Tag: motherhood

How to cluster pump with an example schedule

How to cluster pump with an example schedule

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my secret weapons — aka most effective methods — I used to increase my milk supply was to mimic a nursing baby’s cluster feeding.

Just joining us? Discover how I increased my milk supply in 8 weeks with seven simple steps.

In the days before and during a growth spurt, nursing babies usually demand a lot more time at the breast. It may feel like they are nursing all the time! Often, these cluster feedings happen in the evenings or at night.

Milk production, after all, is a supply and demand process. When more is demanded, supply is usually increased to meet those demands.

As a pumping Mama whose baby was unable to nurse, the traditional wisdom of letting baby nurse, nurse, nurse would not work for me and my baby.

So I had to figure out how to make my body think the baby was demanding more milk using just my pump.

This is where Cluster Pumping comes into the picture.

Pumping Mama, be sure you have a good quality, hospital grade double electric pump.

I love my Medela Pump-in-Style, which was used 6-10 times a day for 10 months with my first child and is being used that frequently again with my second.

And a hands-free pumping bra is a great investment, too!

Cluster pumping is when you switch from your normal pumping session of 15-20 minutes every 2-4 hours to do the following:

  • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Break for 5 minutes.
  • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Break for 5 minutes.
  • Pump for 10 minutes.

I set the timer on my cellphone so I would remember to take the breaks and return from the breaks.

You might be thinking: “I don’t have time for that!”

Well, I hear you. I did not think I would have the time to do this either. With an extremely needy newborn and a toddler under the age of two demanding my attention, trying to get the 15-20 minute pumping sessions in every 3 hours was hard enough!

But once I started, I actually found the cluster pumping sessions were far easier to manage than my regular sessions! 

That is because, when the baby started fussing, I knew I had only three or so more minutes of pumping before I could take a break and tend to his needs.

Or when the toddler came over crying: “Mama! Mama! Food! Wawa!” or whatever it was he wanted, I could gently say: “When you hear the beep-beep, Mama will get you food or wawa or whatever.” That quickly ended the tears and tantrums, and it became a fun game to wait and listen for the cellphone’s alarm announcing a 5 minute break!

Or when my husband shouted from the back room that there was an extremely messy diaper that he needed assistance with, I could say: “Be there in 2 minutes!” or whatever was left on the timer.

So cluster pumping in this way is possible!

Choose at least three of your normal pumping sessions in a row to become cluster pumping sessions and do these consistently for 2-3 days.

Example Schedule

When I began cluster pumping, I was already on a strict 3 hour schedule with a large gap in the morning for much needed sleep.

Remember to take care of your health, including sleep!

This is an example of what my day looked like when I was cluster pumping:

6:00 am – Normal pumping session
9:00 am – Normal pumping session
12 noon – Cluster pumping session
3:00 pm – Cluster pumping session
6:00 pm – Cluster pumping session
9:00 pm – Normal pumping session
12 midnight- Normal pumping session

I repeated this for 3 days in a row, then took a 2-3 day break where I returned to a normal pumping schedule. Then I would cluster pump again for another 3 days. I saw noticeable results in my daily milk output within a week.

“But,” you protest, “I work! I can’t do this!”

Yes, you can!

You will just have to do your cluster pumping when you are home. So if you work 9-5, you might cluster pumping in the evenings after work. If you work an afternoon/evening shift, cluster pumping in the mornings might work out better.

Make it work with your schedule!

And stay tuned. A future post has resources and tips just for the working Mama!

NOTE: As mentioned in this previous post, sleep is a vital component for your physical and mental well-being. You may have noticed from my example schedule above that I went midnight to 6:00am without a pumping session.

Once I had recovered from five and a half weeks with barely any sleep (only averaging 2-3 hours a night) and was well rested, I threw in an extra early morning pumping session around 3:00 am for about a week to help. Now that my supply is holding consistently (and I’m working full time), I have cut the 3:00 am pumping session out again to make sure I get enough rest.

You may find you have to make temporary adjustments to your schedule, too. Experiment and find what works best for you.

If you are struggling with low milk supply, don’t delay! Start cluster pumping today! I went from barely producing 8oz a day to consistently pumping 32-35 oz in only eight weeks!

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




Steps 5-7: My secret weapons for increasing milk production

Steps 5-7: My secret weapons for increasing milk production

First I shared our struggle with breastfeeding and low supply. In the previous post, we talked about how to properly care for your own health. Before we continue, I just want to restate the importance of making sure you are hydrated, getting enough calories, sleeping well, and managing stress. Taking care of your health is the foundation for what comes next.

Today I am going to share with you my secret weapons. When I implemented steps 5-7, my milk production went from barely there to supercharged!

Now I know the phrase “secret weapons” makes it sound like it is an easy, peasy snap-of-the-fingers fix to the low or dwindling milk supply problem. Let me repeat:

I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work.

However, it is true that after I added these three steps, the amount of milk I was pumping each day significantly increased. So let’s get right to the good stuff!

5. Eat lots and lots of oats.

Ancient wisdom passed down through the generations says that oats are good milk-inducers. Now, let me be frank with you, I rarely eat oats. I am not an oats person, and the only way I ate oats growing up was in the form of General Mill’s Cheerios.

Then in 2011 I found out that I cannot eat gluten, so it was harder to find oat cereals that were also gluten-free. (Oats are naturally gluten-free, but there is a lot of cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains during harvesting, transport, and production.)

Oatmeal, you say? I cannot stand oatmeal. Even when I was a kid, I literally could not stomach the stuff. I even somehow managed to avoid having to eat oatmeal when pumping for my first son.

But with Pickle, my supply was so low and diminishing so quickly, I forced myself to start eating gluten-free oatmeal. I hated every bite, but I ate it and continue to eat it for my baby. After two months, I no longer mind it… as long as it is Nature’s Path Gluten-free Spiced Apple + Flax. (What can I say? I’m picky!)

Fortunately, General Mills has found a way to extract gluten-containing contaminants from their oats and now most of their cereals, including regular Cheerios, are gluten-free. And to top it all off, Silk now has a probiotic blend of almond and cashew milk with added oats.

There are also a lot of recipes online for oat-packed smoothies and lactations cookies. With an active toddler, a new baby, and returning to work full-time, I just do not have the time for making my own. Our tight budget and my food allergies also limit my ability to purchase ready-made items.

So I took the easy way. Between the oatmeal, Cheerios, and Silk probiotic blend, I am consuming a lot of oats on a daily basis. Within a few days of starting this high concentration of oats, I began to see an increase in my daily milk output. It was about 1-2 oz increase over a 24-hour period, but for me it felt like a huge win.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

6. Lactation tea is my friend.

Disclaimer: Herbs are drugs and can be dangerous if used improperly. Always consult a medical professional before trying any new herb or drug, especially while breastfeeding. This information is based off personal experience and shared for educational purposes only.

I love tea. I’m a tea drinker.

With my first child, I discovered that there are some herbs you want to avoid while breastfeeding because they can dry you up or can be harmful to the baby. I highly recommend taking a peek at the resource Herbs to avoid while breastfeeding by KellyMom.com.

When I was unprepared for my son’s first growth spurt, I began looking for something to help boost my supply. I discovered lactation tea at a local store and decided to give it a try. I drank one cup of Earth Mama Organic’s Milkmaid Tea daily when increasing my supply and then one cup every other day to maintain. For moms who only need a slight boost or want to maintain their supply, this may be an option you should discuss with your doctor.

With my second child, I first tried herbal supplements like fenugreek, milk thistle, etc., but found that the doses needed to make a difference in my milk supply were too high and caused me to have dizzy spells. Learn from my mistake, do not try these herbal supplements without first consulting a medical professional.

Then I switched to the amazing Pink Stork’s Liquid Gold tea. I drink 1-3 cups of tea a day and saw a boost in my daily production within 24 hours of starting the tea.

What I especially love about Pink Stork’s Liquid Gold is that it is delicious hot or cold, and cold tea is so refreshing here in the desert during the blazing hot summers. I highly recommend this tea for any moms like me who are under-producers and looking for a significant boost in milk production. (Before starting, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.)

Even now at fourteen weeks postpartum when I am consistently pumping between 38oz-42oz a day, I make sure to have at least 1 cup a day… Sometimes two!

7. Replicate cluster feeding when pumping.

If you research increasing milk supply via pumping on the internet, you will find tons and tons of sites and forums tell you to:

  • pump more often
  • pump for longer
  • have a “pump in” over the weekend where you basically pump all the time

Come on. How is this even realistic? I was already pumping every 3 hours on a very, very rigid schedule. I tried making my pumping sessions longer, but it was not working.

My nipples were red, blistery and each pumping session was so painful that I often cried. There was absolutely no way I could do a mega-pump or pump-in over the weekend. (Not to mention, I also had a toddler to care for!)

While pumping, I read a lot and I stumbled upon cluster feeding. Newborns especially but all babies go through periods of dramatic growth (physically and developmentally) at somewhat predictable intervals. (All babies are unique, so some may hit a “growth spurt” earlier or later than others.)

In the days leading up to a growth spurt, babies often switch from a regular eating pattern to what is called cluster feeding. It is when baby, usually in the evenings, eats in ravenous bunches. They may be fussy, hard to console, and consume more milk than usual.

For moms who nurse, they may find that during these periods, baby always wants to be at the breast. This almost-constant nursing by baby triggers the mother’s body to produce more milk. (Think supply and demand. The baby is demanding more milk so the breasts up production.) Babies need this “extra” food to help nourish the physical or development growth spurt.

That is when it dawned on me: us pumping mamas can replicate that cluster feeding and coax our bodies into producing more milk.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

Here is how I replicated cluster feeding via cluster pumping and dramatically increased my own milk supply:

  • Use a double electric pump. I use Medela Pump-in-Style, available in Tote or Backpack or Metro Bag, but any powerful double pump will do.
  • Pump on a regular schedule every 2-3 hours.
  • Pump 6-8 times within a 24-hour period.
  • Choose 3-4 pumping sessions a day to mimic cluster feeding:
    • Pump for 10 minutes.
    • Take a break for 5 minutes.
    • Pump for 10 minutes.
    • Take a break for 5 minutes.
    • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Continue for 2-4 days in a row.
  • Take a 3-4 day break (return to your usual pumping routine).
  • Repeat.

Don’t be discouraged. It takes time.

I discovered how to replicate cluster feeding about 4 weeks postpartum. It took eight weeks to go from a daily output of about 12 oz to 32-35 oz.

You have to be consistent in your pumping schedule. This may mean skipping a social event or taking your pump with you. I have pumped in single occupancy bathrooms, the car, the mother’s room at church, and other unusual places. I am no longer shy about saying: “Sorry, but I have to pump.”

If you are a working mom, you may have to get a bit creative with your schedule. Perhaps instead of cluster pumping in the middle of the day, you cluster pump in the evenings and at night before bed.

Many women find that they produce their largest haul in the morning. If you are getting enough sleep, try adding another early morning pumping session in, especially during the days you are cluster pumping, to take advantage of this “extra” milk.

So here are my three secret weapons: oats, lactation tea, and cluster pumping. In the next post I will share about cluster pumping in more detail and provide an example schedule.

These simple seven steps helped me to increase my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day in just eight weeks! Pumping is hard. So whether you are a part-time pumper or, like me, are an exclusive pumper, it can be very hard to ensure that your supply keeps up with your little one’s needs.

It is my hope that these steps will help you increase or maintain your milk supply as they have helped me.

As of this writing, I am fourteen weeks postpartum and I’m consistently pumping 38-42oz a day. I have returned to work full-time outside the home and am building up a freezer stash with about 5-6oz a day!

If I can do it, you can too. Don’t give up yet.

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




Steps 1-4: Take Care of Your Health

Steps 1-4: Take Care of Your Health

In the introductory post, I shared our struggle with breastfeeding and low supply. I became a pumping Mama through necessity, and it has been a struggle at times. With my second son, my supply plummeted and nearly dried up. I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work by following seven simple steps.

Today I am going to share with you the first four steps, which all have to do with caring for your health.

Yes, Mama, I know it can be very hard to tend to your own needs when you have a new baby, possibly older children, and everything else in your hectic life. I understand! I made the mistake of not taking care of me, and it nearly cost me my milk supply.

Don’t let it happen to you.

So let’s dive right in to the first four steps towards increasing your milk supply.

1. Drink lots of water.

Proper hydration is a key component in milk production. As a busy mom, it is easy to think you are drinking enough fluids when you actually are not. If you live in a hot or dry climate, it is even more important to make sure you are drinking enough.

Some women I have spoken with swear by beverages like Gatorade or Powerade. Personally, those types of drinks mess me up and wreck havoc on my blood sugar. So I prefer just plain ol’ water.

If you are drinking a lot but it still does not seem to be enough, make sure that the water you are drinking has electrolytes, the minerals your body needs to function. (Read more about electrolytes.)

Personally, I did not notice a measurable increase in my milk output after adjusting my water intake, but I felt better. It was a step in the right direction!

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

2. Eat enough calories a day.

A new baby can completely change your daily routine and if you are hyper-focused on the baby’s needs, it can be easy to forget your own. (Guilty as charged!) Make sure you are eating enough calories a day.

Yes, I know, post-baby bodies may be pudgy and loose. You may not look like those celebrity moms who are teeny-tiny again a month after childbirth. You may have gained more weight during pregnancy than you are comfortable with. Your clothes might not fit. You may look in the mirror and want to cry. The struggle is real and it is okay!

Your body took nine or so months to make a human being. This is absolutely amazing! You are absolutely amazing! 

If you want to breastfeed your precious little baby, now is not the time to be trying crash diets, restricting calories, or excessive exercise. Your body is in recovery mode after pregnancy and childbirth and your body requires extra nourishment to be able to make liquid gold for your baby.

Eat enough calories a day, but also try to make healthy choices. A well-balanced diet will help your body make the best milk possible for baby. If you are worried you are loosing too much weight (it happens!) or you are not eating enough calories, try adding a healthy fat like avocados or nuts into your diet.

Breastfeeding, whether pumping or from the tap, can make you extra hungry so keep healthy snacks on hand. I know I reach for protein-packed snacks all the time… nuts, hummus, etc.

Within about five days of regulating my own diet, I had increased my daily milk output by 1-2 oz.

 

3. Get more sleep.

Alright, it is time to get real, Mamas. Sleep. It is almost a dirty word. Who has time to sleep? Baby needs tending, perhaps older children need attention too, and then there are meals to be made, dishes to be washed, a house to clean, and don’t forget about the laundry or grocery shopping!

Perhaps you have a part-time or full-time job to do, too. So you have resigned yourself to barely getting any shut-eye. You might even mumble half-heartedly: Sleep, who needs it?

YOU DO, Mama!

As I learned the hard way, it is not about having the time but making the time.

Two to three hours of sleep on a regular basis is not enough sleep. Your body needs sleep and your mind does, too. If you are one of those Mamas who has gone days or even weeks without proper sleep, you need to make a change today. Seven to eight hours are ideal but try for five to six to start with.

Do whatever you can to get that extra sleep. Ignore the dishes and the dirty living room carpet so you can nap when the baby is napping. Ask your husband to watch the baby in the evenings for an hour or so. Have your mom, sister, best friend, church member come over for a bit.

Turn off that television and computer. Put away the tablet and the cellphone. Blue light from these popular electronics interferes with your body’s ability to fall asleep.

Still not sleepy? Mind won’t shut off? Go for a walk, sit outside in the fresh air, or grab an old-fashion book. (Yes, one you actually have to hold and turn pages!)

When I finally began to sleep more than 3 hours a night (around five and a half weeks post-partum), not only did I feel better but I also saw a slight increase in my daily milk production.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

4. Relieve as much stress as possible.

Ah, stress. My nemesis!

I have discovered with baby #2 that I do not deal with stress as efficiently as I thought. We had a ton of outside stressors hit us after our son was born, and the fact that I nearly lost my milk supply was not helping. Anyone else relate?

I had to go back to the basics when it came to dealing with stress properly. Fortunately, I was already addressing a key factor when I began to get adequate sleep. With being more rested, I was able to handle stressful situations more effectively without feeling overwhelming or having an emotional meltdown.

I also had to determine stressors and either fix the situation or decide to just let it go. It is not easy but you will feel much better if you properly manage your stress.

During the time I was working on my stress management, my supply was slowly increasing. So while I cannot give a certain amount that my milk supply increased, addressing and relieving my unnecessary stress did help.

 

These first four steps are all about getting your own health back in focus. While the gains in actual milk output are often not dramatically large, you need to make sure you are hydrated, eating enough calories, sleeping enough, and properly managing stress.

In the next post, I’ll go into my three secret weapons that really sent my milk production into overdrive!

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




How I Increased My Milk Supply in 8 Weeks

How I Increased My Milk Supply in 8 Weeks

Hi there, breastfeeding Mama!

Do you pump breastmilk to provide nourishment for your baby?

Do you struggle with low milk supply?

Are you afraid your milk is drying up?

Are you ready to give up?

I can relate big time.

Don’t give up just yet! First, hear me out.

Our story

My dreams of an idyllic breastfeeding experience were shattered when my first son, Peanut, was born small and with a severe tongue tie. He was unable to nurse on his own until he was thirteen weeks old, and even then it was very irregular.

Read about Our Breastfeeding Journey.

So on Day 1 with Peanut, I was thrust into the world of a pumping Mama!

I had no clue what I was doing, and unfortunately, I did not have much guidance. My mom breastfed my sisters and I without a problem, and my older sister was able to pump for only a short time before the demands of her full-time emergency room nursing job brought that to an end.

But I was blessed with a nine-week maternity leave and an office job that was flexible enough, despite the occasional challenge, to continue pumping.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

Still I had to learn on my own, and I discovered that there are not a lot of resources available for moms who pump exclusively.

Let me clarify: there are a lot of resources for mothers who breastfeed via nursing and pump a little extra on the side, but few resources for those of us who only pump. After all, the biggest tip for breastfeeding moms who are nursing and worried about low supply is to: nurse, nurse, nurse!

But for us pumping moms, that does not always work for us. At least, pumping more frequently and for longer periods of time did not work for me. I tried. I end up with sore, blistered nipples and no milk gain to show for it!

Us pumping moms also get discouraged when we read things like:

  • If baby is hungry, baby will eat.
  • Low milk supply is exceptionally rare or a myth or [fill in the blank].
  • Pumping is not as effective at drawing out milk as babies are.
  • Pumping over time can lead to a decrease in supply.

It is not like most of us are pumping because we enjoy it. After all, pumping is full of challenges! Maybe you work or maybe your baby cannot nurse. Few women willingly choose the hardship of pumping over nursing when nursing is a viable option.

Most of us do it because it is our only option if we want to give our babies the benefits of breastmilk.

Pumping exclusively is a struggle. Sometimes I did well. I even built up a tiny stash in the freezer! Sometimes I did not pump enough milk and we supplemented.

But through hard work, determination, and plenty of tears we made it to ten months!

Our older son was born full term but very tiny with a severe tongue tie. Here he is on Day 3, before leaving the hospital. The image at the top of the page is him at a very plump and well-fed seven-months-old!

When our second son, Pickle, was born, I eagerly anticipated that beautiful breastfeeding experience I was unable to have with Peanut. But when he had not regained his birth weight by his two week appointment, it was clear that I would have to start pumping again.

Read more about our Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two.

Unfortunately, by the time I started pumping, my milk supply had already suffered and plummeted. At my lowest point, during Week 3 postpartum, I barely managed to get 8 oz of milk in a 24-hour period. Pickle, meanwhile, was consuming on average 25 oz a day. While I struggled with my diminishing supply, we supplemented with donated breastmilk and formula.

I tried everything I had done while pumping with my first and a ton of new tips, but nothing was working. My baby was not even a month old, and I seriously thought about just throwing in the towel.

Because he knew how important breastfeeding was to me, my husband encouraged me not to give up. Family and friends cheered me up, too. “A little breast milk is better than none at all,” they reminded me. Though I wondered if the tiny amount I was getting really was worth all of the hassle and pain.

There had to be a better way!

I increased my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day in just 8 weeks and you can too! Click To Tweet

Our solution

I dried my eyes and started over. I began researching and experimenting.

Over the next eight weeks, I was able to increase my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day!

Baby Pickle at seven weeks old. Photo by Jacquelyn.
Our younger son had not regained his birth weight after two weeks due to my dwindling milk supply. Here he is at seven weeks, well-fed and content.

If you are reading this, you might be struggling with a low milk supply, too. Mama, I am going to share with you what worked for me. I hope it helps you as well.

Let me be clear upfront: there is no magic to instantaneously increase your milk in a dramatic way. It will take some time and trial-and-error to find what works for you.

You can even experience differences in production with each child you have. Sometimes physical challenges with baby (like my son’s tongue tie) can cause problems. Sometimes our own physical health — hormones, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, severe stress — can be the root of the low supply problem. If you suspect any such problems, reach out to a medical professional: your doctor, your child’s pediatrician, or a lactation consultant.

I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work by following seven simple steps.

  1. Drink more water
  2. Eat more calories
  3. Get more sleep!
  4. Relieve stress
  5. Oats, the wonder food
  6. Lactation tea is my friend
  7. Replicate cluster feeding when pumping

In the next few posts, I will explain each step in detail and how it effected my own supply. This is for informational purposes.

Click here to download my Seven Simple Steps to Increasing Your Milk Supply

If breastfeeding is what you want for your baby, it is worth it the time and energy. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this will work a hundred percent of the time. There are some health conditions and/or medications that may contribute to low supply or cause milk to dry up. If you suspect this may be the case in your situation, consult your doctor. There are some prescriptions drugs that might assist with lactation in these cases.

And let me add that it is perfectly ok if you have decided to stop breastfeeding altogether. Perhaps you have a medical condition that makes it extremely difficult or an experience that has taken the joy out of you. Breastfed, formula fed — what matters the most is that baby is fed and gaining the appropriate weight!

However, if you are healthy, struggling with low supply, and want to continue breastfeeding, these seven steps worked for me and my dwindling milk supply. I truly hope that by sharing my struggles and what I discovered worked for me, you may be encouraged in your own breastfeeding journey. I hope it will work for you, too.

If you desire to breastfeed your precious little one and are willing to put in the time and hardwork, give these steps a try! Progress was barely noticeable at first and it did take me eight weeks to go from under-producing to being a just-right-producing Mama.

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




The Challenges of Pumping

The Challenges of Pumping

Long before I had children of my own, I knew I wanted to breastfeed any children I might have. I did not know what that would look like in a practical sense, I just figured breastfeeding was natural so it would happen smoothly. I was optimistically naive.

After our son was born, I discovered that breastfeeding is not always smooth. Due to complications, I pumped exclusively for the first three months… Well, almost exclusively. There were two different short periods where we had to supplement with formula and fortified goat’s milk.

Around the time our son was finally able to nurse on his own, I went back to work full time so I continued to pump during the day and nursed overnight and in the mornings.

I am going to be blunt: pumping is hard.

No, seriously.

There is no way to sugar-coat the reality that pumping, whether exclusively or routinely during working hours, can seem to be an insurmountable challenge wrapped in many obstacles and sprinkled with discouragement.

But through it all, I am so grateful I was able to pump for ten months.

I was fortunate in many ways:

1. I had 9 weeks of complete maternity leave and then 3 weeks of part-time before returning to work full-time. Many women here in the United States only get three weeks and any additional days their saved vacation and sick hours might provide.

The wellness room at my office and my Medela Pump-in-Style (Tote).

2. My office has a private wellness room with a lock, power outlet, side table, and comfortable chair that was perfect for pumping, and occasionally when someone else was using the wellness room, I had access to a private unisex bathroom with an power outlet and long counter. Many women do not have a private place to pump and have to make do with storage rooms or their cars. Or the only room available is a long distance from their actual place of work.

3. Most days, unless there were multiple meetings, I was able to pump three times throughout my work day for twenty minutes each. Many women are limited by rigid work schedules and can only use their regular ten-minute breaks (if they get breaks at all) and lunch time.

4. My supervisor was very supportive of my decision to pump and as considerate of the time I needed as a boss could be. On very busy days, I would take a small work laptop with me to the wellness room to continue working while I pumped. On light days, I used the pumping time to relax or doze. Many women do not have supportive supervisors/managers and are pressured into stopping pumping (and often complete breastfeeding) earlier then they intended.

To all of the mothers out there who have chosen to pump in order to provide breastmilk for their infants, you have my greatest respect and sympathies. No matter if it was for a month or a year, you sacrificed many hours worth of sleep, many comforts, and suffered indignities and awkward moments for your precious child. He or she may never fully understand your sacrifice, but let me speak on their behalf: “Thank you!” and “It is worth it.”

To give everyone a small glimpse into what life is like when you are pumping, here are some challenges that a pumping mother faces.

+ Hearing variations of the “You’re not breastfeeding?” question (often accompanied by looks of disapproval) whenever you pull out a bottle of your own milk to feed the baby in public.

+ Trying to avoid the unsolicited follow-up advice on how to get your baby to breastfeed, as if you have not tried everything already.

+ Having to lug a pump and all of its accessories (bottles, caps, cleaning wipes, etc.) around with you every time you leave the house because you have to pump every 2-3 hours to provide enough food for your baby and to keep your supply from dropping.

+ Trying to find a private place to pump while away from the house and feeling very awkward because it takes 15-20 minutes just to pump. Flanges, bottles, tubes, etc. is not as easy to unpack and pack again and require rinsing/cleaning to stay sanitary.

+ Having to spend money on enough bottles and nipples to cover pumping and storage, plus a bottle brush, special soap that breaks down the residue breastmilk leaves behind, and a rack for drying everything.

+ Losing even more sleep than usual because, after feeding the hungry baby a bottle, you have to go spend about half an hour pumping… every 2-3 hours.

+ Figuring out how to even use the pump, what size flanges to use, how low/high to have the suction, etc. Reading tutorials and guides online do not always help and it is often a process of (painful) trial and error.

+ Having to miss visits with family and friends or fun outings because of either your pumping schedule or because you forget an important piece of your pump. Did I mention you have to pump every 2-3 hours? Oh, I did.

+ Using lots of nipple cream to ease the soreness.

+ Experiencing engorgement if you don’t pump often enough, blocked ducts, blebs (milk blisters) and real blisters. Crying into your pillow or in the shower because of the pain.

+ Being forced to skip a pumping session, then suffering from the pressure of the milk building up in your breasts or leaking.

+ Constantly worrying if your baby is getting enough, tracking the milk expressed down to the milliliter or ounce, and fretting when a pumping session results in less milk then usual.

+ Doing tons of research and trying so many things… including herbal teas… every time your milk supply decreases in an often futile effort to reach whatever time goal you had for breastfeeding. And every time you think you can stretch the time between pumps to four hours, your supply plummets and you desperately go back to every 2-3 hours.

+ All those awkward moments: lugging a heavy pump with you everywhere you go, sitting in your car with a small hand pump trying to express milk while your hand cramps and milk spills because you cannot keep it suctioned right, or sitting in the nursery at church trying to pump really quickly so your crying baby can eat and people (including men) keep walking in to “talk”.

 

Every woman’s experience is unique. Some women have amply supply of milk and do not have to pump as frequently. Some women, like myself, struggle with low supply. Some women are able to push through the obstacles and make it to their breastfeeding goals. Others are forced by their circumstances to stop breastfeeding early.

No matter your situation, I want you to know that you are a wonderful mother. Pumping is hard, and yet there are many women who are courageous and selfless enough to face the many challenges, whether due to circumstances or choice.

At least for me, it was all worth it. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. In fact, I might have to do it all over again with Baby #2.

Update: Yes, I had to pump again with Baby #2. Read more about our Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two, and How I increased my milk supply in 8 weeks.

To those who have never had to pump, let me just give you a little word of advice: next time you see a mother give her infant a bottle, don’t judge. First of all, you have no idea what the food in the bottle is. It could be expressed breastmilk or it could be formula, and either one is absolutely fine.

You also have no idea the emotional rollercoaster that mother has been experiencing since the birth of her child. One judgmental look or condescending comment can literally be the nudge that pushes her over the edge of discouragement and into depression.

If you really care about that new mother, ask if there is anything you can do to help ease her burdens. Offer to come over to clean her bathroom(s) or cook dinner or vacuum the living room or watch her little one for an hour while she naps. That is how you show you care.