Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural bonding experience. But sometimes, it's not all roses. Sometimes it can be really hard and require a lot of practice and patience. You hear horror stories about cracked and bleeding nipples, shallow latches, and low milk supply. My mission here is to offer encouragement and support. If you're having a problem, please know, without shame or judgement, that you are not alone. You aren't alone in your struggle. Reach out for support and help. If you're having problems, I'm here to tell you- it gets better. You are a good mom no matter how you feed your baby. But if you have the desire to breastfeed, it's important to me that you get support, education, and encouragement- not bad advice, judgement, or outdated information.
Pumping: Ya'll, pumping can be so hard too! But thank God for them. It allows mothers to go back to work and still provide their babies with their breastmilk. It allows mothers that for whatever reason can't physically nurse their baby to provide them with their milk. It takes so much time. So much energy. time, and effort goes into pumping, cleaning bottles, storing milk, organizing the milk storage, keeping up supply, and sticking to a pumping schedule.
This image above was taken of a client's milk stash in their extra freezer in the garage. We talked about how many hundreds of hours of her baby's first year of life had been spent pumping. Not including the hours spent cleaning bottles and pump parts. Thousands of ounces pumped and saved. Thousands, ya'll. I found her dedication absolutely inspiring. This image to me just shows the dedication, self sacrifice, and a physical representation of her love for her baby.
"For me since nursing didn't work I was determined to provide my baby with breastmilk and so my pumping journey began. I still tried nursing here and there but a couple months in I stopped trying to nurse because the pressure was too much and it clearly wasn't working for him or me. I wished I had known early on to purchase a lot of extra pump parts to make my pumping life and life with a newborn easier. Looking back it's neat to see how my pump journey evolved. I started with 2 sets of pump parts and was pumping 7-8 times a day, around the clock and hand washing them after each pump session. I had my dedicated pump station with water and snacks, my Medela pump logs that I hand wrote on until a month or so in when I realized I could do all that on their app. I ended up purchasing more pump parts and would prep my pump bag so everything was set up, connected and ready to go for my next pump session, that started thanks to my husband!! It really came in handy for those middle of the night pumps. The hands free bra is a must! When my son was small enough I could pump with the help of my hands free bra and hold him and feed him at the same time. Haha
I didn't love being confined to the pump, it was definitely HARD, especially setting my alarm every 2-3 hours the first few months, but it became second nature and I didn't look at it that way. I looked at it as my only way to give my son breastmilk.
If he was napping, I could read a book, watch some tv, look at his pictures (which helped letdowns in the beginning) or do nothing but relax while sitting straight up. Lol. But for me it was ALL about the end result and seeing the milk in those bottles and knowing I could STILL give my son breastmilk is why I did it and made it ALL WORTH IT!! Of course there were tears and frustrations, clogs and mastitis along the way just like if I was actually nursing. I had to wean extremely gradually or I'd get clogs and severe pain, I'm talking weaning a minute or two max from one pump session at a time...that takes forever when the pump session is 30-40 minutes. I remember doing several happy dances when I beat my personal record for how much I pumped in one session. And each time I was able to freeze a bag on top of make his bottle for his next feeding made me SO Happy. ALL My Hard Work was paying off!!
I remember the last month when I was weaning completely from the pump, it was extremely emotional for me. It was all I had known for 13 months. I actually cried after my final pump session and as I type this now it's very emotional revisiting it again (keep in mind I'm almost 5 months pregnant). I would do it ALL over in a heartbeat! And I'll gladly do it again so I can provide my new little one with breastmilk should nursing not work this time either. I'm hopeful it will this time though because I'm slightly more knowledgeable and just knowing how much extra work pumping is motivates me to try harder to make nursing work. Of course, it will bring new challenges my way as I'm not familiar with it, but it'll save me some time!
I'm so thankful that pumping did work for me! I know some of my friends have really tried and it didn't work for them. Everyone has their own journey and we all just wanna do what is best for our babies. I never knew I could love someone so deeply!!
I will say I don't miss setting my alarm but I wish I still had breastmilk to give him.
In the 13 months I exclusively pumped I had 1,854 pump sessions in which I was able to pump 341,121ML/11,370 OZ/88 GAL. Of that I was able to have a freezer stash of 74,417ML/2,480 OZ/ 19.375 GAL.
I had some mishaps along the way, I was talking to my sister on the phone and 5 mins in to the conversation, looked down and realized my pants were soaked. I forgot to attach the bottle before starting the pump. Slightly funny now, definitely not at the time knowing I wasted food for him.
If you're gonna be an exclusive pumper, I highly recommend the hands free bra, having a designated pump station with everything you need such as water and snacks (the insatiable thirst is REAL), magazines, a book, and/or pictures of your little one, and prestaging your pump bag during the day so you're all set to go especially for your middle of the night pumps. If you don't have a LaVie Lactation Massager, I recommend a vibrating razor! That definitely helped me, especially when travelling. Pumping in the car is another story, and doesn't work as well as normally when it's plugged into the wall, which meant clogs were inevitable when I traveled. So having a vibrating razor and ice packs (also the packs you can microwave are good once you get to your destination) was a must for me.
Just take it one day at a time and one pump session at a time knowing you're providing breastmilk for your little one. Celebrate EACH victory and Keep Going. You Got This!!
You can read one about one mama's experience and reflections pumping and donating to the CHKD milk bank here.
Dads: I feel like I need to make a special section just for Dads. Dads play an important role in breastfeeding. Sometimes I hear Dad's say that they feel left out or are missing out on feeding their baby. I can tell you this- I absolutely and completely rely on my husband's support. I absolutely need him. He plays a huge role in feeding our baby. He supports me. He talks to our babies while I feed them, helping to keep them calm if they are crying and I'm trying to nurse them. He strokes their cheek (stimulating the suck reflex). He brings me water or snacks, In the early days of breastfeeding, you'll remember that I had major issues nursing my first baby, he encouraged me every single second to try to get her to latch. At his suggestion, I went to see another lactation consultant. If I needed to rest, he made me rest. If I needed to eat, he brought me food. If I was crying, he comforted me. If I needed to relax to help my milk letdown, he was there for that too. If I was out in public and having a hard time nursing, he was SO on top of things! And, you know what else? The very few times I had negative comments about breastfeeding, DAD TO THE RESCUE. Hero status.
Overall, breastfeeding has it's ups and downs- just like anything in life. Mine just bit me for the first time yesterday. Happy World Breastfeeding Week, right? HA!
My sincere hope that is that these 3 blogs have been an encouragement to you. I hope you have the support system that you need, I hope that you receive good advice, and I hope that you are not set up at a disadvantage to reach your goals. Not breastfeeding doesn't make you a bad mother and it doesn't make you a failure. If your baby is loved, you are winning!
- Get yourself a copy of the La Leche League book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding- click here to purchase (not an affiliate link)
- Relax. It could happen right off the bat or it could take a little time. Trust in your baby and your body.
- Set up a "breastfeeding (or pumping) station". Fill it with snacks, water, burp cloths, a diaper or two, and a phone charger. Or, if you have older kids or toddlers, maybe keep a few snacks in there for them too so that if they ask you for snacks when you are pumping or nursing, they are close at hand and you don't have to get up.
- Have some lanolin handy. It can be a lifesaver when your nipples start to feel sore.
- Hook up with your local LLL chapter. They'd be so happy to have you!
- Reach out if you need help. Don't go this alone. The sisterhood of motherhood is out there willing and ready to help you. Just ask!
- Rest mama, you're sustaining a life outside of your own. Even if all you "accomplish" today is a shower, it's okay. Truly.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.