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tips for pumping and bottle feeding – one mama’s experience

17th June 2014

If you read my post about my experience with breastfeeding, then you will know that I am long-overdue on my second part with tips for pumping and bottle feeding. So – here it is! This post is seriously wordy, so if you aren’t a parent going through this stuff, then you should probably just call this one read!

 

On Pumping >>

Ahh, pumping. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who actually really likes pumping, but for me when breastfeeding just wasn’t working, pumping was my saving grace. I could actually do this and give my babe some breastmilk (which was my hope!). Often pumping felt like such a chore. “Really? I have to do this after she has gone down for a nap and I finally have some “me time”?” – but, it became so routine that I didn’t give it too much thought. In the early weeks when Maya really just wanted to sleep on someone (so usually me, as Dan was back at work), I had to do most of my pumping in the evenings and through the night, when Dan had her. She really wanted to be held all the time for the first month or two, so I found trying to keep up with a 5-6x/day pumping schedule pretty challenging. Once she got used to sleeping on her own for naps though, I would pump during naptimes and then around dinner, before bed, and during the night wakings. If Dan hadn’t been up for bottle-feeding Maya during the night wakings, then I wouldn’t have pumped during those times, but he was so supportive and we were such a team during the night. He would get up and make a bottle, I would put on the pump, and after pumping I would put her back down while he went back to sleep. Looking back I feel like it was a bit crazy to be pumping in the middle of the night, but I was in a zone and just did it, I guess. Not sure I would be able to do that again!

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During those first weeks I had a hospital grade double pump that was a huge clunky thing that needed to be plugged in. After about a month, I was able to get my hands on a Medela Freestyle which was super lightweight and could hook onto my belt (and recharge the battery in between pump sessions). Walking around and pumping at the same time was like a total miracle! Moving to the freestyle totally changed the game for me, as I wasn’t tied down during pumping. {Thank you, Sarah!!} If you are having to do any serious amount of pumping, you are definitely going to want to have a high quality double-pump. The single ones (like a Medela Swing) are great if you are able to breastfeed and just need to pump every now and again to give an occasional bottle, but for regular pumpers a double is the only way to go.

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Okay now any of you who have done a lot of pumping probably know this trick already, but for me it changed my life. In the beginning, I would hold the flange suction cup things up on my boobs while pumping. Again, annoying as it meant your hands were tied up while you pumped. If it was just a few minutes, fine, but 20 minute sessions got boring fast. Medela makes a hands-free breastfeeding bra – see it here – which I didn’t know about at the time, but my lactation consultant told me to take an old sports bra that I had and cut slits into the boob parts right where your nipples are. Then you put the bra on, and can slide the flanges through the slits and they stay put while you are pumping. Even though my sister was insistent that I take a photo of my sports bra contraption (she was convinced I would make millions off this invention – if only medela hadn’t done it first!), I don’t have any photos of me sporting my pumping getup. Not that I really would have wanted to share them, anyway – ha! To give you an idea, here is the medela one:

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Tell me that doesn’t crack you up. But…. Hands-free, baby! You better believe that a lot of the blogging I did during the first months of Maya’s life was done while I was pumping. Bet you didn’t really want that visual! Wearing the bra not only makes it more practical, but it means that pumping is really pretty discrete. Yes you have your shirt off, but you can throw a cardigan over yourself and it’s not so bad. I pumped in front of girlfriends, and even my sister-in-law came into my bedroom during the Christmas holidays while I was pumping and didn’t even notice what I was doing! A few tips – make sure the sports bra has good elastic, as it will stretch out over time, and if you can, make two so that you can freely throw one into the laundry and rotate.

 

Cleaning Bottles + Pump Parts >>

Everyone has their own system for cleaning pumping and bottle feeding paraphenalia, but here was what we did. First, we bought a fairly big bottle dry rack. If you are pumping and bottle feeding as your main feed mechanism, there are A LOT of parts and bottles to wash. Rather than having them take up space on our regular dry rack, it was nice to have a dedicated spot. We like our Boon one a lot but it’s one drawback is trying to wash the grass when you don’t have a dishwasher. It is tricky to get into the nooks and crannies with a regular scrub brush, so needed to throw it into my parents’ dishwasher every now and again. Otherwise, it has been great and is actually kinda cute too.

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In those first months when I was doing so much pumping, and Maya was feeding pretty often, I was never able to stay on top of washing everything right away. Rather than having pumping parts and bottles all over the kitchen counter or piling up in the sink, we kept a bowl on our counter that I would throw the dirties into. Then when I had a minute, I would bring the bowl into the sink and give them a wash. Just helped to keep everything in one spot.

In terms of bottle scrubbers, I have used a few different ones. The one that has the sturdiest handle and lathers really well is the Munchkin one. If your bottle nipples are small, then it also has a detachable mini scrubber in the handle that you can use to get everything clean. I found them for the best price at Target.

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I was also careful to use “green” dish soap – something that had the fewest chemicals as possible, as these were going into my babe’s mouth over and over. I switch around brands, but like Mrs Meyers, Attitude, Seventh Generation, etc.

In terms of sterilizing, we were really really careful in the early weeks and months, and have gotten way more relaxed about it over time. At first we were doing the big pot of boiling water and putting all of the bottle and pump parts in there to sterilize, but then got our hands on a microwave sterilizer. Man those things are amaaazing. You can pop a gazillion things in, put some water in the bottom, microwave for 5 minutes, and everything is sterilized. Similar in theory to the Medela sterilizer bags, but you can fit a lot more in and re-use it (the medela bags are great for travelling, but if you’re having to sterilize every day they get expensive!).

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Ours was a hand-me-down, but all three of these look great – First Years, Dr. Brown’s, and Avent.

We would sterilize the nipples between each feed and sterilize the rest of the pump and bottle parts once a day. I was told by the lactation consultant to sterilize the nipples, that you could just put them in a small bowl with some water (so that they are floating in it) and into the microwave for 1 minute, rather than using the big plastic sterilizer. That routine was what we did for months, and then eventually just started sterilizing less frequently.

 

Bottles and Prepping >>

During the first little while, it was recommended that we use liquid formula rather than powder. I think from a public health standpoint this is because they want to ensure that what you are feeding your child is totally clean and sanitized – no risk of unclean water. Our routine during that time for breastmilk was to pump directly into the medela bottles, which I would take out of the fridge when required and warm in a bowl of warm water, and then add the medela nipple to it, and for formula, we would crack open a new formula container and pour it into the Playtex bottles that had drop-in liners.

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We used these for two reasons – one was that we heard they reduce the amount of air the baby ingests (good to limit gas), and secondly because you could just throw the liners into the recycling and only have to wash the nipple rather than a whole bottle. When there were so many pumping parts and other bottles to constantly wash, taking anything out of the washing-pile was a winner.

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The liner style bottles worked really well for us for a long time. And since we only had the one medela nipple, when it was dirty we would often just pour the breastmilk into these. When we switched to powdered formula though, we found that we needed a bottle that you could more easily measure the water into and shake up. We didn’t realize this at first and kept using the liner style bottles but did the shaking in a medela bottle. Not so smart as it meant we were still washing the medela bottle. Admittedly, our brains were a little cloudy and sleep deprived still. We tried out a few different bottle styles that we had in our stash (Advent, BornFree, Dr Browns, etc). In the end, we really like the glass Evenflo ones. We liked that they were glass so no potential plastic chemicals to be worried about (though I’m sure that they are all actually just fine), and you could fit the medela cap onto the top of these bottles – they are actually fully compatible with everything Medela. Being able to put the cap on meant that we could measure in the water, add the powder, put the cap on, and shake everything really well. Then once it was all mixed, switch it out for the nipple, and you’re all set. We have two large glass bottles and several different slow and fast nipples, and they  have worked like at treat for months. Of course your baby will dictate a bit which bottles THEY like, but Maya totally took to these Evenflo ones.

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When we switched from liquid to powdered formula, the new task of using sterilized water was introduced. What we would do is put a large pot of water on the stove in the morning and get it to a roaring boil for a good 10 minutes. Then we would let it cool and use the water from that pot for the day. It meant that there was always sterilized water on hand and we didn’t have to boil multiple times a day. At around the 5 or 6 month mark, we switched to tap water (you are able to give them drinking water at that time anyway – so obviously it’s fine to use it for bottles!). Being able to use tap water was another game changer. Made everything so much easier all of a sudden!

 

Stopping Pumping >>

For the first three months or so, I was really dedicated and pumping a minimum of 5 times a day and through the nights. When we went to Florida for Christmas though, and I was without Dan for two weeks, I started to skip the during the night pump as I was having to feed Maya by myself, and staying up for an extra 20 minutes to pump after that was sooo not happening. It was also right after that trip that she started consistently sleeping right through the night, so I never picked up that nighttime pumping session again. I found it hard to squeeze in another daytime pump to make up for it, so I was down to around 4 pumping sessions a day. Surprisingly, it didn’t actually change my output all that much. From the beginning I never made a huge amount of breastmilk (never even close to enough to be able to feed Maya on breastmilk alone) but I was still able to produce a couple bottles a day for her. Then at around the 5 month mark, I woke up one day and all of a sudden my supply was way down. I hadn’t changed anything about what I was doing, but I was producing about half of what I normally would. This lasted for a few days, and I was totally baffled. Guess what showed up about three days later? Good old Auntie Flo. Ahhh, lovely. Despite the reduced supply, I kept pumping 4 times a day (my pumping routine: morning nap, afternoon nap, dinnertime, before bed). About two months later, just as Maya was about to turn seven months, I got a really bad stomach flu. I felt horrible, but did pump a couple of times a day during the flu regardless. My body, however, decided that I was done producing milk as barely anything came out. Even once I was feeling better, pumping about half an ounce total (both sides) was a stretch. It was pretty ridiculous to keep on going for a few drops, so I took it as a sign that we were done with the pumping. Even though I was ridiculously happy to not have to hear that damn pumping machine anymore and felt so free all of a sudden (!!), there was definitely some pangs of sadness that kicked in. Feeding Maya that last bottle of breastmilk was hard.

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“Moooom… You’re squeezing too hard!”

Now we are solely formula feeding, but Maya is eating such a great variety of solid foods that her interest in the bottle has gone down a lot. In general it is just so much easier to not be tied to the pump routine anymore. After 7 months of pumping, I can safely say that I have a love/hate relationship with it. I would be happy to never see that thing again, but I am super grateful that I was able to pump while I did. All in all, I did everything I could to give my girl breastmilk (because for me, it was something I wanted to do), but that initial guilt I had around giving formula has gone too. She has had a lot of formula and is such a healthy and happy girl. We did exactly what was right for us and our circumstances.

Phew. That post was gigantic. Thanks for making it all the way to the bottom! I guess my hope is that maybe some of you can relate to our experience, and potentially pick up a tip or two?

Do any of you who are pumping or bottle-feeding have any tips to share? Any stories from your experience feeding your babe? Also, when do you stop using bottles altogether? I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, but we’re not far off. I’d love to hear from you! 

*Disclaimer: Some of the product links used in this post are affiliate links. This means that I receive a small commission for any sales made through the links, and helps to support this little blog (thank you!). Products linked are ones that I have used and liked, as per my review.

  • http://notahousebutahome.blogspot.ca Emily-Jane @ Not A House, But A Home

    Great post, Gemma! I’ve been reading everything I can about breastfeeding so I found this very helpful.

    • gemma

      Oh good – thanks EJ! Let me know if you ever have any questions!! Hope you’re feeling well :)

      xo,
      gemma

  • http://www.meghanjoyward.com Meghan J. Ward

    A great post, as always, Gemma. I was lucky not to have to get into pumping. I tried buy my wee one never took to a bottle. Thankfully we had a good rhythm going breastfeeding. This is such a helpful post and I’ll be passing it on.

    • gemma

      Meghan – I’m so glad that breastfeeding worked out well for you and your little one. Thanks for offering to pass this along to any other parenting friends!

      xo,
      gemma

  • Elmee

    OMG!!! I just saw this at work and I’m so curious about other mother’s experiences. I’m expecting my first in September so I’m anxious to read this when I get home!! Thank you so much for this post! BTW, really enjoy your blog :)

    • gemma

      Congratulations on the upcoming baby! Hope this post can be helpful in some way. Check out the first post I did on breastfeeding, and the comments section, for lots of feedback from other mamas. Everyone’s story and experience is different, and you can’t really plan for it as you have no idea how things are going to turn out. But it’s great to be as informed as possible to help curb expectations and know the options.

      Good luck with your pregnancy! Hope everything goes smoothly!

      xo,
      gemma

  • jackie

    I did the same thing for 9 months and agree…love/hate. Thanks for sharing Gemma, I know exactly what u were feeling!

    • gemma

      Thanks Jackie! Again, so nice to connect with others who went through the same thing.

      xo,
      gemma

  • Kelly

    It’s a love/hate for me too..but I will admit I was happy to not hear the pump anymore! I also used the freestyle and it was super handy, although I think I may invest in the medela bra this time. It looks much more convenient. I’m looking for anything that makes it easier with baby #2 and hoping that if I can’t breastfeed that I will be able to keep up pumping.

    We’ve had major issues taking the bottle away due to many many ear infections. Dr’s have told us that the sucking can make their ears feel better. Hopefully we will be able to soon..although we were just at the Dr for her ears again yesterday!

    Lots of great tips Gemma..will definitely be using many of them! When you’re in the moment there’s lots you just don’t think of!

    • gemma

      Shoot – that’s frustrating about the bottle, Kelly. If it makes her ears better though, then I’m sure it’s probably the best decision. One of my brothers had a lot of ear infections as a kid, too. Not fun for kiddo, or Mum and Dad! Hang in there.

      Let me know if you get the medela bra – I’m curious to see how good it is!

      xo,
      gemma

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for the tips – it is so helpful! I am going through the same thug right now! What kind of formula did you use/maya like?

    • gemma

      Once we switched to powder, we have liked the Nutiva Organics one from Shoppers Drugs Mart (orange tin), and the PC Organics from Loblaws. I did a bunch of reading on formulas and ingredients, and in the end felt comfortable with these two and the price points were pretty good (and you can find both on sale from time to time, and get Shoppers or PC points). I don’t think any of the big formulas though really have “bad” stuff in them – the only thing I tried to steer clear from were those with “corn syrup solids” (sounded like sugar to me).

      Hope that helps!

      xo,
      gemma

  • Catherine

    I’m trying to remember how/when we took the bottle away from Léa.. feels like such a long time.. I think its when we started to introduce cow’s milk.. so between 9 and 12 months.. we would use the sippy cup for that! Now 3 years later, there seems to be a anti-sippy cup thing going around… I can see why! I think this time around we will introduce milk with a regular cup (almost 6 months in and we still struggle with the bottle.. Clara just doesn’t want to take it so we also might have to go with a cup for formula/breastmilk when I go back to work in October…) I think I might have to start pumping so we have a little stock for when I go back to work… or plan to pump at work (not my ideal!)

    • gemma

      Yeah I was planning on doing it around 12 months, so sounds like that was in line with what you did for Lea. I have been trying to do the cup (not sippy cup) for water these last few months, but I always have to hold it at her mouth because otherwise it goes everywhere. I can see why sippy cups are used so much! More independence for the kiddo. Nothing is ever super straight forward with this whole parenting gig.

      Good luck with your bottle/cup stuff with Clara!

      xo,
      gemma

  • Jazmyn

    Hi Gemma! I have been reading your blog for a long time now and also follow you on instagram!! I was only able to nurse my son (who is 3 now) for 3 weeks (long story of not being committed to unsupporting in-law family and husband syaing it’s up to me…long story!) We used the BornFree bottles (tried MANY formulas as my son spit everything up.. turns out his little valve just is under developed…hooray.. spit up all the time!) fast forward… we wanted to be 100% done with bottles & soothers by a year and we did. When we have another baby that will be my goal as well. I’m just not comfortable with my child having a soother longer and growing a super huge attachment.. my son, Max, was starting to rely on his more so we just took it away and he did great. We also didn’t like the idea of a little one walking and sucking on a soother so when our little guy was walking at 8 1/2 months it was only used for nap time. Not everyone is the same, just goals we had for ourselves and stuck to :)

    • gemma

      Hi Jazmyn. Thanks for your message, and for being a long-time reader – I really appreciate it! I have heard good things about the BornFree bottles as well – glad they worked so well for your little guy! Maya never took to a soother, so we don’t have the issue of taking it away (or having to go plug it back in during the night… yay!), but I’m not exactly sure what we’ll do to wean from the bottle yet. The recommendations now say to skip sippy cups altogether, but she’s definitely not ready to have all of her milk from a cup. Anyway, we’ll figure it out.

      Glad things worked out well with Max, and good luck with #2 (whenever that will be) :)

      xo,
      gemma

  • Kelly

    I forgot to mention that we used this cup around 1 year for Isla to get used to drinking out of a cup but not having it spill everywhere.

    http://www.usa.philips.com/c-p/SCF782_13/avent-toddler-cups-natural-drinking-cup

    It seems to work well. Although, now she prefers cups with straws. We never used sippy cups and at daycare they only allow real cups which has really helped her get used to drinking out of it without spilling.

    • gemma

      Sweet – thanks so much for this recommendation, Kelly! Will prob order one… :)

      xo,
      gemma