Mom to Mom: 8 Pumping Tips From a Preemie Mom

Mom to Mom: 8 Pumping Tips From a Preemie Mom

Guest Blogger: Melissa Harris, Author of "One Pound, Twelve Ounces"

Before getting pregnant with my second child I had to overcome a host of obstacles. There were issues with secondary infertility, surgeries, multiple miscarriages, and working with a fertility specialist. When I finally found out I was pregnant, I made the decision that this would be my last attempt. 

Things were going along just fine until I hit 23 weeks and suddenly found myself in the Delivery ward. I spent 6 days hooked up to medications and lying in a bed with the head tilted downward trying to keep my pregnancy going. When it was clear that nothing was going to stop this early delivery, I had my son. All one pound, twelve ounces of him. That is the size of an average cornish game hen or 7 sticks of butter.

Less than six hours after delivery, the hospital lactation consultant walked into my hospital room with a pump, introduced herself and told me it was time to start pumping.

After staring at her in disbelief for a moment, I asked her if she was kidding. Seriously, how could I start pumping when I wasn’t even supposed to give birth for 16 more weeks. Well, it turns out, the human body is more amazing than I thought. Somehow, even though I had given at just 24 weeks pregnant, my body knew it was time to start producing milk.

So began my year-long love/hate relationship with my breast pump. For the first three months of my son’s life, he was too small to latch, so I was exclusively pumping. That meant, every two hours, an alarm on my phone would go off and I would pump - just the same as if I was breastfeeding a hungry newborn baby.

Once my son could breastfeed, he still needed supplemental bottles to get extra calories and vitamins. He was still small and his body was having a hard time making up for all the time he lost in utero.  

I pumped for a solid year. The first 3 months, I pumped up to 12 times a day. Over the entire course of my pumping journey, I was probably attached to the breast pump for the equivalent 720 hours or 1 complete month. All of that time gave me some great insight into the process - and all its ups and downs. Here are the main things I learned:

  • Obsessing over the amount pumped will only drive you crazy. I wish I had listened to this advice early on. Instead, I logged my output every single time I pumped. I even logged output by breast - so I knew that my left breast produced more milk than my right - by a lot. I would cry every time the output seemed low, and celebrate every time the output was high. The emotional rollercoaster took a toll on me and my family as my mood was controlled by my output. In reality, I should have just pumped and been happy there was milk at all.

  • Create a comfortable pumping corner - with a comfy chair, TV, snacks, drinks, etc. Because I was pumping so often, I had a whole corner in my bedroom set up for pumping. Next to my glider rocker were my supplies, hands free pumping bra, storage containers, a small table, snacks and the TV remote. That way, once I started pumping I would not need to get up for any reason … and would not get bored. The boredom being the worst part. Pumping would take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how well my boobs were cooperating. Having something to watch to pass the time made it more bearable.

  • Don’t be embarrassed by the sound. This one goes out to all the working and pumping moms. Yes, the pump can make a lot of noise. But that is the noise of you doing everything you can to provide nourishment for your child. If people can’t deal with it that is their problem - not yours. I would just tell people I will be on mute unless they need me, and to expect background noise when I was off mute.

  • Water. Water. And then more water. I found the more water I drank the more milk I pumped. I carried a water bottle around with me everywhere. Staying hydrated was my job and I excelled at it. 

  • Have your baby nearby when you pump. If that isn’t possible, a picture of your baby or a video of your baby or a piece of your babies clothing. If I was at home when my baby was still in the hospital, I would take a moment before I started pumping to look at videos of him. If I was pumping in the hospital, I would sit next to his isolette and pump. My lactation consultant told me that having a photo or the scent of my baby nearby when pumping would activate my hormones and cause my milk to let down. I am here to tell you - it worked. Its also nice to remember that pumping doesn't have to mean your baby is not playing a role.

  • Pump quality matters. If you are going to be pumping often, the more powerful the pump the better. I ended up renting a hospital grade pump since I was pumping multiple times a day and knew I would be pumping for many months. The pump I had was gentle on my nipple but strong enough to extract the milk. 

  • Invest in a small freezer. If you have the means and the space, I suggest investing in a small freezer to keep by your pumping set up. You should be able to get a new one for $150-$250. I know this may not be needed for everyone, but having a dedicated space for my pumped milk that was at my pumping space was great. 

  • For fun - name your pump. I think humor is the cure to most things. Pumping is not my favorite thing to do. And I did it A LOT. I hated having to say “I am off to pump” all the time, so I would tell people I had to go “feed my electronic baby”. For some reason this made me smile and giggle… every time. You could name your pump something funny like Bessie or Gwendolyn. 

  • Pumping is a journey. It may be something you do every now and then or something you have to do multiple times a day. I hated how the electronic baby interrupted my sleep and my daily routines, but I knew pumping was the one thing I could still do for my son. I was the best pumper I could be. I made sure that my preemie would never want for breastmilk. In fact, I did such a good job pumping that I had enough extra milk to donate over 27 gallons of milk to the Mothers Milk Bank. Whatever your pumping story might be, just make sure to make it the most enjoyable and productive experience possible.


    About the Author: Melissa Harris

    Melissa Harris is a single mother of two children living in Oakland, California, where she was raised. She was on the fast track to being a partner in a mid-size ad agency when she gave birth to her second child, Sam, and the trajectory of her life changed.

    Melissa is now a work-from-home account director for two virtual creative agencies in the Bay Area. She is also the author of "One Pound, Twelve Ounces", the story of a mother’s love and desperate desire for her baby to have his best chance at life, even when there was only a 20% chance of hope.

    In her free time, she drives kids from activities to appointments to playdates, bakes lots of bread, and helps her congresswoman fight for better healthcare for all Americans.