Being an EPer: Exclusively Pumping for My Twins
I will preface this with a simple request – I make it a policy not to judge moms for how they choose to feed their babies and I hope you’ll do the same. Now that I’m 8 and a half months into Exclusively Pumping, I’m finally at a place where I feel ready to talk about it. This is something deeply personal to me, something I've shied away from talking about here but if I don't start this conversation, no one might. As a mom, I often get asked if I bottle feed or breastfeed. The answer is both and neither, depending on how you define those categories. My babies are breastfed because they are fed breast milk. They are bottle fed because they are fed from a bottle. But if you mean, "Are they nursed?" No, they are not. If you mean, "Are they formula fed?" No, they are not. I get asked why I didn't nurse, why I didn't try. I get asked why I go to the trouble of pumping. And the fact of the matter is - I don't owe them, or you, an explanation. Pumping has worked for us, it has fed my babies, and I'm proud of the work I do to make that happen. But this isn't about me defending myself, about explaining myself, this is about me, Sara, sharing my pumping experience with you.
During my pregnancy, I was positive that I would be a tandem nursing twin mama. I got a twin nursing pillow, I read all of the blog posts, articles, books. I was “ready.” It wouldn’t be that hard, right? (Wrong.) My babies were born extremely healthy, despite the odds stacked against them, between being multiples and my Type-1 Diabetes. However, Wyatt’s lungs aspirated during my C-section and he was taken back to the NICU to be monitored and to be on oxygen. So, I had a baby in my room, and a baby in NICU. I could nurse Jude but since Wyatt wasn’t in my room and because I couldn’t get out of bed until the next day, I would have to pump for as well so both of my babies could get my milk, or colostrum at that point. I decided that until they were both with me, I would pump and we’d deal with nursing when I could work with them both.
My first couple of weeks postpartum were really hard for me. My body was sore from carrying twins and from surgery. I was absolutely exhausted. And I was outrageously hormonal and emotional. My whole life seemed foreign, difficult, and blurry. We tried nursing some in the hospital, but I mostly pumped, every three hours, for 25 minutes, 8 times a day. I was told by a lactation consultant that even if I gave nursing full time a shot, I would have to continue to pump after I nursed so that my babies were full. (Wrong) That took about 30 minutes per baby. So every hour and a half, I was spending an hour and a half lactating. I was exhausted and defeated by breastfeeding. I saw no light at the end of the tubing, er, tunnel. I could pump for 25 minutes and make enough milk for my babies to eat with some left over then I didn't have to be constantly attached to something or somebody for 12 hours a day, and I might actually get a little rest in between pumping sessions. And even though all I wanted to do was nurse my babies, I didn't feel like I had it in me to get over the hump of transitioning from pumping to nursing.
And it wasn't just the time consumption of pumping. It was really painful to nurse Wyatt. We went to lactation clinics, tried and tried and tried, but I was beginning to dread nursing him and it didn't feel like we were making much progress. It seemed I had two options for my sanity and well-being. Either pump for one, and nurse the other. Or pump for both. So I pump for both of my babies.
And even after a 6-week long bout of thrush, 400 ounces of breast milk being thrown away because of misinformation, mastitis twice, my supply dropping and having to supplement with my own freezer stash, working so hard to reestablish my supply, I have still been able to give my babies my breast milk for 8 and a half months old now. And because I’m lucky enough to be an over-supplier, even with twins, I was able to donate 600 ounces last month to a baby girl about the boys’ age. I am able to exclusively breastfeed my babies, even if it’s in an unconventional way.
I was given a lot of misinformation about breastfeeding, and I think that's why I'm here. Nursing my babies was something I was really excited for. But I didn’t get that. And I’m so grateful for the milk my body provides for my boys, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t feel a loss for something I so wish I had gotten to experience. But here we are – 8 and a half months later. I’m still pumping. The boys are still breastfed. And I know now what to expect, so I might get to have a different experience with a future baby. Sometimes it’s really hard. l just want to go to sleep sometimes instead of staying up until 11 to pump again before tomorrow morning. I get tired of the more than a gallon of water I drink a day to keep my supply up. I get tired of being attached to a boob vacuum for 3-5 hours a day, every day. By the time this is all said and done, I will have spent more than 1,500 hours pumping. That’s about 2 months of my life. “At least they get breast milk!” everyone says. And yes – at least they get breast milk! But it will never be the same as getting to hold my babes and nurse them like I always hoped I could.
Now, is it always hard? No. It’s really become something I do every day and so I’d say 70% of the time, I don’t mind. It’s just another thing I do like folding laundry or sweeping the floor. And it is worth it 100% of the time. I am working to forgive the pump. I look at this as a means to making my babies healthy and happy and I am thankful to my body for making that happen.
So that’s my story. That’s why I pump. Pumping takes commitment and it takes consistency. I’m just now transitioning to 4 pumps a day, but I thought I’d share with you the schedules I’ve used as I’ve migrated down from 8 pumps per day.
After my boys became mobile, I started trying my best to pump when they were asleep, or right after they ate and I could put them in the jumpers. A mobile baby and a mom attached to the wall do not a good combination make. Sometimes it’s not always possible, but it really takes makes those 25 minutes less stressful. I now wake up at 6 when Tomas does to pump before the boys wake up at 7 or 7:30. I pump during each of their 2 naps, after they go to sleep, and then once before I go to sleep.
Until they were three months old, I pumped 8 times a day to make sure my supply was established. After that, I started to reduce pumps, one at a time, and will do that until I’m weaned around 13 months postpartum when I plan to wean. I’ve made a handy little image for quick reference, in case you think this schedule might also work for you. I’m planning to be weaned by 13 Months Postpartum because I have frozen milk in the freezer if I need it.
Please know that the image above is great for over-suppliers who are able to begin weaning before their designated pumping goal. I am not a medical professional, so please speak with your registered lactation consultant if you have questions regarding your specific situation.
Looking at that schedule now actually makes the next 3 and half months seem like a piece of cake compared to the many, many times I’ve pumped up until now. It’s a bittersweet thing to know I’ll soon be weaning. I love being able to provide my babies with breast milk, but I also will love having my body back and having those precious hours back to spend more quality time with my babies and my husband. I also won’t miss the pumping dishes – because, let me tell you, it’s bad.
Anyway, stay tuned for tomorrow! I’ll be back with my pumping must haves – things that are great for any breastfeeding mom!