It’s baby boom time in my circle of friends. Like the year that preceded it, the year of the seven weddings, this is the year of the seven impending births. Between family, close friends and acquaintances, most conversations are evolving around birth, sleep, lack of sleep and the lack of desire to reproduce again. (Ok that’s just me. Joking. Or am I?)
During all these chats I’ve found myself answering lots and lots of questions about breastfeeding. I’m not the first in our group to have a baby, but I am one of the first to have breastfed longterm and I used pumping to do this.
When I look back on my experiences I realise that it was an absolute minefield, but I did develop some techniques that really helped me and could possibly help others. “I think I’ll write a blog post on it,” I said to one of my friends who is nursing a three week old at the moment. “Oh do!” she said. That’s because she didn’t have any time to talk. It’s easier for her to read this with her free hand while breastfeeding than sit and talk to me. So is the life of a nursing Mam.
1) Find your own way
Only you can find the best way to pump to suit your baby. You may only need to pump rarely, to have a spare bottle of two for an emergency. You may decide to pump every day so that you can have a stock of milk in the freezer. Or you may want to pump because you missed a feed and your boob is sore. You will need to fit pumping into your own routine. And whatever way this works for you is fine. I’ve had lots of friends with newborns on the phone worrying that they are not pumping yet or when they should be fitting it in. Do not worry in the early days. It should be the last thing on your mind.
2) Make sure your milk is established before pumping
Some experts say you should wait at least six weeks before pumping to allow your milk to establish itself. All breastfeeding mammies will know that milk supply is all over the place in the first few weeks. Let it settle, then introduce pumping gradually if you can. I had a wedding coming up five weeks after my baby was born, so I started pumping at three weeks. This was a bit early, but it worked out for me. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get much at the start. This is normal too. I used to pump on the opposite side to the one I just fed on as this had more milk. I would then feed from this side too when it was time for the next feed to ensure the boob was fully drained.
3) The equipment
I waited for two weeks to buy my first pump. (Thank you Nana Cassidy). We went with the Medela Swing pump, which was excellent. It cost the guts of €200 though so I wanted to be sure I could breastfeed and would be breastfeeding before we spent the money. Avoid manual pumps. All chatter on these is that they’re useless – unless it’s something just to get you by or if you know you won’t be breastfeeding for long. There are also double pumps available. I’ve never used these, and don’t know how they stick on, as I had to hold the single bottle in place with the swing pump. I don’t think I could sit there holding two bottles, feeling like a real human cow, but each to their own. Mooooooo.
You’ll need to clean all your equipment after use. I used the microwave steriliser and it was super handy – four minutes and everything was ready to go again. I had a few experiences where milk got sucked into the pump and I was able to take the pump apart and clean it all out. Make sure to stop pumping straightaway if this happens as it can damage the pump.
5) When to pump
At the start I pumped in little minute bursts after the baby had fed and was napping. There wasn’t much milk but I would collect the output (nice) and build up the milk that way. You will find you have much better supply in the morning, so if you can pump then, do. Eventually, when the baby had developed longer sleep patterns in the evening, I would pump then, in front of the telly, the sounds of waa waa waa our soothing chorus for the evening. Don’t attempt to pump after cluster feeds. There’s no point and you’ll only be annoying yourself.
I pumped in 100mls. It was my target everyday. Sometimes you will fall short or have more, which is fine. I then poured these 100mls of white gold into little pots I’d bought in Aldi and stacked them in the freezer. The joy of opening the freezer to see a whole stock of milk – you are superwoman!
7) Serving it fresh
When it’s time to use the milk, you can take out the pots and leave to defrost in the fridge or kitchen counter. It’ll take about five hours to defrost. If you need the milk quickly, put in bowl over a pan of boiling water. Don’t defrost in the microwave. A friend recently asked about what bottles to use while breastfeeding. I just had normal Avent bottles, which our baby took to no problem – but I do like the look of the Tommee Tippee bottles because they look exactly like a big boob. Because we had introduced the breast milk in a bottle very early our baby never had any issues going between the bottle and boob. Do think about this, if somebody needs to feed your baby breast milk while you’re away. Best not to leave it too late or else the baby might refuse anything that isn’t Mammy’s warm boobs.
One of the big worries Mammies have is drinking. At the wedding I watched what I drank, pumped and dumped (it’s awful to see all that lovely milk going down the drain) and then read afterwards that this makes no difference atall. It’s your blood alcohol level that counts and pumping and dumping makes no difference to this. For me, I found it was best of have pumped milk ready to give baby after a night of drinking, to watch what I drank and drink loads of water to flush it out of my system and to pump some anyway because my boobs were sore and full. I also learned quickly that alcohol had little effect when I was breastfeeding; I literally couldn’t get drunk. I always felt it was the body’s magic way of not letting harm come to your baby, despite Mammy’s worst efforts. So be careful on this too – as you might feel the urge to drink more because your normal amount is not having an effect. Also, relax. Don’t beat yourself up for having a few drinks now and then. Use up your pumped milk, that’s what it’s for.
9) Bullet boobs
If you have to be away from your baby, your milk will build up very quickly and you will feel like your chest is about to explode. I had a trip away earlier in the year and when I greeted baby after only having pumped for the previous two days, she latched on, came off and the milk kept flowing. In an arc. In a restaurant. It was funny. And horrible. Pumping is great and will relieve your discomfort, but it is nothing to how a baby will drain your breast, it’s good to remember that.
10) Pumping out and about
I was determined to exclusively breast feed my baby till six months – which we more or less achieved, but I had to return to work at five months. So I pumped at work. In the van. In the toilet. Wherever I had to. I carried the pump and equipment in a little neat gift bag, because it sparked some joy and didn’t raise suspicions. I never told anyone what I was doing – I just did it. I found I could throw the pump into a bigger handbag if I needed. And I carried a protein shaker to store the milk. You will find you will build pumping into your life. Because pumping allows you to have a life. At least it did for me.
I breastfed my baby for almost a year and chose to stop then. You can read why here. I have become an advocate for breast feeding because of the many benefits I found it brought I and my baby. What was your experience of breastfeeding? Did you get used to pumping? I’d love to hear from you.
I only have experience of using the Medela Swing Pump. I used the single pump and found it really good. The links below take you direct to Amazon to buy (affiliate link). We bought ours in Mothercare. You can also pick up in pharmacies.