Saturday, July 30, 2011

One Year of Pumping

Next to questions about Maddy's medical condition, one of the most common questions that I get asked is about pumping. If you don't want to read all the details, feel free to stop reading right here as the rest of this post will be only about pumping and nothing else.

I have written previously about my pumping experience here. At the time, it was still early days (just shy of three months) but the early days are the hardest!!

To summarise from the earlier post, in the first month of pumping (some will say the first three months, but really it's until supply is established), it is important to pump at least eight times a day, at least five minutes after the breast is empty, and with no more than five hours between any two pumps.

For me, my supply was well established by a month, and at one month, I dropped down to seven pumps a day, but still keeping that one middle of the night pump. I was pumping 1400mL a day.

My supply continued to increase and so after another two weeks, I dropped down to six times a day, pumping 1500mL a day, which increased to about 1600mL a day by the time Maddy was two months old. 

At that time, I dropped down to five pumps a day, and kind of dropped the middle of the night pump at last! I was still pumping at 11pm and then 6:30am, usually dropping back off after pumping in the morning. That early morning feed got pushed later and later until it was at 8am and I was finally sleeping through the night again! Maddy was still in the hospital at that time. 

When Maddy was around three months old, I went down to pumping four times a day. I would pump around breakfast, lunch, dinner and right before bed. I was still getting around the 1600mL of milk a day all this time. 

When Maddy came home, the busyness of needing to look after her made me go to pumping three times a day. This was the first time that I noticed a drop in volume. I pumped three times a day for a LONG time, from the ages of around 4 months til 8 months old - and my supply slowly dropped from about 1500mL to 1200mL. This was still plenty to feed Maddy though. At her peak, she was only drinking 800mL a day, and when she started solids, this decreased substantially. 

At about eight months, just before our trip to Australia, I decided to go down to just twice a day - further reducing my supply. At the time, Maddy was only drinking about 600mL and my supply was around 7-800mL. Still more than enough, but with a much smaller excess. That said, I think I could have maintained pumping twice a day and met her needs at least for quite a few more months. 

My initial plan was to pump for a year and then to transition Maddy onto cows milk, bypassing formula altogether. However, Maddy's dairy allergy put a spanner in the works there! I wanted to make sure that we had a good milk alternative that Maddy would actually drink before I stopped pumping, and the thing that works best for her at the moment is soy. Maddy is also allergic to goats milk, so that is not an option for her. 

Knowing that we had a good alternative, I was confident to begin pumping just once a day. The transition from twice to once a day was the most difficult - instead of just dropping a pump, I had to reduce the time that I was pumping slowly in order to actively decrease my milk supply without having all kinds of engorgement issues! I managed to make a fairly painless transition by the time Maddy was around 11 months old. 

I was surprised with how quickly my supply dropped with just pumping once a day! Within a week, it had halved to a little under 400mL. Maddy drinks about 400mL a day, but so that she will be able to have breastmilk for longer, I have been giving her one bottle of soy milk and one bottle of breast milk a day, freezing the excess.

In anticipation of her first birthday, I was also been actively pumping less and less each day. Initially, I was pumping for about 40 minutes in order to pump til empty, but then I reduced right down to just 15 minutes, yielding only 150mL. And then, I planned to see what would happen if I skipped one night. I thought I would need to pump in the morning due to engorgement, but I wasn't uncomfortable - so I put it off until night time. I still wasn't uncomfortable, so I figured I might as well "hang up the horns", so they say. 

So I didn't QUITE make it to one year, but I have to say that all in all, I did a pretty awesome job (pat myself on the back). Pumping was not always easy, and I have had to make sacrifices to do it - but I do know that it has had health benefits for Maddy, and financial benefits for us!!

My advice to anyone wanting to pump would be - just try it and see how you go. For some people it is easier than for others. I didn't find it unbearable, although it is definitely a sacrifice. Also I think it is good to keep a track of when you pump, how many times a day you pump and the volume you get as well. It helps you to know where you are, and for me it was those numbers that helped me to decide whether to risk dropping a pump. For me, it probably made it easier in some ways that those early days, I didn't need to look after a newborn. By the time that Maddy came home from hospital at four months old, my supply was well and truly established and I was in a routine that I could work around.

I also found, I had gastro twice during that year and both times, my supply really took a HUGE hit. It was scary the first time it happened, within a day, my supply was down 40%. But when I recovered, so did my milk supply. The second time I had gastro and my supply also took a hard hit, I didn't fret so much because I knew that it would bounce back, and it did. 

So, there's my pumping "journey"... and now, for the first time in 3.5 years, I'm not either pregnant or breastfeeding (or both)! It's kind of weird, but good :) There is the odd tinge of guilt - I could have kept going for longer, and I know I COULD have... but I also know that at this age, the benefits for Maddy are smaller, and for me, it's no longer worth the hassle. I'm sure Maddy will thrive regardless :)


  1. You have done a MARVELLOUS job you deserve far more than a pat on the back. Because the sad thing about having to pump is that you don't get that lovely happy bonding time while your body is releasing it's milk and the baby is sucking, which makes it all worth while. I loved breast feeding my daughter and fed her 3 months into my pregancy with my son (and knew the minute I was pregnant as she seems to have tasted it and had issues until she got used to it!). With my son and his reflux issues I needed to make sure I knew more or less how much he was drinking for at least some of his feeds as a lot was being vomited out every day. So I had times where I was pumping more than feeding and it was a REAL struggle to give him the year of breast milk he deserved.

    So you really need to be proud of yourself, there's at least one other mum out there who knows just what a lot of work and sacrifice you've put into it.

    FYI after breast milk, my son went onto ISolmil which was the soya he could tolerate. For him it was a milk protein problem. And now aged 8 he's the only person in the family who drinks cows milk!

  2. For Maddy it is also a milk protein problem (rather than lactose). I never even knew there was a difference! I'm hoping she grows out of it too, it's a bit of a hassle... even some biscuits that have milk in them, she has the same reaction to. But these days there's a lot of dairy-free alternatives at least.