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Exclusive Pumping Part 2 – The First Year

The Routine Early On

When I started exclusively pumping, I pumped whenever my baby ate. My routine was that I would bottle feed him, and then I’d put him on my lap and hook myself up to pump. He would fall asleep there with the pump motor apparently functioning as a lullaby. (Maybe the Medela Freestyle sounds like the inside of a uterus. Who knows?) When I was finished pumping, he’d be conked out enough that I could move him to his bassinet for the rest of his nap.

Because he was eating 7-8 times per day, that was about how often I pumped. In between feeding sessions, I tried to run around getting as much stuff done as possible. I found it difficult to do the “sleep while the baby sleeps” thing because I was so wide awake from pumping. (With my second and third kids, who I nursed, it was so much easier to just nurse and doze, versus spending 15 minutes sitting upright, attached to a pump.) As a result, I was usually pretty tired, but I also had a lot of adrenline from all the emotions associated with being a new mom.

When my baby was about five weeks old, one of my friends from out of town sent me a care package of hand-me-down baby stuff. In it was a slightly ratty Easy Expressions hands-free pumping bra. This piece of fabric with two holes and a zipper totally changed my life! I had been spending two hours a day for most of my baby’s life holding my breast shields up with my hands, and suddenly being able to do other things while I pumped felt like a miracle.

Supply Regulation

Sometime around the six week mark, my supply regulated literally overnight. I went from making about 35 oz per day to 24 oz, from feeling engorged to not, from leaking all the time to not. I think that the reason for my supply drop was skipping pumping sessions more often than I should have – for example, feeding my baby a bottle in the middle of the night, but not pumping at that time, for example. I had been rationalizing that I was making more than enough milk, so what was the point of pumping in the middle of the night? Except that then, my supply caught up to what I’d been “demanding” via the breast pump.

I panicked about the supply loss – I was still making enough for my baby, but just barely. I did some research online, and decided to try fenugreek. After a few days of taking it, I noticed that I was smelling like maple syrup. My supply started to go up, and I was pretty militant about sticking to my pumping schedule after that.

Dropping Pumping Sessions

At six months, I dropped to four pumping sessions per day, and then at nine months, to three sessions per day. When I went down to three sessions per day, I got my period back, which had a significant impact on my milk supply.

What would happen was that each month I’d lose a little milk – for example, I’d get my period and lose about 6 oz each day, then my period would end and I’d get 3 oz back, for a permanent loss of about 3 oz. Then that would repeat the following month.

Weaning from the Pump

When my son turned 12 months old, I wasn’t quite ready to wean just yet, but his daycare started asking about switching him to cow’s milk while he was there.

I started off by giving him breast milk bottles but just adding a splash of cow’s milk to them, and then slowly increasing the amount of cow’s milk in the bottles as he seemed to have no problem with it. At home, I gave him breast milk only.

At this point, I dropped to two pumping sessions, and it felt like I had SO MUCH TIME. No more pumping during the day or with a baby underfoot – only in the morning before he was up and in the evenings after he was in bed. I continued to lose supply, which was a little weird for me emotionally (since I’d just spent a year being obsessed with protecting that supply) but in actuality, it was not a big deal since he was taking cow’s milk just fine.

At 13 months, I decided to drop my morning session and just keep my evening session. And then – I found out I was pregnant again! What was left of my supply went out the window overnight. I weaned quickly, and wondered if I’d be exclusively pumping again with baby #2.

Click here for part 1 and here for part 3. 

Amanda has three children (7, 5, and 2) and has spent a total of 44 months of her life hooking herself up to a breast pump. She writes a blog about exclusive pumping (exclusivepumping.com) and lives in Chicago with her family. You can join her support group for Exclusively Pumping Mamas