Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Breastfeeding: Life as an Exclusive Pumper

Breastfeeding: feeding from the breast. 

I can't believe I've been exclusively pumping for almost 6 months now. For those who don't know, "exclusively pumping" is the term used for those who 100% express or pump milk to feed to their baby. Technically, this is still breastfeeding since you feed from the breast, but it's not feeding on the breast, which is called nursing. Does that make sense? I hope so. I figured I'd get that out of the way since exclusive pumpers usually get a bad rep for not letting their baby latch. There are many reasons why moms decide to exclusively pump (latching issues, work, inverted nipples, postpartum depression, etc.) - what people should realize is that it's not their business how moms decide to feed their baby. Everyone is different - what works for you may not necessarily work for me. Some moms have a lot of breastmilk, some have little, and some have none. What's important is that the mom is doing what's best for her baby, it can be breastmilk, it can be formula. I truly believe "fed is best". If a mom can't provide her baby with breastmilk, she shouldn't be judged and looked down upon for giving her baby formula. Would you rather she force the baby to latch and suck on nothing instead? No, right?

When I gave birth to Hope in January, I wanted to direct feed, to nurse her, and feed on demand. However, we had issues with latching resulting to her losing 18% of her total weight by week one. Hope's pediatrician told us that it's normal to lose 10% on the first week (babies normally gain it back after a month), but 18%? That's just too much. I resorted to pumping immediately after, but I didn't know about different pumps and flange sizes then. I used a 6-year old pump with the wrong flange size for two months, and as a result, I had very low milk supply. I met with a lactation consultant numerous times to help me with my clogged ducts and have tried latching even at 3 and 4 months to no avail. I badly wanted to nurse but it just wasn't in the cards for me. I cried a lot during the first few months. I felt like I wasn't a good mom for not being able to nurse Hope. I felt useless, worthless

With a ton of research and help from friends, I eventually purchased my own pump with the correct sized flange and pumped religiously every single day just to be what moms call an "enougher". What that means is that I produce just enough for Hope's daily needs. I've also been supplementing with moringa capsules and lactation treats (which is probably the reason why I haven't lost much of the pregnancy weight oops) I don't have a huge freezer stash like other moms, but I'm proud to say that I have been able to donate breastmilk to a mom with triplets once and if my math is correct, currently have about 1,000oz set aside for future use.

I'm so, so thankful to be able to give Hope breastmilk on a daily basis, but as with everything, exclusively pumping has its pros and cons. Sharing them below:


1. I control when and where I want to pump. 

With nursing, you have to be ready to feed anywhere and anytime your baby is hungry. With pumping, you can set your own schedule, prepare bottles, and feed as needed. I know they say to normalize breastfeeding in public but I live with my in-laws, I would rather they see me fully clothed at all times. Hehe. Also, this ensures that when Hope gets older, she won't see me as milking machine. I won't have to deal with her coming up to me and suddenly pulling down my shirts just to feed (I know this happens quite often to nursing moms).

2. Anyone can feed her.

Since Hope drinks breastmilk from a bottle, pretty much anyone can feed her. It doesn't have to be me all the time, like if I were nursing. At least with this, I'm able to sneak in short breaks in between pumps, do other things, and get more sleep at night (provided, of course, someone else takes on the middle of the night feedings as well).

3. Pumping helped me feel more at ease.

As I mentioned earlier, Hope lost a lot of weight on her first week. At the time, I thought she had been feeding well since she would suck on my breast for 30 minutes, sometimes even longer. Apparently, her latch was shallow so she'd get very little at each feeding despite all her efforts to suck. What happens is that she'll eventually get tired and just fall asleep. With pumping, I can monitor how much she drinks at a time and be able to say at the end of the day if she needs to drink more or if it's already enough based on her current weight.

4. I don't have to deal with my nipples getting bitten or pulled at every feeding.

I've read horror stories of how babies would play with their mom's nipples - from biting to chewing to pinching them. I'm thankful I don't have to deal with that. Sure, I can still have sore and cracked nipples when pumping (especially if the suction is on high all the time) but the pain, at least I imagine, is minimal compared to when toddlers bite and play with your nipples while they are teething. That can't be fun, right? 😅

5. I can donate and store breastmilk for emergency/future use.

I mentioned earlier in this post how I've been able to donate some breastmilk to a mom with triplets. If I were nursing, I wouldn't have been able to do so unless I actually went to their house and had the babies latch to me one by one. Pumping also helps me build my milk stash so once I have enough, I can actually start weaning and focus more of my time on Hope (rather than spend four hours of my day attached to my Spectra).


1. Pumping is more costly than nursing. 

Things you'll need as an exclusive pumper: a hospital-grade electric pump, milk bottles, milk storage bags, a freezer (especially if you have an oversupply), a milk catcher, a pumping bra, a breastfeeding massager.. the list goes on. Nursing moms, on the other hand, don't really have to prepare anything. They just take out their breast once it's time to feed.

2. You have to pump regularly to maintain your supply. 

Being an exclusive pumper, I needed to pump eight times a day to let my body know that it needs to keep producing milk. That means I've been pumping every 3 hours for the last 6 months. Even though I'm a stay-at-home mom, I haven't been able to do this 100% of the time - the hardest to follow are my middle of the night (MOTN) pumps because I keep snoozing my alarms.. sometimes, I even completely sleep through them. 😅 Last week, I decided to try and drop my MOTN pump so I could get at least 4 hours of straight sleep. Still waiting to see how it affects my supply. 

3. You're tied to a schedule.

Maintaining your supply is definitely hard work. Since you have to pump regularly, this will unfortunately mean constantly working things around your pumping schedule. I started with the following: 12mn, 3am, 6am, 9am, 12nn, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, but it coincides with lunch (12nn) and dinner (6pm) at my mom's house, so I've moved everything an hour later, but then it affects the eating times at home with my in-laws. Now that I've removed my MOTN pump, my new schedule is 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm. I'm really hoping this works out since I've been enjoying sleeping more at night.

4. Washing bottles and pump parts can be time-consuming.

Probably one of the worst things about pumping is having to wash everything afterwards. In the Philippines, dishwashers aren't common, so we wash everything manually (yes, with our hands). At home, we also make sure to sterilize everything using a steamer/dryer or a UV sterilizer afterwards. I'm so thankful that we now have help to do this for us, otherwise, the little free time I have will be spent in front of the sink.

5. Pumping can be really inconvenient.

In connection with 2, 3, and 4, pumping can be a huge pain in the butt since you have to lug everything around just to make sure you get that pump in when needed. My husband and I can't go out whenever since I only have a 3-hour window in between pumps. Whenever we visit my parents' house, we have to bring my pump, milk bottles, pumping bra - heck, we even take our steamer and UV sterilizer with us so that we can wash things while we're there. The last time I went out, it was to apply for a national ID. I had planned on pumping in the car if the wait was too long (of course it was) so I asked the lady if I could pump first, but when I got to the car, it turns out I had forgotten the flanges and bottles to pump in at home. It took us another 3 hours to get home which meant it had already been 6 hours since my last pump. I was so stressed, you guys. Haha. Missing pumps can negatively affect your supply, so you really have to follow your schedule religiously. 

6. Baby has no "special" bond with mom.

Breastfeeding is the most powerful form of interaction between the mother and the infant. Due to the physical closeness, the baby is more close to the mother than to anyone else in the family. (source) I take it "breastfeeding" here means nursing, so the fact that anyone can feed Hope means I don't get to have that special bond with her. It makes me sad to think about it since I've always thought I'd be nursing when I got to this stage in my life. But you know, you really just have to make the most of whatever life throws at you. So no matter how tired I am, I always make sure to spend time with Hope.


I hope this post gives you an idea of how hard exclusive pumpers have it. It is NOT a way out. We don't pump just because latching hurts (although some moms might, but that's rarely the case). There could be many different reasons for this as I mentioned, so I hope people can stop shaming moms for pumping rather than nursing. To each his own, please. Latching doesn't make you the better mom. Having an oversupply doesn't make you the better mom. Being a stay-at-home mom doesn't make you the better mom. We each have to deal with our own circumstances and we make the most of what life throws at us. If you have anything you'd like to share about your breastfeeding/pumping journey, feel free to share them below :)
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