The story of completing our exclusively pumping (EP) journey.
*Trigger: oversupply mentioned.
Over the last month, I have begun slowly weaning off the pump. For some background, I have exclusively pumped for my twin girls since they were born in May at 36 weeks. My supply came in very quickly and very strong – we stayed in the hospital for 2 weeks after my daughters were born (for various reasons: jaundice, feeding and growing, etc) and during that time I was able to freeze the extra milk I was making, but I was already experiencing painful clogs. My girls were also having a hard time latching, and since they had lost 10% of their body weight we were trying everything from weighted feeds, syringe feeding, bottle feeding, and tube feeding. We ultimately ended up deciding after we got home that exclusively pumping was what worked for us. So, for the first 7.5 months of their life, that’s what we did!
After the winter holidays, my supply started to dip. At my peak of my oversupply, I was making around 80 oz/day. At the time, my girls were still eating around 50 oz/day total, and around the 7.5 month mark I was making right under what they needed. I did have a freezer supply built up, but once I added it up, it turns out it would only last me so long with twins. I had toyed with the idea of cutting back pumping (I was already only at 3 pumps per day) to free up some time in my schedule to either spend time with my girls or to be able to better take care of myself too, so once my supply dipped below their needs I started to think logistically about how I wanted to proceed with my pumping journey.
In the beginning, pumping gave me a sense of control. When I couldn’t do much for my babies in the hospital and felt “helpless,” this was the way I could help. I am so thankful I was able to produce milk for my girls and that gave me something I could do during that hospital stay. But at this point in my journey, not only had I sacrificed my body for 9 months of growing two humans inside of me (with some not-so pleasant side effects), but I also have now endured months of pumping too. I was feeling very worn out. Physically I could tell my body was having a hard time. From the clogs, to milk blebs, not being able to keep up with the calorie intake, to losing a lot of weight quickly (I don’t want to complain because I know people also struggle with losing weight postpartum, but I could tell with just the way my body felt that it didn’t seem like the weight loss was healthy). I knew it was time for a change, but I didn’t know how or why.
After evaluating my frozen milk stash, I did know for sure that I wouldn’t be able to reach that one year of exclusively pumping goal (unless I decided to power pump and attempt to do other things to increase my supply again, but I truly wasn’t feeling like I wanted to do that) and came to terms with the reality of potentially having to supplement with formula anyways. At this point, I already wasn’t making enough to cover a day’s worth of milk for the twins. I had been struggling with the emotions around potentially not making it to a full year of exclusively pumping for a while, so I ultimately ended up adjusting my goal instead to trying to get my girls to a full year of getting some breast milk. By adjusting my goal, I personally didn’t feel like I was “giving up,” but instead giving myself some grace. By adjusting my goal, I should be able to have enough frozen milk to give the girls at least one bottle of breastmilk a day until their first birthday. And by coming to terms with that now, I could start the journey into weaning from the pump and supplementing with formula.
After struggling with this decision, I decided ultimately to listen to my body. One day after some weeks of very slowly but consistently making less milk, I noticed I wasn’t feeling the urge or need to pump at work. So one day, I just didn’t. I waited until later that evening when I got home, and noticed after I fully emptied that I wouldn’t need to empty again before I went to bed. This started my schedule of 2 pumps per day (ppd). After dropping to 2 ppd, my milk supply definitely dropped. But, I was okay with that since I was freezing most for future use to make it last. We also thankfully didn’t have any hiccups or digestive issues testing out formula, so since I dropped to 2 ppd they have been taking some formula bottles during their day without any problems.
After dropping to 2 ppd, I just continued to listen to my body and eventually I fell to 1 ppd, and then one pump every day and a half. Then I kept spacing the time out until I just didn’t pump any longer.
Some things that I have noticed throughout the weaning process:
-With each day my breasts definitely become much softer. I was less engorged each day.
-I think I did experience what some people call “weaning flu” – I felt mildly nauseous, I had a harder time regulating my temperature, food seemed to upset my stomach more often, I was getting more frequent headaches, and I was having a harder time regulating my emotions. I also felt slightly anemic and had to start taking iron again (*which may be due to my Nexplanon insertion and my extra long period…which may also account for these hormone-change “symptoms”). I almost felt like how I felt when I first found out if I was pregnant!
-I have extra time to not only spend with my girls, but more time too to take care of my own needs. I have been able to start exercising again (with the small extra chunks of time I’ve created, and I feel like I want to exercise now too now that my chest feels more comfortable and less engorged). I have been able to find pockets of time to start reading again. I have been able to prioritize my own basic needs.
-I learned to listen to my body! By following the cues of my own body, not only did it help with the weaning process, but it also helped me get in better touch with my body postpartum. For the first time in a long time, I was able to focus on what made my body feel good, and adjust when my body didn’t feel good.
I do still have some feelings of wishing I would have just stuck it out, but I don’t truly regret weaning from pumping. I also do have enough freezer milk for at least one breastmilk bottle a day until we hit the year mark, which has been a huge help in this process. Each feeding journey looks different. It has been a great ride while it lasted, but I am happy to know that my girls are happy and healthy, and that I am too!