One of my biggest accomplishments as a twin mom and the thing I am most proud of is exclusively pumping for 19 months. 19 MONTHS! It fills me with so much joy to look back and realize all of the difficulties I overcame during my journey and that I continued to pump. I want to share my exclusively pumping story with you in hopes that it will encourage you to keep going, because there is light at the end of the tunnel and you will be so proud when you get there!
Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
I’m a very Type A person; organized, in control and prepared. During my twin pregnancy I read a plethora of books and blogs trying to prepare for postpartum life, including a 900 page book about breastfeeding (“The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” I highly recommend it). I felt educated, prepared and ready to breastfeed my twins; not being able to never crossed my mind. Exclusively pumping didn’t either. Enter: preemie twins.
First Feedings And Learning To Pump In The Hospital
About 5 hours after my c-section the attempts at breastfeeding started with the nurse grabbing, squeezing and adjusting the babies and I, trying to get a good latch; it was nothing like I imagined. I’m a very modest person and this process made me feel so uncomfortable; I thought I would be breastfeeding easily in a newborn bliss, not being handled in such a rough way. We kept trying to breastfeed countless times but the babies had a hard time latching because they were so small. I let my nurse tell me what to do and when because I figured she knew better than I did. It felt unnatural, uncomfortable and frustrating. I chalked it up to being the first time and it would get better.
Learning How To Use A Breast Pump
My nurse taught me how to use a double electric breast pump the first night in the hospital. After our first feeding session with the babies she brought in the hospital grade Medela Symphony Pump. She gave me a bag of new breast pump parts: breast shields (flanges), tubing, valves, membranes, connectors and milk collection bottles and taught me how to use them. It was a fairly simple task to learn; connect all the pieces, hold it to my chest and turn it on! We were good to go within minutes. I pumped for 30 minutes after each feeding, every 2-3 hours. Pumping felt weird at first and I experienced some pain with it; pain is not normal and I will explain further later on.
The one thing I wish I had brought with me to the hospital was my hands-free pumping bra. Holding the breast pump pieces up to my chest for 30 minutes was not ideal; if I had the hands free bra I could have held a baby, eaten a meal, taken a nap, etc. If pumping is an option you’re open to, you should definitely pack a hands-free bra in your hospital bag!
Newborn Twin Feeding Strategies With Our Lactation Consultant
Over the span of 4 days we had help from the different nurses on shift and a few different lactation consultants; we continued to try to breastfeed and get the babies to latch better which wasn’t very successful. The lactation consultant was very helpful and I felt a lot more comfortable with her! She explained everything to us in detail and dedicated a lot of time helping us (she came back and forth quite a few times). She brought in a lot of different tools to help us: nipple shields, breast shells, syringes for feeding, gavage feeding tubes and more.
One alternative feeding method we tried was breastfeeding one baby and putting the gavage tube into her mouth while she sucked. At the same time, using the syringe to push milk through the tube to give her a little milk, with hopes that it would teach her that she could get milk out when she sucked. This method, which in theory I understood, was extremely difficult but Jesse and I gave it our best effort. The lactation consultant encouraged us to try it on our own the next few feedings. Jesse was such a huge help for this, I couldn’t have done it on my own!
We tried this method a few times throughout the day but we both realized it was not going to work for us. By the time we were done trying to feed both babies and I was done pumping for 30 minutes, it was time for the next feeding! I was getting zero rest and the feeling of failure was taking a toll on me.
Supplementing With Formula
On day 3 at the hospital the nurses recommended we start supplementing with formula. Both babies had lost enough weight that they were concerned. Honestly, this moment felt like a punch to the gut because it was a direct result of my failure to breastfeed. We obviously said yes (we didn’t want our babies to be hungry) and started to supplement; the girls handled it fine. I was surprised that there was no mention of exclusively pumping from anyone at the hospital. The only recommendation was to feed the girls formula. We continued to supplement with formula at home along with attempting to breastfeed with each feeding. After each feeding, I pumped every 2-3 hours for 30 minutes. It was a lot but when I look back I’m glad I tried and gave it my best effort.
When My Breast Milk Came In
My breast milk came in around day 5 or 6 and I was VERY excited. There’s nothing like seeing those bottles fill up with milk after pumping drops of colostrum all week! Right before my milk came in my breasts were engorged, hard as a rock and painful! I woke up that morning and felt like there were two boulders attached to me; there was NO mistaking this feeling, I knew it was my milk coming in. Not to mention my shirt and bed were soaking wet; make sure you invest in breast pads to put in your bra, you will need them!
Pumping full bottles for the first time was so gratifying! It truly felt like I was pumping liquid gold! Experiencing a let down was an interesting feeling, almost like tingling. After it happens the milk starts coming out pretty forcefully and the bottles fill up fast! In the beginning my milk was very yellow and full of fat (which is a good thing). It also came out VERY warm each time. You could tell just by looking at it that it was exactly what those babies needed. We fattened them up in no time!
The Exclusively Pumping Decision
Within the next few days I was pumping enough breast milk that we were able to stop supplementing with formula; the babies were finally exclusively drinking my breast milk. My confidence was boosted and my babies were going to have all of the benefits and nourishment from breastmilk that I had dreamed of. It made me SO happy that I could provide this for them. Within those few days I made the decision to exclusively pump. I was done trying to breastfeed and I was done supplementing with formula. Exclusively pumping and bottle feeding is what worked for all of us and I knew it was the right decision.
Must Haves For Exclusively Pumping
I’m going to cut to the chase here before I go into more details about my journey. Here’s a list of my must have items for exclusively pumping. I’ve included all of these items in an Amazon list here for your convenience!
- Double electric breast pump
- Replacement parts
- Hands-free pumping bra (buy 2)
- Breast pump battery pack
- Breast pump car charger
- Cooler bag with ice pack
- Nursing/breast pads
- Nipple cream
- Milk storage bags
- Long cardigan for easy access and covering up
Exclusively Pumping Schedule For The First Few Months
I continued my schedule of pumping every 2-3 hours around the clock. Exclusively pumping was my new job and I took it very seriously; I had two babies that depended on it! It’s extremely important to pump often the first 12 weeks postpartum until your milk supply is established. You should aim to pump on a schedule that is similar to your baby’s feedings. The girls were eating every 1.5-2 hours so I pumped around the same times (10-12 pumps per day). I was VERY strict and never missed a pump. Having two babies I couldn’t risk losing any of my supply. The key to pumping is the more you pump and empty the breast, the more it fills back up. It’s all about supply and demand. Pumping more often tells your body that it needs to produce more milk.
After a couple weeks of pumping I adjusted my pumping times from 30 minutes down to 20 minutes. My milk came out within 15 minutes and I pumped an extra 5 to stimulate another let down; this told my body to make more milk. Another 10 minutes wasn’t needed, so it was nice to shave off a little time! Pumping for 20 minutes every 2 hours equates to 4 hours per day. That’s 28 hours per week attached to my breast pump! Talk about putting it into perspective!
Middle Of The Night Pumps
Waking up in the middle of the night to pump was one of the hardest things to do. If it was my turn with the girls, I would feed them and then pump in bed afterwards. Usually I would hook myself up to the pump and set my alarm for 20 minutes so that I could nap. Any extra sleep I could get was important. This usually worked out fine but there were a few instances of overfilling my collection bottles and waking up to a big milky mess! I solved this issue by replacing my Medela 5 oz collection bottles with 8 oz Dr. Brown’s bottles (you don’t have to just use Medela bottles with the pump).
When it was Jesse’s turn with the girls during the night, I would pump in bed while he fed them. I remember him resenting me at times for this because “I was awake anyway” so why couldn’t I just do both. I deserved a break too and I’ll leave it at that!
Managing Pumping And Feedings Alone
During the day when I was by myself I would put the girls in their Twin-Z pillow (if you read my twin essentials blog you know this is my #1 recommended twin item). Once they were comfortable I’d hook myself up to my pump (hands-free bra is clutch here) and then bottle feed them. Combining feedings and pumping was very efficient. However, if something went wrong (spit up, needing a burp, crying, etc.) it was incredibly hard to manage the issue while hooked up to my pump. One wrong move and the flanges could lose suction, tubing could disconnect or milk could spill from the bottles; I had to be very careful!
I felt a lot of guilt in the early days. Sure I could bottle feed one baby at a time to ensure they each got my undivided love and attention. Or I could feed them both at the same time. When one cries comfort them (which makes the other cry because I have to stop feeding them). Then I could pump after each of those scenarios and hope they don’t cry because they’re not being fed. Being a twin mom is a constant internal battle of difficult decisions and sometimes you have to pick the best decision for you. Pumping and feeding simultaneously was the best decision for me and we made it work.
Exclusively Pumping Set Up And Outings
Ensuring that you’re prepared is key to being an exclusively pumping mom of twins! It’s important that you have everything you need within arms reach when you’re pumping. You need to plan for where you will be when you’re pumping (home, at work, in the car, etc.). Will you have an outlet? Do you have a place to store your milk to keep it cold? Will you have complete privacy or will you be doing it discreetly? Think of all the scenarios you might be in and PLAN for them!
The first few times I worked postpartum were a nightmare. One day I forgot my flanges and one day I forgot my cooler bag (hello mom brain). I ended up leaving work early when I forgot my flanges (because I couldn’t pump). Another time, during a trip to visit my parents, I forgot the power cord to my pump. Thank goodness I had a battery pack! However, the battery pack did not provide the same amount of suction which meant longer sessions. Needless to say I never made mistakes like that again. I always kept extra pump parts in my bag from then on and double checked for the power cord!
Pumping At Work
I worked per diem in healthcare, at multiple facilities, and was lucky to always be around very understanding people. If for some reason there wasn’t a prepared area for me to pump, all I did was ask around. There was always someone willing to give up their office for a few minutes. There were a few instances in smaller buildings where I ended up pumping in the bathroom, which I didn’t mind. You do what you have to do! I could pump anywhere as long as I had all of my supplies!
By the way, you are allowed to take breaks at work for pumping so don’t be afraid to ask! I work with primarily women so they were all very understanding and kind. At work I did spread my pumps out more, closer to 3 hours between sessions. I felt guilty pumping more than twice.
Pumping In The Car
Another scenario to be prepared for is pumping in the car, which is actually not too bad if you’re a passenger! I did it often with my husband driving, no problem. I never got the hang of pumping and driving though; it always ended up in spilled milk!
You’ll soon realize that as an exclusively pumping mom your life revolves around the pump! It’s your other half and you’ll bring it everywhere. Embrace it and make sure you’re always prepared! Going to a friends house? Ask them where you can pump ahead of time. Taking a road trip? Make sure you have a battery pack or car charger to pump in the car. Going to be in a wedding? Find a supportive bra and go with the flow. I was in my best friends wedding 4 months postpartum. I managed being in the wedding party and pumping all day. It’s all doable! Like I said, just be prepared, speak up and let your needs be known!
Night Pump Set Up
Outings were very rare for us, so most of my pumps were at home. I had a great little setup. I kept my pump bag on my bedside table with extra pump parts, a cloth for wiping up, caps for my bottles, breast pads, nipple cream, my hands-free bra and a notepad and pen for keeping track of how much I produced.
For the first 3 months when we lived in the basement at my in-laws, I kept a LOT of snacks and drinks close by (referred to as my “pump snacks” by my husband). I also kept a bucket for dirty pump parts and a cooler bag with ice packs. After I pumped during the night I’d throw my dirty parts in the bucket and put my milk in the cooler so that I didn’t have to go upstairs 6x/night. It was a great system that I would have continued to use if we lived in a two story house.
Day Pump Set Up
During the day before the girls started napping in their cribs, I would pump in the living room on the couch. Sometimes I would have one baby to each side of me in a Boppy pillow, either drinking a bottle or napping. Other times they would be napping on the floor in their Twin-Z pillow. I tried to time my pumps with feedings or napping for a long time, but of course there were times when the girls were awake and I would just have to take a chance. It was harder when they started to move around a lot because when you’re pumping you only have so much tubing to go anywhere!
Complications With Exclusively Pumping
I was very fortunate to have not dealt with any clogged ducts or mastitis during my pumping journey. One of the major complications I did face in the beginning days was severely cracked and bleeding nipples. It was SO painful and I wanted to cry every time I pumped. After a couple of weeks I figured out (thanks Google) that I needed larger breast shields (flanges) for pumping. I was using the ones that came with my pump (24 mm) and I needed the larger size (27 mm). I ordered 3 sets and after a week or so using them the issue resolved (thank goodness).
If you’re having pain while pumping or suffering from cracked and bleeding nipples, check your flange size! The larger flange sizes have to be special ordered so try to measure yourself ahead of time.
How To Deal With Cracked Nipples When Exclusively Pumping
During the time period I was just “trying to get through” and hadn’t gotten new flanges, I used a few tips and tricks I learned to help ease the pain.
- Lower the pump settings
- Nipple cream before and after pumping (I like this lanolin-free one)
- Lubricate the breast shields (with nipple cream)
- Changed breast pads more often (keep dry)
- Warm compress before and after pumping
None of these solved my problem or made it go away, but they helped until I received the proper flange size. It was a rough few weeks!
Milk Production, Quantity And Freezer Stash
The first few months the girls ate often but small quantities, between 1.5-2 oz each feeding; around 24 ounces per day, each. From the start I was pumping 60 ounces per day which was more than enough for both babies. I was able to establish a good freezer supply those first few months! I used Lansinoh Milk Storage Bags and never had any issues with them leaking or breaking. At the end of each day I prepared all the bottles for the next day and froze whatever was leftover. I labeled each bag with the date and put them into a ziplock to lay flat in the freezer.
Our Bottle System
Having all the bottles in the fridge, ready for the next day was an important part of our system. Before this, I would get overwhelmed with washing and filling bottles when I needed them (with the girls crying and hungry). Being able to grab them quickly was important. Dirty bottles and pump parts also take over the sink quickly. It’s important to have a system and to stay on top of it. I had a lot of extra pump parts so I would let the dirty ones soak and wash them at nap time.
Having the bottles in the fridge was also an easy way for me to track how much the girls had eaten and how much milk I had on hand. I had one row of bottles for Charlotte and one row for Isabelle, all in the 4 oz Dr. Brown’s bottles. We had a total of 14 bottles going at all times. I kept all of my extra breast milk in the larger Dr. Brown’s bottles in the back of the fridge. At the end of the day I’d use them to fill up the next days bottles.
I also want to mention that we didn’t warm up our bottles for the girls. They drank freshly pumped breast milk, room temperature breast milk or a bottle straight from the fridge. We were lucky because they weren’t fussy about milk temperature! This made traveling and night feedings much easier!
The Return Of My Dreaded Period
At 3 months post-partum my period came back. During that week (every month) I lost 6 oz per day. The girls also started eating more at this point, around 3 oz per feeding. This caused a lot of stress on my part because not only was I losing 6 oz per day, but the girls were now eating 30 oz per day. I was producing enough most days, but when my period came I had to dip into my freezer stash!
How To Increase Breast Milk Supply When Exclusively Pumping
I became very stressed about my milk supply. I worried about running out so I started to research ways to increase my milk production. Here are the helpful tips that I found and used:
- Pump as often as you can (I was still pumping every 2-3 hours)
- Power pump (pump 20 minutes, rest 10, pump 10, rest 10, pump 10)
- Fenugreek capsules (I took 3 pills 3x/day)
- Blessed Thistle capsules (I took 3 pills 3x/day)
- Eat good quality oatmeal every morning
- Make sure you’re getting enough calories
- Replace breast pump parts each month (tubing, valves and membranes)
- Drink plenty of water (80-100 oz)
- Try to relax and rest when you can
- Breast massage before pumping
- Mother’s Milk Tea
The most important thing on this list is pumping as often as you can. Remember, the more often you empty the breast, the more it signals your body to make more milk. I tried power pumping a few times and it didn’t seem to work for me. I have friends who saw good results though, so I thought I’d include it on my list.
Things That Increased My Milk Supply
What really worked for me was the Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle. Taking 18 capsules a day seems like a lot but it was worth it. Taking them helped keep my supply up during my period (1-2 oz per day)! I tried one box of Mother’s Milk Tea and didn’t love it. Nor did I have time to have 3-5 cups as is directed on the box! I would rather take the capsules which were cheaper and quicker. If you’re going to eat oatmeal eat a good quality one, not instant. Lastly, stress can have a huge impact on your milk supply so relaxing and resting are really important factors. I know it’s easy to say, but try to relax before/while you’re pumping. A good tip I learned was to look at photos of your babies while you’re pumping. It’s supposed to help you relax and get in the right mindset.
Using My Freezer Stash
The most the girls ate in a day was 32 oz each around 5 months. They still were eating every 1.5-2 hours during the day with some longer stretches between feedings at night (3-4 hours max and not consistently). They woke up constantly throughout the night and didn’t settle unless we fed them (which is why we were going through so much milk). At this point they were waking to feed out of habit. They were eating so much that I used up the rest of my freezer stash; which felt devastating. I no longer had a back up plan! I continued to pump around the clock every 2-3 hours to keep my supply up and was producing my usual 60 oz per day.
Ending Night Feeds
When girls were between 4-5 months we started sleep training (with their Pediatrician’s approval). They were definitely ready and so were we. Sleep training was a HUGE success and we dropped ALL of our habitual night feeds at this time. If you want to know more about sleep training, stay tuned, it will be in my next post. After we dropped the night feeds the girls went back to eating 28-30 oz per day. I was once again producing enough milk to get by!
Sleeping Through The Night And Dropping Pumps
The first time the girls slept 12 hours straight I did too (they were between 4-5 months old). I woke up covered in milk and in pain. I had missed all of my night pumps. It was amazing that I had finally gotten a full nights sleep, but I was worried about what it would do to my supply. Luckily my supply was fine the next day.
The girls started sleeping 12 hours per night after sleep training. I decided to start adjusting my pumping schedule to pump every 4 hours (6x/day). This allowed me to get a little more sleep since the girls were not feeding during the night anymore. It was still incredibly difficult to wake up to pump, especially since I knew the girls were sleeping! I did it though, for a very long time! My supply remained the same and I was pumping 60 oz per day still (except for the one week on my period). Dropping my pumps in half (12 to 6) was not bad and I didn’t do anything special. I did it cold turkey and had no side effects other than a little extra engorgement for a while.
Dropping Night Pumps
I continued pumping every 4 hours from around 5 months until 13 months. It’s hard to believe I deprived myself of sleep for that long of a period when my beautiful little babies were sleeping 12 hours a night. I was determined to give them breast milk until they turned 1 and I didn’t want to risk losing any of my supply.
At 13 months we started gradually mixing cow’s milk in with breast milk, which they tolerated great! I decided to drop ALL of my night pumps at this time. I FINALLY was able to sleep through the night myself (what a funny concept!). For the next 6 months I pumped 3x per day for about 10 minutes each. I wasn’t worried so much about my supply because the girls were drinking half cows milk, half breast milk and eating solids. Over those last 6 months my supply did start to decrease gradually.
Deciding To Stop Exclusively Pumping
Throughout my pumping journey that first year I thought that I would be done pumping when the girls turned 1. When it came to that point I personally wasn’t ready. Pumping had become a huge part of my life, my babies were healthy, had never been sick, were growing and developing perfectly and I couldn’t bear the thought of stopping! I decided to keep pumping until I felt like I was truly ready to stop, which ended up being around 19 months.
The only reason I stopped pumping at 19 months was because we had a big trip to Florida planned for my brother’s wedding and I didn’t want to worry about pumping (at the airport, plane, wedding, Disney, etc.). I started eliminating pumps over the period of a week or so and then I was done. It was truly a sad moment when I was done. I loved providing nourishment for my babies and it made me SO proud. Still to this day I can honestly say a part of me misses pumping (I know it sounds crazy). It makes me emotional to think about!
Just for fun I calculated roughly how much time I spent exclusively pumping! I pumped around 1,176 hours in 19 months. That’s 49 entire days! That is CRAZY to think about!
Leftover Breastmilk Uses
I froze some of the last breast milk that I pumped to use for milk bath photoshoots, to make breast milk soap and to have breast milk jewelry made. I found the most spectacular company, Milk + Honey, who makes breast milk jewelry. They made me the most beautiful pieces (a set of 3 stackable rings and pearl earrings) that I will treasure forever. It was the perfect way to memorialize my exclusively pumping journey. I highly recommend them and you can use my discount code (CHRISTINA15) to get 15% off. You can use ANY milk you have (it doesn’t matter how old) and it’s a super easy and respectful process!
How To Get A Free Breast Pump
A lot of insurance companies will cover the cost of a breast pump 100%! I went through Aeroflow Breast Pumps and all I had to do was fill out a form online! I gave them my insurance and OB’s information, and they did the rest of the work. They will verify that your insurance covers a breast pump, contact your OB’s office for a prescription and then send you an email when it’s all confirmed! Once I got the email I was able to choose which breast pump I wanted. My breast pump came SUPER fast too; it was such an easy process.
Which Breast Pump To Choose When You’re Exclusively Pumping
There are a lot of different pumps that you can get 100% free, or you can choose to upgrade to more advanced pumps and pay the difference. I chose to pay the difference and get a more advanced breast pump (I think I paid $99 for it). Which pump you choose is a personal preference. I chose the Medela Pump In Style Advanced because my friend swore by it, it had great reviews and I loved that it came in a nice carrying bag with a cooler and ice pack! I also bought a battery pack in case we ever travelled or lost power (there were quite a few instances where I used it too). The other breast pump that came highly recommended from exclusively pumping moms was the Spectra s2 which I can’t personally comment on but many people say they love it!
Another perk of getting a breast pump through your insurance company is that you might qualify for free replacement parts as well. I didn’t realize I would be receiving replacement parts until I got an email 1 month postpartum telling me it was time to order them! Each month my Aeroflow would send me all of my Medela replacement parts: 1 set of flanges (though only the standard size 24 mm, I special ordered the 27 mm), 1 set of tubing, 1 set of valves, membranes and connectors and 6 bottles with lids! It was SO helpful to have these ship directly, plus it saved me so much money having them ordered through insurance. I highly recommend Aeroflow because everything was seamless and the service reps were so helpful!
You Can Do It
Exclusively pumping is SO hard but SO worth it! You will go through ups and downs but in the end you will look back and be incredibly proud of yourself. Give yourself grace and give it all you’ve got! Please feel free to send me a message, email, comment or find me on Instagram if you have questions or want to chat! I’m an open book and love to share!