Start here: Every woman’s body is different. There is no exact answer or equation that leads to breastfeeding success for all. Some women are able, some are not, and that’s just how it is. With that said, I want to share my experience with exclusive pumping and how it helped me in my goal of only Mama’s milk for my girls’ first year. And I hope this will shed more light on a method that most women probably don’t think of as a legit option.
When I found out I was pregnant with triplets, I started researching tips for nursing multiple babies. I had always planned on nursing each of my babies for at last the first year, but how would I know they’d come by the threes?! After some googling and almost being scarred for life (YIKES), I discovered plenty of women who had successfully nursed their multiples! It’s a thing! I was game and ready for the challenge. I always love a good challenge.
When asked about my “plans” for feeding them (I mean, come on people, why ask that?), I got so many remarks like, “You’re not going to try to nurse them, are you?” and honestly, it was a little disheartening. I have the type of personality that flares up when someone implies I can’t do something but, I mean, let’s be honest, being pregnant with triplets already made me a spectacle. Nursing the three babies? That’s the kind of stuff you see on TLC.
Instead of worrying much about it, I decided early on that I would devote time into research and learning. I would equip myself with as much knowledge as possible to at least give it my best try. And then, if it was too much or just wasn’t happening, I would be OK with it. I could only do so much, and due to my history with PCOS I honestly didn’t expect my body to produce much milk at all. Boy, was I wrong.
My relationship with the pump started early on. Since my babies were born at 33 weeks and 2 days, they had to spend some time in the NICU. My lactation consultant told me the best thing I could do to encourage production was to pump on a schedule similar to when the babies would be eating if they were nursing. So I made a schedule for pumping every three hours and stuck to it. I was actually able to nurse my girls the day after they were born! They were little champs and ate so well, especially for preemies. But I still had to pump to encourage more of a supply, since they could only take so much
Between nursing and pumping those first couple months, I literally had no time for anything else. In between the babies eating, I pumped. Then they woke up and it was time to nurse again. Because they were so little and weight-gain was so crucial, I had to offer bottles to “top them off” after a nursing session. It was so exhausting!
After two months and tons of thought, I made the switch to exclusive pumping. I missed nursing, but I knew that in order to keep building my supply to stay on top of the girls’ demands, and for me to mentally and physically stay on board, I had to do it. A friend of mine with quadruplets had provided breastmilk for her four babies for an entire year (and then donated leftovers to the milk bank)! I knew if she could do it, I could too; so I contacted her and asked for any help or advice she could offer. I attribute so much of my success to her. Had I not known about her experience, I might have given up. But through multiple conversations and Q&A sessions (thank you, Jenna!!), she talked me through what it looks like to exclusively pump for multiple babies.
On average, I pumped roughly 100 ounces (3,000-ish milliliters) every day. Yep. It was insane. And exhausting. But it was hands-down the most rewarding experience of my life thus far. I still can’t believe I made it to my one-year goal. Here are the main ways I was able to make it through a year of pumping for three babies.
I rented a hospital-grade pump.
The first couple months I just used my Medela backpack Pump-in-Style which I received through insurance, but when I was in the girls’ NICU room I used the provided hospital-grade pump and I could tell a major difference. I was able to empty much more efficiently and successfully with the hospital-grade pump. I will say, if you rent with the hopes of being reimbursed through insurance, make sure you are renting your pump through someone your insurance considers to be an “in-network provider.” Also, if you’re only exclusively pumping for one baby, a standard pump like the Medela Pump-in-Style may work just fine for you. I used the Medela Symphony.
I changed the “membrane” frequently.
For Medela pumps, the membrane is the small white rubbery piece that fits into the valve (the yellow piece). Apparently, this piece is super important. If you don’t keep it clean and replace it often, it will affect your output. It will also affect your suction if it isn’t completely and exactly flush with the valve. My advice is to order a couple packs of these and replace them once a week, especially if you’re pumping three or more times a day. I found that after a week or so of constant use, the suction would randomly go out on one side. More often than not, it was because of the membrane. If you’re using a different brand of pump, there should be similar construction to the pieces. Call the company’s customer service line and they should be able to walk you through it.
I got into a habit of eating so. much. food.
I’m probably due a Guinness World Record for most calories burned while sitting down. But when you pump/nurse, you’re literally burning them right off which means you need to eat, eat, eat! And drink. Water, that is.
Every time I sat down to pump I had a snack and water bottle in hand. I think I kept up with the calories by just getting into a habit of eating throughout the day — little snacks here and there. Obviously when you’re in New Baby Land you don’t have much time to think about meals or cooking. So I found ways to not spend hours in the kitchen but maintain a pretty healthy diet and eat around the clock. Keeping my kitchen stocked and having higher-calorie snacks on hand definitely helped. Oh, and I always had a water bottle by my side and took it everywhere with me.
I pumped while giving bottles.
In the beginning this was my saving grace. When the girls were still eating every few hours, I would set up to pump while they took bottles. It was so hard, but so worth it. Because when they were done, I was done.
I joined groups online.
I joined a Facebook group for exclusively pumping moms where questions are answered and help is to be had! Women I don’t even know were so quick to help me out and encourage me. It’s so neat to have other women championing your efforts — women who truly know what it’s like and are themselves exclusive pumpers. I also sought out blogs and websites and even found a monthly e-mail newsletter.
I made it work.
Exclusive pumping is nowhere near as convenient as breastfeeding. Instead of just whipping out your handy nursing cover and putting baby to breast, you have to lug this clunky machine with you, make sure you have an adaptor cord that will work in the car, bring a cooler along for the milk… There are a lot of moving parts. But it is doable! It was so worth it for me! I missed out on a lot that year, but I don’t regret it one bit. I’m so thankful to have been able to do that for my girls.