Full disclosure: I’ve always loved my boobs. I felt so cool when I wore my first Hanes training bra. In high school, my 34Cs were my best accessory (second only to my fake Louis Vuitton bag). At my first job at Cosmopolitan, I got a gift card to get a proper bra fitting at a fancy boutique on the Upper East Side, where the saleswoman informed me I actually had 32Es—woah. Regardless, I fully embraced them. When I was pregnant, I wore bodysuits to my sonogram appointments. I’ll admit, the crotch snaps weren’t the most convenient but the bodysuit made me feel sexy. When my milk came in five days after my son DJ (we call him “Bean”) was born, I stood in the shower and couldn’t get over how heavy they were. “They’ve gotta weigh five pounds each,” I told my husband, Dave, insisting he feel one. Sure, it was a different kind of appreciation (less perky; more purposeful) but, I was in awe. Now, eight months into my breastfeeding journey (a majority of which has been spent exclusively pumping), and despite my saucer-size areolas and weathered nips, the fact that they’ve fed my baby results in a whole other level of admiration.
Kathryn, the midwife that tag-teamed with my OB throughout my pregnancy, coached me on how to hold Bean and help him latch just minutes after I gave birth in a sunny hospital room in Poughkeepsie, New York. Despite being induced at 41 weeks, following a blood clot scare and tearing (like, a lot), I felt like a goddess. I had a fresh blowout, a full face of makeup and sparkly hoops on, and my beautiful eight pound baby boy nursing on my boob. I DID IT. When my left nip didn’t pop out on command, Kathryn offered me a nipple shield (a clear, plastic nipple that gives the baby more area to latch onto). I’ll admit – positioning the nursing pillow, shield and Bean’s tiny head didn’t feel like the most natural thing on the planet, but the golden stuff was coming out. Then Anne, the hospital’s lactation consultant quickly swooped into my room, and rattled off 13 reasons why the nipple guard was the devil. Whatever. Not even sassy Anne could knock me off my post-delivery high horse.
On day five, my milk came in and I stood in the shower and felt a mix of fear, shock and relief. I nursed openly, in front of family and friends and was proud of it. My mom was relieved, and Dave thought it was “cool,” but other family members were quick to bark unsolicited advice and incorrect information (ie early on, someone told me Bean was getting what he needed within the first five minutes on my boob). I was annoyed but blocked out the noise. In the wee hours of the night, I fumbled with the shield, only to position it perfectly for him to knock it off in seconds. I worried about how much milk he was getting. I felt badly when the pediatrician told me to undress him prior to feeding to prevent him from falling asleep at my boob. I nursed DJ in one arm, while feeding myself with the other. I felt guilty for not giving my mom friends more credit for breastfeeding or even talking to them about it (you just don’t get it until you’re going through it). I can’t believe everyone goes through this, I remember thinking, and instantly had a newfound respect for all moms—especially mine, who worked full-time and was on call often, yet breastfed me for a year (A YEAR).
At one of DJ’s early checkups, our pediatrician said he was doing great, but suggested I pump to increase my supply. So, that night, I broke out the pump, which looked like a foreign object, and although there have been some bumps in the road, I never looked back. I liked knowing how much milk he was getting, and I liked that Dave could give him bottles. I alternated boob and bottle feeding for a short time then transitioned to exclusively pumping. Listen, I’ve nailed live Good Morning America segments. I gave the keynote speech at my alma mater’s commencement ceremony. I interviewed freaking Beyoncé. But this, my friends, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s painful. It’s isolating. It’s time-consuming and it’s exhausting. One day, you feel like you’ve got it and the next day you don’t. It’s emotional. It creates resentment (why can’t men make milk again?!). And while I don’t know how long I’ll go, knowing that my body has fed Bean for eight months and counting is my biggest accomplishment yet. Do I love it? No, but guess what? That’s OK. Pumping has taught me discipline, determination, and selflessness, and while I look forward to closing the chapter one day, I can’t help but feel grateful reflecting on how much it’s helped both of us grow.
Heather’s Top 10 Pumping Tips
From dynamic nipple warm-ups (whee!) to coconut oil-lubed flanges and everything in between, here are the life-changing pumping tips that every new mom needs to know.
Score a super-efficient pump—for free. I asked my friends for recommendations and landed on the hospital grade Spectra 2, which I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my insurance covered (who knew?). After a relatively quick phone call and a small amount of paperwork, the pink and white pump was delivered to my home a few weeks before Bean was born. Hot tip: Sanitize that sucker so it’s one less thing you have to deal with when sh*t gets real.
Order new flanges. Every article I read on pumping said that it shouldn’t hurt. Well, it definitely doesn’t tickle, but there are a few tricks to making it more manageable. To be fair, my husband, Dave scoured pumping blogs (what a guy) for advice, which included ordering differently sized flanges in addition to the standard ones that come with the pump. I bought a few and ended up with 28mm on the left and 30mm on my right. Remember, like your eyebrows, nipples are cousins; not sisters.
Buy a vat of coconut oil. Another tip Dave discovered on the blogs: lubing up your flanges with coconut oil makes the whole cow-like experience a lot more comfortable by reducing friction between your nips and the plastic tubes. I keep a giant jar on my nightstand and rub the excess on my hands or lips. Oh, and instead of jacking up the settings from the start, do a lower level first as a warmup.
Get a hands-free pumping bra, stat. The first (and second) time I pumped, I held the flanges up to my boobs and thought, there has to be a better way. Thank God, there is. Hands-free pumping bras clip onto regular nursing/pumping bras so you can do other things like text and type while pumping.
Don’t set goals. I never thought I’d make it a week, let alone into eight months. One night when I was talking to Dave about debating how long I should do it, he said something along the lines of: Navy seals who try to make it through hell week have a significantly less success rate than those who just try to make it to breakfast. Ladies: just try to make it to breakfast.
Eat well. My supply is best when I sleep more (hard, I know), stress less (even harder), guzzle water, eat oatmeal and snack on Halfsies Milk Money cookies. My husband owns the company and developed the recipe when I started to BF. They’re packed with oats, dark chocolate, unsweetened shredded coconut, Brewer’s yeast, flax seeds, and wheat germ. When I skip meals, I notice a dip.
Use your face roller—on your boobs. After two clogged ducts, I found three things that helped. 1.) emptying my boobs—for me, that means pumping for 45 minutes to an hour. 2.) putting Bean on my boob and 3.) using a face roller to massage my boobs from the outside in toward my nips. I do this in the beginning of every pumping session. My go-to: Jillian Dempsey Gold Bar, which has a flat, vibrating tip. Jade rollers work, too.
Don’t panic. After establishing my supply, I was so pumped (ha) to watch it grow month by month. I was getting 40 some ounces per day. (I use the BabyNursing app to keep track of my stats.) But then there were days when it would dip. I called my girlfriend Gina, who reminded me to take a deep breath and bust out some frozen milk to take the pressure off. Gina runs a baby concierge service (Stork Support) and has been there every step of the way.
Enlist help. In the beginning I didn’t love visitors, but now every time a close friend visits, I have them wash my pump parts and it’s such a treat. Get a dishwasher basket to throw your parts in once a day. I hand wash in between, though some people swear by storing their parts in the fridge in between sessions. And don’t be shy about contacting your healthcare provider for backup. When I had mastitis, my doctor called in antibiotics that worked like a charm. Don’t wait to make that call.
Treat yourself. Get a pedi, a blowout, heck, take a trip the grocery store by yourself. Whatever makes you happy, do it, even if you feel guilty in the moment. You deserve it. Just because you’re putting yourself second to feed your child, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever get to come first.