February 27, 2024

How I Survived the Hell That Is Exclusive Pumping and How You Can Too

I knew the facts: most new mothers struggle to feed their newborns in the beginning. But there’s more at play than just your milk not coming in.

Manually squeezing out colostrum is kind of like working with a lip pimple that makes you squirm with each pinch, except when you’re yanking at the nipple in a hospital setting, looking up at your partner for some sort of head nod to indicate that your technique looks right – as if they’d know! – the whole thing is just that much more stressful.

Getting my lanky 22 1/2-inch-long daughter to latch on days one, two, three, and beyond was more than just a struggle, though. She’d arch her back and flail her head left and right, occasionally latching. Then she’d suck with the intensity of a Dyson vacuum, at which point I’d gasp, hold my breath, and shut my eyes. Just get to 10 seconds. One. . . two. . . three. . . Then I’d yank her off and wipe my tears.

Football hold. Cradle hold. Crossover hold. Nipple shield. Boppy. Breast friend. The tools and techniques changed hourly, but our dance always ended the same. I’d count to 10, yank her off, and we’d both cry, but for different reasons. Then I’d find my breast pump and shove my battered nipples into the plastic tubes of misery and jump with each tug, occasionally pumping each boob separately in order to nurse one back to health.

I saw two lactation specialists and a dermatologist – skin infections on the nipple or areola are occasionally the culprit – and everyone came up baffled as to why it was so wildly painful when my little gal nursed. There was no tongue tie and no infection. Just a lot of experts shrugging their shoulders saying variations of, “It should not be this painful,” or, “It really should have gotten easier for you by now,” and, “I’m really surprised these small cuts haven’t healed. ”

Me and you both.

With my daughter’s body weight on a continued dip, I followed a lactation specialist’s advice and started pumping. Exclusively. Unlike “regular” moms who typically nurse at the boob and only pump to either store milk, relieve pressure, or make a bottle so someone else can handle a feeding, I was only going to pump. And given the relationship I’d already developed with my pump – I found it equally as painful as nursing, except with the pump, I was in control of the pain – I knew I needed to change some things.

My holy lactation specialist told me that for my own sanity, I should only pump eight times a day for 20 minutes max. I had been pumping 10 to 12 times a day for 30 minutes at a time to build my supply, which goes against the advice you read online, but my letdown wasn’t happening until about 20 minutes in. So I had to pump for 30 minutes in order to collect anything worth pouring into a bottle.

The first few months of exclusive pumping felt like nothing short of house arrest. Day and night bled into each other. I spent my time oscillating between feeding my daughter with a bottle and being strapped into my hospital-grade Spectra S2 breast pump, connected to the wall by a six-foot-long power cord with no give. Pumping the prescribed eight times a day for my needed 30 minutes meant 240 minutes – that’s four hours – and that didn’t include bottle making, bottle cleanup, or the days when I had to pump one boob at a time (so an hour) because of a clogged duct.

While my journey of becoming my daughter’s number one milk supplier was less than traditional (I cannot tell you how many mothers would dip their chins at me when I told them I was exclusively pumping and say, “Oh my God, I could never do that”), I’m almost six months in and have a better understanding of what really works for me.

If you’re playing around with the idea of EPing, here are a few things that might help you along the way.

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