Pumping Breast Milk for a Preemie

As I mentioned HERE, pumping for your baby can be extremely challenging, tiring, overwhelming, and incredibly rewarding.  While I absolutely HATED the actual process of expressing breast milk, I loved that I was able to give Olivia a nutritious blend of my protective immune cells and all the necessary ingredients to GROW.

I have very few photos of this aspect of my life- it’s not exactly a period I want to relive.  However, I will never forget:

  • The first time James and I were allowed to feed Olivia a bottle as she was learning how to coordinate her suck, swallow, breathe reflexes.
  • Texting James a photo of two bottles full of milk after a really productive pumping session… I felt so proud to have produced so much!  Building up a supply with a preemie can be a challenge.
  • Setting my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to pump.  Oh, the endless flights of stairs up and down to get supplies and clean pump parts.
  • Feeling amazed that my body was keeping up with the myriad of challenges it was facing.
  • The endless supply of bottles that we were washing on a daily basis… they seemed to multiply!
  • The familiar hum of the pump.
  • Wondering how I was going to juggle caring for a newborn by myself and keep up with a pumping routine- I needed to clone myself and add about 10 extra hours to the day!

Pumping

I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here are 7 thoughts based on my unique experience in no particular order:

1.  Rent a hospital grade pump.

They are SO much more gentle and quieter than a double electric pump that you would typically purchase from your local baby store.  I would also absolutely INSIST that a lactation specialist visually observe your pumping efforts before you leave the hospital to make sure that the pump is working correctly and the pump flanges are the correct size.

From my own experience, I can definitely say that not all pumps are created equal.  The Ameda pump that the hospital provided me immediately after Olivia was born did not effectively draw out my milk.  For 2 days, I pumped around the clock and got NOTHING even though I was becoming increasingly engorged.  Talk about a painful start to the world of pumping!  A lactation consultant recommended that my husband go out and purchase a competitor’s pump after evaluating the situation.

Did you know that Medela makes 5 (yes, 5!) different flange sizes for optimal comfort and flow?  (Most kits will only come with the 2 most common sizes: 24mm and 27mm.)  Using the right size will make a huge difference in how effectively milk is released.

2. Get organized.

Pumping breast milk involves a LOT of parts that have to be cleaned after each session.  James and I couldn’t believe how many little attachments and bottles we were cleaning each day.  My words of wisdom on this subject are simple: find a system that works for you.

In our case, we kept a bucket right next to the kitchen sink to collect all the dirty bottles of day.  The top shelf of the fridge was dedicated to storing breast milk.  For our preemie, the nurses instructed us to chill the milk obtained from each pumping session before we combined it with any other session.  This reality equates to a lot of bottles- ones for pumping and ones for feeding!  Oh, the dishes!

 After pumping, I quickly washed and rinsed the pump parts and sanitized them using these wonderful steam bags.  Then, I laid out the parts on a towel on our vanity to dry so they would be ready for the next session in 2 hours!  Also part of my pump station: the steam bag ready to go, Medela tender care, quick cleaning wipes, roll of paper towels, all purpose nipple cream (APNO), and coconut oil.

Tip: If you read any review on Medela pumps, you will probably run across commenters discussing condensation in the pump tubing.  To tackle this problem and prevent mold from growing, I sterilized the tubing by following the instructions on the steam bag and then used a hair dryer to force any remaining water droplets out!

3.  Kill the Boredom.

I lived on Pinterest during pumping sessions.  Pumping really started to take a toll on my spirit and body after the first month we were home from the hospital.  Time I could be cuddling with my sweet babe was being spent hooked up to a machine.  Due to a very rare metabolic condition, it was also unclear whether Olivia’s system would be able to tolerate all the milk I was so diligently pumping each day.  Pinterest was literally a saving grace- it kept my mind occupied and focused.

About halfway through my pumping adventure, I decided to make a playlist.  Songs to keep me motivated, songs to quiet my mind, songs to help me cope with lingering anxiety and feelings of loss, songs to energize.  Best. Decision. Ever.  Find your theme song.

I might have had Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson’s version of Winter Song on repeat for stretches at a time.  Its lyrics and beautiful melody still give me chills, especially since Olivia was born in December with such a rough beginning.  I LOVE its overall message that the pain is temporary- love never leaves and brighter days are ahead.  

4.  Boost your supply.

Explore lactogenic foods.  These items are great for increasing supply: papaya, asparagus, hummus, lentils, oatmeal, almonds, brown rice, brewer’s yeast, flax seed, and LOTS of water.  Many women have also had great results using the herb Fenugreek or the supplement Motherlove More Milk.  I noticed that I was hungry all the time while pumping.  My doula recommends this recipe for cookies that will boost your milk supply.

I ended up taking a prescription called Domperidone to help build my supply.  I loved that this particular drug doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier AND doesn’t carry the elevated risks of depression associated with the popular supplement, Reglan.  (See this article: Prescription drugs used for increasing milk supply.)  You can get a prescription for this drug to be filled by a compounding pharmacy in the United States.

5.  Enhance your diet with probiotics!

Because of the emergency nature of my delivery, both Olivia and myself were pumped full of antibiotics.  My doula immediately warned me that these drugs probably wiped out a good portion of all the “good” bacteria in my system and significantly increased my chances for developing thrush on my breasts.  Probiotics are your BEST friend to ward off any outbreaks!  Save your self the misery of *extremely* painful pumping by taking LARGE doses of probiotics.  (See Rebecca Haworth’s 3 Day Thrush Cure for specifics on which brands of probiotics to take and why it makes a difference!)

6.  Ask and accept others’ offers to help with housework or baby care.

Committing to a pumping routine is extremely demanding.  Some days, you just might need to channel your inner superwoman.  If others offer to watch the baby for a stretch or help you with the dishes, graciously accept their kindness!  Don’t feel like you need to need to do it all.

My husband was incredibly supportive of my pumping efforts even though it was a significant investment of time, money, and effort.  I’m not sure I would have kept my sanity without his steadfast encouragement.

7.  Do your research!

I frequently checked KellyMom.com for info on pumping issues and milk storage guidelines.  This post by Happy Home Fairy is another amazing reference filled with helpful hints.  Reading her suggestions would have been SO helpful at the beginning of my pumping journey back in December.  I absolutely love how she ended her post.  The breast milk vs. formula debate is ripe with so much judgment.  I often found myself feeling like a failure for not being able to produce more milk and agonizing over the decision on whether to switch Olivia to 100% formula in light of her specific metabolic condition (that’s a story for a different time!).  Julie’s concluding thoughts are just perfect and so eloquently put things in perspective.  Read also: her “funeral” for her pump post for amazing encouragement to face your fears and be at peace with your decisions.

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One Response to Pumping Breast Milk for a Preemie

  1. Happy Home Fairy April 10, 2014 at 4:57 am #

    Thank you for your sweet words! This was a great article! I am so sorry for your preemie journey, but so thankful that your Olivia has such an amazing mama who would pump like that for her! Xoxo

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