As a NICU occupational therapist, exclusively pumping mom and NICU mom myself, I started pumping Day 1 in the hospital after delivering my son.
Before experiencing the pumping and breastfeeding world personally, I had such a different thought process when encouraging and supporting the NICU moms I engaged with at work.
I dealt with anxiety. I got nauseous. I panicked with let-down. All-in-all, I’m thankful I was able to provide my baby with breast milk…but I lost a piece of myself on that journey as well.
I’ve learned more than anything that pumping is both a huge blessing AND really difficult.
Getting a wireless, hands-free pump (check out my Elvie review here!) helped me keep going on my pumping journey. But, it’s not the answer for everyone, so…
Here are some tips from one pumping mama to another that I hope will help you on your journey.
1. Get a strapless nursing bra.
Stop holding those flanges to your breasts and start pumping hands-free! There are hands-free nursing bras that hold your pumps in place, so you can do other things while you pump.
I am always amazed when I come across moms who don’t know these exist. My recommendation, order a couple different styles from Amazon, so you can figure out what works best for you, your pump, and your breast size.
Get at least two, so you have one you can use while the other is in the laundry.
My favorite way to use these is to keep one in my pumping station for middle-of-the-night pump sessions. I throw it on and sleep sitting up while the bra keeps my pump in place.
2. Rent a hospital-grade pump (learn which pump is most efficient for you!)
This may not be an option for you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Some NICU’s may supply you with a hospital-grade pump in your baby’s bed space that you can use while you’re visiting. Every woman is different, and the amount of milk you’re able to get from different breast pumps may be differ. But…most women report more milk volume when using a hospital-grade pump.
If that’s true for you, find out if you’re able to rent a hospital-grade pump to keep at home for at-home pumping sessions.
3. Find a 20 to 30 minute “feel good” show.
So, the recommended pumping time is 20- to 30-minutes every three hours. Which is the perfect amount of time to binge a 30-minute sitcom. I know whenever the anxiety and nausea kicked in during my let-down, having on a lighthearted show seemed to help get my mind off of it. Plus, I knew when the show was over that I could pack up my pumping gear.
In the middle of the night, I would pump while my husband fed our son a bottle.
Watching an episode of New Girl really took the 3 a.m. edge off!
Here are some of my favorite 30-minute shows:
- New Girl
- Schitt’s Creek
- The Office
- Brooklyn 99
- Parks and Rec
4. Invest in more than 1 set of pump parts.
GAME.CHANGER. You need to invest in 2-3 sets of pump parts.
It’s exhausting keeping up with all the cleaning associated with pumping. When you have more pump parts, you don’t have to rush around finding the matching flange. You’ll have a set ready to go.
Also, chances are better you won’t have to dig in the sink to wash a set before you sit down to pump!
Keep a set of parts at your baby’s NICU bedside and a couple sets at home.
5. Teach your partner to clean those parts!
If you’re walking this postpartum journey with a partner, give them the job of cleaning your pump parts. Just make sure they know how to clean and dry them appropriately.
Giving the cleaning responsibility to someone else will clear up your mind AND time!
6. Pump right after skin-to-skin holding.
Ideally, if you’re holding your baby in the NICU, we’d love for you to hold your baby for up to three hours. It’s important to pump right before you hold your baby skin-to-skin, because those happy hormones are going to be released while you’re holding your baby, and your breasts can fill quickly.
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I don’t want you to be full and uncomfortable when you’re supposed to be enjoying time with your baby.
Since oxytocin, that happy hormone, is released during holding, it can really improve and stimulate your milk supply! So, pumping right after you hold your baby may help you pump more breast milk than usual.
Even though we don’t want to place a ton of focus on the amount of breast milk you’re pumping, as someone who’s pumped before…there is definitely a more satisfying feeling when you pump more ounces than usual!
7. It’s okay to wean!
Can I say this again for my sweet mamas in the back? It is OK to wean. It is OK to stop pumping.
Pumping is not for the faint of heart. When you’re walking through the traumatic NICU journey with highs and lows, added stress, and constant driving to and from the hospital…pumping breast milk on top of that may drain you of what you have left.
We know that breast milk supports the developing gut and gastrointestinal system of medically fragile babies.
It is a wonderful thing to do for your little one while they’re in the NICU. Plus, it’s a great way to know that you’re supporting development, even when you can’t be at the bedside.
But…I want you to remember that babies also grow and thrive on formula and donor breast milk.
8. Acknowledge the hormonal response that may occur during let-down.
Have you ever experienced anxiety, heart palpitations, or nausea when you pump or during that initial let-down?
And I didn’t know this at the time, but that is a common feeling many women get when they start their pumping session.
It’s related to the hormonal shift that happens when let-down is initiated.
So, not only is it difficult to find the time, place, and energy to pump breast milk…and it may feel like you have a relationship with your breast pump…but it can also induce nausea and anxiety.
I think if I had known it was a hormonal response, then I would have felt more equipped to cope with that feeling, but I really struggled. And sometimes, pump sessions led to panic attacks, because I felt like the anxiety was out of control.
If that’s you, you’re not alone, and nothing is wrong with you!
9. Create a storage system that works for you!
Wherever your baby is healing and growing, your NICU is going to have set guidelines for how they would like you to provide and store your breast milk.
You may be allowed to store it by bringing it into the hospital in its bottle, and the hospital will store and freeze it for you. If you end up pumping more milk than your baby’s hospital can store, then you will need to figure out a storage system that works for you at home.
There are a lot of different storage options out there. Here are a couple of ideas from other pumping mamas.
Pumping Tips for New Moms (note: this is a non-NICU mama sharing)
However pumping makes you feel, rest in knowing that you truly are doing something incredible for your baby, something unique and specially made for them. But, exclusively pumping can come at the cost of other things.
In that case, give yourself some grace! Know that no matter which method you choose, your baby is being fed. They will grow and thrive.
Give some of these tips a try.
I hope they ease some of the burden of your pumping journey!