By Fatima (@fatimawrites_)
When I was pregnant, I was open minded about breastfeeding, pumping and formula feeding. As a first time mum, I spoke to family, friends and watched mummy bloggers online sharing their baby feeding experiences to gather a wider understanding. I wanted to set my expectations and welcome all possible outcomes.
When the baby was born and the midwives asked if I wanted her to latch, I of course said yes and she did! Those first few weeks are a blur but I did try and get to grips with breastfeeding as my milk came in very quickly. It was going well and baby Safiyyah seemed to be quite settled.
The loneliness started to hit me
We have a big family so we had a lot of visitors and whenever the baby needed a feed, I’d have to go upstairs. This is when loneliness started to hit me.
I didn’t feel comfortable feeding in front of anyone apart from my husband, mum, sister and sister-in-law (even with a nursing cover) but I really admire those who can.
I started using a Haakaa pump from week one so that I could introduce a bottle of expressed milk to Safiyyah if we had people over or when we left the house.
Expressing, so I didn’t have to feed in front of people
Safiyyah took to a bottle really well and there wasn’t any nipple confusion, one of the many things you are told about before you are discharged from the hospital. We used MAM Anti-Colic Bottles with a size 0 teat as they were one of the most recommended by combi-feeding mums.
I began using the Haakaa whenever I breastfed Safiyyah so I could catch any let down milk. It’s one of the best hacks, in my opinion! It was also great to use as a general pump for those early days – especially if you’re bursting and the baby isn’t quite ready for a feed.
Managing your milk supply can be difficult in those early days, especially with your first. I would make sure I’d either feed or express every 2-3 hours to ensure I kept on top of my supply.
Eventually I got to a point where I was able to give Safiyyah one bottle of expressed milk a day, to replace a feed. This meant that someone else could give her the bottle so I could have a break as well as enjoy the company we had or feel less anxious about feeding whilst I’m out and about.
I borrowed my sister’s pump, the MAM Single Electric and Manual Breast Pump (there’s a double version too) and that was brilliant. It would take a while as it was a single pump but I’d always make time to pump in the mornings and evenings so I could start building a freezer stash and ensure I had the one bottle a day, especially as the baby’s appetite grew and more milk was needed.
To store and freeze milk I used the Lansinoh breast milk storage bags and for the fridge I quite liked the Beaba multi-use pots (can be reused for weaning later) as they had measurement labels on them.
Feeling emotionally, physically and mentally drained
We hit the 3-week milestone and the witching hour phase began. And witching hour wasn’t just one hour, it was between 9pm-1am every night and Safiyyah was very unsettled.
Cluster feeding, multiple nappy changes, winding, rocking and bouncing…I was exhausted. When she did it every night for a week, I felt emotionally, physically and mentally drained. We ended up warming a bottle of expressed milk so my husband could feed her, and it ended the fussing.
I started to wonder if the emotional stress was getting to me and damaging my milk supply. Also, I was much happier feeding her via a bottle since she seemed to settle better and we all felt calmer.
The next day I decided to pump all of Safiyyah’s feeds. Everytime she was due a feed, I’d pump and feed her a bottle right before or at the same time (or someone else would!)
The first day went so well. I was able to get enough for all of her feeds and the evening was so much more manageable as I was calmer, she was calmer and overall the experience was positive compared to the previous days. I was sold.
I began Googling exclusive pumping to try to figure out how I could do this and how realistic it was. Breastfeeding is hormonal and a pump removes the emotional bond and connection, making it more difficult to produce milk. I couldn’t find a lot of information so I felt like I was winging it but one of the first things I knew I needed to do was upgrade my pump.
I decided to invest in one of the best in the market; the Medela Freestyle Flex. It’s an electric double pump that a lot of pumping mums highly recommend and I can see why people love it!
A week went by of exclusive pumping and I pumped every 2-3 hours in the day and once during the night too. However, I suddenly started to feel super lethargic. I began to notice lumps in my breasts and I thought it could be the start of mastitis. I bought these hot compress pads to try and unblock the milk ducts. I developed a fever and when I couldn’t cope with the discomfort, I called 111 out of hours, who prescribed me antibiotics for mastitis.
The infection reduced my milk supply but the antibiotics started to kick in quite quickly. After a couple of weeks I was feeling well again and my pumping routine went back to normal.
I continued to pump every 2-3 hours to keep up with all of the growth spurts and feeds. I also began to build up a freezer stash that I planned to use towards the end of my breastfeeding journey or during weaning.
Three months in
By three months, my body had adjusted to pumping every 3 hours in the day and I’d stopped pumping at night. I kept a close eye for any blocked ducts and mastitis symptoms!
When it came to working out how many ounces to offer for each feed, it was a case of trial and error. The average exclusively breast milk fed baby aged between 1 and 6 months takes in 25oz in 24 hours. So you can divide this by the number of feeds, or use this handy calculator here!
I used a rough calculation of 1oz per hour between feeds. However, demand feeding is still important and so I would give her enough milk to ensure she was always content. If she finished a bottle fully, I’d add an extra oz next time.
After 3 months of exclusively pumping, I introduced one bottle of formula a day.
Introducing formula and weaning off exclusively pumping
At 5.5 months I felt our breastfeeding story was coming to an end and I made the transition to fully formula feeding.
Weaning off of exclusively pumping is hard. There isn’t much info out there, the health visitor wasn’t educated on it and I didn’t know any other mothers who were exclusively pumping to ask for advice.
I decided to reduce the minutes in each pumping session by 1 minute each day, starting with the middle of the day pumps, then the night pump, leaving morning until last. You have to be really strategic with your planning when it comes to stopping exclusively pumping and keep an eye out for pesky blocked ducts!
The Haakaa pump came in handy during this period too as it helped relieve me whilst dropping feeds without having to use my main pump. The Lansinoh hot & cold pads were also a life saver!
Overall, I quite enjoyed my breastfeeding story. Exclusively pumping and combi-feeding wasn’t what I ever thought I’d do but I wouldn’t have it any other way now. I was happy, my baby was happy and at the end of the day, that’s what matters. Happy mum = happy baby!
Fatima’s Exclusively Pumping Must-Haves