Now I have some friends with essentially newborns doing the top up and already getting like 7+ hours uninterrupted –> putting a sad face on my face!! oh well… we sleep at some point right?

    • Erica House says:

      Ha. I had to make a decision a few weeks ago to just stop fighting the interrupted sleep and embrace it. I don’t see it changing anytime soon! At least he ‘only’ wakes up 1-2x a night now and always goes right back to sleep after eating.

  • Liz says:

    I just read another blog about breastfeeding, haha. I exclusively pump, and if you ever need pumping help, the Exclusively Pumping Mamas group on FB is AWESOME! I didn’t enjoy nursing at all and while I feel like it’d be nice to just pop a boob out and feed my baby and not worry about having to feed my baby AND pump every 3 hours (Where is an outlet?! Did I remember the lids for my bottles? Will I be back in time to put my milk in the fridge?), I just did not enjoy it. At all. And I didn’t even have the patience to wait for it to get better. I just gave up. Fortunately, I pump over 60oz a day, so that’s the only thing that keeps me going! However, because I EP and overproduce, I’m prone to clogged milk ducts that hurt like a b and can put a serious damper on my output. So I’ve had to start taking a ton of sunflower lecithin to thin out my milk and I also drink malt Ovaltine to help keep my supply up. And of course, with EPing, you can’t quit pumping overnight in the first 12 weeks, so even when my husband can feed the baby a bottle on the weekends at night, I still have to get up to pump… This whole milk thing is a pain for me!

    • Erica House says:

      You are a SAINT. I cannot imagine have to exclusively pump. It’s overwhelming just trying to fit it in once a day. I know my stash is only good for 6 months in the freezer so I’m using up some as it gets close to expiring, but eventually I’d like to have a good amount saved so whenever he/I decide to wean I can keep giving him a bottle a day for a while.

  • I have nothing to add since I don’t have kids. However, keep up the awesome job of feeding your child the best food! http://www.supersana.com

  • Melissa says:

    Thank you for this post! I am pretty early in my pregnancy, and I think a lot about breastfeeding in the future for my little one. It is always great to hear from other moms their experiences and advice.

    • Erica House says:

      I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with info while pregnant so I didn’t read any of the nursing books commonly recommended, but I did read a lot of other bloggers accounts of their nursing issues. I think that’s what helped it feel so natural for me when the time came. I knew the common issues to expect and went into it figuring it would suck for a while, as it did, but eventually be so worth it, as it is!

  • Heather says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience with nursing and pumping. I think one thing that people don’t tell you is that breastfeeding can actually be very difficult and take a lot of time and work and patience. And pain. So glad you and baby got the hang of it. With pumping, I found (after lots of trying) that I get a lot more by doing breast compressions instead of just attaching the pump and letting it do its own thing. For me, it just keeps the milk flowing. Although if you’re nursing at the same time it’s probably not possible, but that’s just my tip. Thanks again@

    • Erica House says:

      I watched a few videos on breast compressions but could never get the hang of it! I may try to start adding in another pumping session later in the day to keep building my freezer stash up.

  • I’m a little late, but this is great and super helpful- thank you!! How many nursing tanks do you recommend then? Where did you find yours? The ones at Target were big on me, but I got two from H&M before we moved to AZ (our store options are VERY limited here since it’s such a small town, but we’re going to Tucson next weekend so if you have any store recommendations, I’ll make sure we stop there!). I got like 8 nursing bras (sports, those weird nighttime/sportslike kind, and two regular ones- all on clearance or sale from Target as I realized how freaking expensive they are), but I’m keeping the tags on and saving the receipt just in case). Breastfeeding and pumping are on the top of the things I’m apprehensive about. I received the same Medela pump like a week or two ago and am making Tyler take a look at it this weekend because it looked confusing, haha. I really hope pumping works for me as we both want him to be able to feed her at least once a day and get to experience that bond.

    Do you strictly just breastfeed him on one side each feeding? Then the next feeding you feed him from your other side? Or do you do a little from each side each feeding? Also, do you suggest trying to start pumping earlier than you did? I guess I don’t really know when is best to try and start pumping… I probably should’ve just emailed you about this, haha.

    • Erica House says:

      I literally have two nursing tanks. Both black ones from Target! I read online while pregnant to get the Mossimo long and lean tanks as they are super easy to whip the boob out in, and those have been my favorite for around the house. I only bought one nursing bra as I didn’t think I’d use it very often, and I don’t really. Since I work from home I’m pretty much braless or in sports bras most days.

      I was SO intimidated by the pump for so long. I put off learning how to use it as it seemed so overwhelming and easy to mess up but it’s so, so simple. I wouldn’t start pumping until about 6 weeks as anything earlier than that may trigger your body to produce much more milk than it needs and lead to engorgement. I feed the baby from just one side at a time. I tried offering both sides but he never took much from the second side so I just stuck with one side at a time.



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