Confessions of an Exclusive Pumper - My Top Tips for Exclusively Expressing Mamas

Dannii from @mummyrepublic shares her breastfeeding journey with baby #2 and her top #PumpingHacks for exclusively expressing mamas, because breastfeeding looks different for every mum and bub and all journey's are beautiful and unique.

As I sit here typing away, listening to the droning of my pump in the background, I find myself reminiscing on what it was like to breastfeed my daughter.

Quiet moments, gentle skin strokes, dreamy eyes. I really loved feeding her and I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity. But one thing I learnt from my experience first time around is that it certainly isn’t easy.

For me, breastfeeding wasn’t like how they show you in the movies.

She didn’t just jump on straight from birth and we all of a sudden had a beautiful experience. In fact, the first few weeks were an absolute nightmare; cracked nipples, difficulty latching, uncontrollable letdowns, a hungry baby and lots of tears. We had to use a contact nipple shield for the first three months and that was a process in itself. But eventually we found our groove and I was able to feed her until she was seven months old and I look back now truly cherishing those moments.

With my son however, I didn’t even get the chance to go through the normal struggles as he has a medical condition that restricts his ability to suck and draw milk. Being the optimist that I am, I still hold hope that he will prove them all wrong but for now the only way for him to breastfeed is via a specialised bottle and my breast pump.

Gosh…even when I say it out loud it seems so clinical and I am certain that my nipples are going to have PTSD after this experience. But when I truly think about what this little machine does for me and him, I can’t help but be grateful, because without it we wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Breastfeeding education is from me to you

So here we are, just over 13 weeks into our feeding journey with me exclusively pumping and it’s been an evolution to say the least. There is growing support for mothers who breastfeed (as there should be) but I struggled to easily find the same level of information when it came to those who had to solely pump.

I am certainly no expert but I am a big believer that education is power so I’m happy to share a few things I’ve personally learned along the way in hopes that it may make your transition a little easier.

  • First and foremost; get yourself a GOOD pump. When I say good pump, not just a reputable brand but one that is of good quality and will be able to suit and keep up with your needs. For example; using a single pump when you are solely pumping is not going to be time effective. Not only will you shorten the required time at each pump with a double pump, you’re not going to miss a drop with both sides working together to produce a quality amount of milk during letdown and beyond. I personally use the Medela Swing Maxi Double Electric breast pump and I just love it! It has the stimulation mode to ease into it and then draws the milk in a mimicking motion just as your baby would on the breast. I have a lot of faith in the Medela brand and their products are always of amazing quality.

If you’re an exclusive expressing mama like me, I would recommend considering the Medela Freestyle Flex double pump for more ease of freedom, as this pump has a USB-chargeable battery – amazing!

  • Ensure you have a structured pumping routine. Unlike feeding a baby directly on the breast, it’s important to go into pumping with a routine, even a loose one to ensure your milk supply keeps up with the demands of your bub and in the early days is established. It is said that a baby’s saliva stimulates milk supply so if you are exclusively pumping, you have to be a little more regimented around training your breasts and milk production. Every mum and baby is different so it’s important to discuss this upfront with your health care professional ie midwives/lactation consultants to have a plan, but as time goes on don’t be afraid to adapt and listen to your body and your baby.
  • Make sure you find a comfortable spot to express. Unlike Breastfeeding directly with your bub, there aren’t too many positions you can get yourself into to effectively pump milk. The most efficient way to do it is ensure you are comfortable and seated upright, making sure you avoid bumping the attachments while they are at work (ouch) and also to avoid knocking off your hard earned results (devastating - anyone who says you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk clearly wasn’t pumping at 2am). I would suggest having a designated spot so that you can pre-arrange your comforts such as pillows, a water bottle and snacks, that way you are always ready to go.
  • R-E-L-A-X. Easier said than done right, but have a few things in your toolbox to help. When I first started pumping the hospital staff told me to think of my baby. But here’s the thing, my baby was unwell and separated from me in NICU so instead this just made me sad and combining those emotions with postpartum hormones, resulted in a lot more tears and a lot less milk. The importance of relaxing is to encourage your let-down and if you’re balling your eyes out, it’s a lot less likely to happen. Everyone is different but distraction worked for me. If you’re going to use your baby as a focus point, try and incorporate the use of photos or videos of special moments, things that will make you smile. Alternatively, you may like to do a spot of online shopping or catch up on social media. But I’ve personally found that laughter is the best medicine; I’ll pop on a stand-up comedy or a funny tv show and just zone out. The time flies by and your body will happily do its thing while your mind is pre-occupied…and as a bonus, it’s good for the soul.
  • Don’t look at the amount of milk you’re expressing. This one is hard! Especially in the beginning when you’re naturally going to gauge your success by the amount of ml’s you are expressing. BUT stressing about the amount you’re pumping is going to do more harm than good. Relax, focus on something else (as noted above) and pump until your breasts feel empty/comfortable. You need to listen to your body…not look at the numbers on the bottle.
  • Drink lots of water. This one is a no brainer but it’s so easy to forget when life is busy. Good hydration is important for not only your milk supply but also your body in general, so make sure you have water bottles prefilled in the fridge and ready to go for when you grab your pump gear.
  • Set up a time and date system for storing your milk and make sure you’re storing it correctly. A lot of time, effort and energy goes into expressing milk for your baby and the last thing you want is to let it go to waste. The Australian Breastfeeding Association provides a guide as to how and for what timeframe your milk should be stored and Medela also provides a guide for storing and thawing breast milk on their website. Whether you use bottles or storage bags, make sure the amount and date pumped is clearly marked so you know what to use and when. Midwives also advised me that the time of day is important as milk pumped at night will assist in your baby’s sleep due to the serotonin levels.
  • Clean and dry your equipment WELL. This might seem like common sense but water residue can have a strong impact on how effective your pump is, particularly when it comes to the suction. Ensure that you have hygienic cleaning practices in place to avoid any risk of bacteria coming in contact with your nipples and regularly check your tubing and connectors for any fluid build-up – Medela has a full range of cleaning products for at home or on the go, to help with this. If you do notice a lack of suction refer to your pump’s FAQ’s and troubleshooting guide or contact their customer service team to discuss. An ineffective pump can have a great impact on your output, so it’s important to monitor!
  • Be aware that your nipple size may change – multiple times. Although this may seem like an irrelevant point when it comes to expressing milk, it actually has an impact on the equipment you use, specifically the breast shields. You need to ensure you have the right size breast shield in order for your milk to be drawn effectively, and as your breasts change through your feeding journey, so do your nipples. It’s a good idea to regularly check in with the positioning of the shields to ensure they are still a good fit. To find the right fit for you, visit: 13 weeks, my shield size has altered three times and I’ve certainly noticed a difference in my flow when I re-sized.

Mama remember that you’re doing an amazing job!

There you have it, all of the secrets I’ve learned in the last 13 weeks of exclusively pumping!

But in all honesty, the most important tip I can give you is to remember that you’re doing an amazing job, regardless of what your feeding journey looks like. Pumping is hard, breastfeeding is hard and having a baby is hard!

So make sure you don’t feed into any comparisons and just do what feels right for you and your family; the rest is just noise xx