First of all, I did NOT stay motivated to pump for my twins.
At least, not all the time.
This story is NOT about how the miraculous “liquid gold” properties of breast milk was all I could ever imagine feeding my precious cherubs and how knowing that my milk was the best milk for them was motivation enough to milk myself dry on the daily.
This is not the story of how I was perfectly happy pumping breastmilk for two for the better part of a year.
This is the story of how I took it day by day, got frustrated, got angry, got sad, got exhausted, but I met my personal pumping goal by keeping it manageable.
I did not embark on pumping for my twins with the goal of breast milk at all costs.
Having exclusively breastfed my first two children, it was admittedly a total culture shock to see my freshly born twins receiving bottles of formula in the NICU while I was still in the maternity ward (via pictures from my husband).
Would my milk even come in? Would they ever take the breast? I hadn’t factored the cost of formula into my twin-budget! I was awash with a million emotions, and honestly, one of those was a sense that I had already failed them: they were wheeled away from me shortly after birth in plastic cots getting bottles from strangers. I was sitting in a hospital bed with my midwife, trying to hand express some colostrum.
Wheeled into the NICU to see my boys, I was able to give them their bottles and also let them try latching. The first 24 hours, they received bottles of formula, and I think I tried to latch them a few times, but they tired so quickly that they weren’t getting much. The most important thing to me was getting them home quickly. If that meant bottles, then it meant bottles.
Leaving the boys in the NICU while I went home with empty arms was upsetting, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, the NICU turned out to be a hugely positive experience for our entire family, giving me time to rest and recover and connect with my older kids, and preventing the twins from future hospital visits. (They experienced trouble regulating their body temperatures while in the NICU, which would’ve resulted in stressful trips to emergency had they already been at home.)
My first night home I collapsed on our couch in the dark and put on my pump, hoping something would come. The golden milk I collected seemed so little, but when I brought it to the NICU early the next morning, along with a bit more I pumped in the middle of the night, I learned it was enough for their little tummies. When you breastfeed, you never see the quantity your baby takes in, so in those early days it was pretty awesome to be able to quantify how little such a tiny tummy actually needs at a time!
Before I get into how I kept myself pumped for pumping, I want to acknowledge that I didn’t have issues with milk supply nor did my twins have any complex medical needs. There are many, many reasons why a mom doesn’t breastfeed or pump, and it would be naïve to imply that all you need to be successful is the right motivation. Also, I did not have to return to a job at six weeks postpartum. I don’t think I would’ve had what it takes to be pumping at work.
I support every caregiver making informed decisions about what feeding method works best for their baby and themselves, not breastfeeding or pumping at all costs.
I was privileged to have everything I needed to be a full-time pumper: my milk came in strong, I was a third-time mom so I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the basics of baby care, and thanks in large part to my relationships with some amazing brands because of this blog, I had everything I needed to pump at home (except, as it turned out, bottles).
While the boys were in the NICU, I was pretty gung-ho about pumping. When my daughter was a baby I was a milk donor and pumped once a day, so I had a pumping bra and a portable pump.
In the NICU, I had nurses to help me take care of the twins. While I was there during the day, I would feed each twin, change their diapers and put them back in their cots about every three hours. Then I’d put on my pump and chill. If one of the babies needed something while I was pumping, of course there were nurses all around to lend a hand. At home, my mom and my husband were there to help with the older kids while I pumped. So in the beginning, going back and forth to the NICU, and having helpers at home, pumping was relatively easy. I would get up to pump once during the night. I brought my little cooler bag of milk to the NICU every morning, or sent it in with my mom or husband.
At first, my hope was that once we got home from the NICU, the boys would eventually start feeding at the breast so I wouldn’t need to pump. With my pump on, I ordered bottles and formula online just in case. I remember thinking I’d open one box of bottles and have the other on hand as backup, figuring I wouldn’t be giving bottles full time. But I very quickly came to appreciate that bottle feeding worked really well for us, so the question became how long I wanted to pump to fill those bottles.
Here’s how you can stay motivated to keep pumping (almost) full time, too:
1- Set micro goals
In theory, I wanted to breastfeed the twins as long as I breastfed their older siblings; about two and a half years. But if the only way they would take my milk was in a bottle, then I knew one year was the most I was willing to pump. Staring down the barrel of 365 days plugging my nipples in as many as eight times a day was intimidating and discouraging, so I focused on making it to three, six and nine months. Every time I met that goal, I made sure to celebrate and acknowledge it.
At times, I gave myself daily or weekly goals. Literally there were days when I would tell myself that I would just pump one more time. That permission to quit actually helped motivate me to keep going.
2- Take breaks
While there were small stretches of time when I was spending enough time pumping and producing enough to feed the boys only my milk, one of the keys to meeting my pumping goal was being comfortable doing mixed feedings. On average the twins had one to two bottles of formula every 24 hours (side note: I am grateful to be past the point of considering feedings in terms of 24-hour periods), and the main thing this allowed me to do was drop overnight pumping.
I didn’t become a slave to my pump; if I needed to skip a pumping session for practical reasons or because I just needed a break, I did. If you are experiencing supply issues, definitely make sure to consult an expert to be sure skipping pumping sessions isn’t detrimental.
I never formulated my goal as “zero formula.” I formulated it as “as much breastmilk as I can produce while maintaining my sanity.”
3- Reward yourself
I have a really hard time treating myself. I’m always willing to spend big cash on my kids and my husband and make sacrifices for them to ensure they’re happy and having a good time … but I have a hard time justifying it for myself. (Diagnosis: classic mom guilt.)
Rewarding myself for pumping was very important to me, and I know it sounds silly (or maybe fully relatable), but telling myself that I deserved a treat because I was a champion pumper allowed me to actually treat myself. In fact, just becoming a mom to four instead of two really helped me to just say, screw it, I deserve this! (Which is not to say that having fewer children makes you less deserving of reward … just that somehow going from two to four kids helped ME to accept that I too deserve a treat.)
4- Have the right tools
If you can get your hands on a battery-operated pump, DO IT.
I tested the Medela, Ameda and the Ardo, and I would wear a pumping bra to hold the flanges in place (mainly my Cake Lotus) and carry the pump in my fanny pack, like a boss. (Overall, the Ardo was my preferred pump, but I didn’t find that any one pump made me produce more or less milk; I just appreciated the relative quiet of the Ardo.)
A pumping bra means you don’t have to physically hold the flanges in place, which is vital to maintaining your sanity. You can read a book or eat or scroll Facebook … or, who am I kidding, wipe your toddler’s butt and get them a snack … all while milking yourself.
Finding the pump that works best for you is also vital. You might consider renting one, although most full-time pumping moms I’ve spoken to feel, in hindsight, that they’d have spent less if they actually just bought their own pump.
Make sure the flanges fit your breast properly and that you’re as comfortable as possible as a bipedal dairy cow. I am not an expert on helping you choose the right pump; if you’re stuck, I definitely recommend talking to a lactation consultant!
Using a manual pump from time to time also helped me a lot. I have two Haakaa pumps and would stick them on (using my pumping bra to make sure they didn’t fall off if they lost suction) while driving. Sometimes I just couldn’t bear the thought of hearing my pump motor, so I’d just put on my Haakaa pumps at home. I wouldn’t get as much milk as with my electric pump, but I’d have relief from my full breasts and might just mix the milk collected with formula for the next feed.
I was never able to pump much surplus milk for the freezer, but if you are able to make extra, breastmilk storage bags or bottles are a must! Sometimes I’d have an ounce or two to spare, so I used my Milkies milk trays to freeze those ounces to combine later for a full serving.
5- Be productive while producing
Thanks to a pumping bra and a portable pump, I was able to take care of the twins and my older kids, do chores or work on my blog while pumping.
I get very stressed by a long to-do list, and there is no such thing as a completed to-do list with infant twins at home. If it hadn’t been possible for me to take care of the kids and continue with chores while pumping, I doubt I’d have been able to keep it up.
I would pump while feeding the twins their bottles, pump while doing the dishes, pump while making dinner and, most efficient of all, pump while driving.
The way I dressed every day during this period was dictated by my need to pump whenever it was convenient. I always wore my Lotus pumping bra, a nursing t-shirt and a flannel button up or other open sweater.
On the flipside, pumping can also be a great excuse to stop and do nothing … if that’s possible. When I did have an extra set of hands at home, it was a great excuse to just sit down, drink a cup of tea and read a book or scroll on my phone. Kids need something? Sorry, can’t help you, my pump is plugged in!
True story: if my husband was home while I was pumping, I would sometimes purposely plug my pump in so that if any of the kids needed something, I would have an excuse not to move.
6- Don’t hide
Except for when I was first getting the hang of nursing with my first, I have always been very comfortable nursing my kids in public, no matter the company. (It’s not so easy to discreetly nurse toddler twins, but I will do it if necessary!)
Because it’s noisy and your nipples are rhythmically popping in and out inside a transparent flange while milk collects in (also transparent) bottles that are poking out of your bra, pumping in front of others can be about as awkward as you can imagine—but only if you choose to make it so. Endeavour to not give AF and those around you shall follow suit! (And if they don’t, too bad for them.)
As hyper self-conscious as I am, I didn’t worry about pumping in front of people because goshdarnit I’ve gotta feed my babies, and I don’t have time to waste. And I shouldn’t suffer a lack of social contact just because I need to pump. (Although there were also times when it was a perfect excuse TO hide, if that’s what I needed to do.)
When we had people over to visit the twins and I needed to pump, I just did it. Forget normalizing breastfeeding, let’s normalize pumping too!
7- Find a pumping buddy
There are a lot of Facebook support groups for pumping moms, but I didn’t join any of those. I actually found a pumping pal when I connected with another mom with twins slightly older than mine who was selling a baby swing on Facebook. We hit it off right away via Facebook messenger, and being friends with someone who knew exactly how draining it is to pump for twins was a huge relief. Sometimes it helped just to complain and commiserate, and we both celebrated for each other the days we each put our pumps away.
I’m done pumping, but am still breastfeeding
I pumped almost full time for the twins until they were 11 months old. I also continued to offer the breast, although not with any regularity. I endeavoured to let each of them try nursing at least once a day, and I found they both seemed to do best when they were sleepy or dream-feeding.
A switch just sort of flipped when I stopped offering them bottles around 10 to 11 months old and started giving my milk and then homo milk in straw cups. On the one hand, I was getting a little bit more sleep by then, so energy-wise I felt up to offering the breast for longer periods. On the other hand, they were eating a ton of solids, so their nourishment wasn’t exclusively from milk anymore.
The twins are now 18 months old and nurse two to three times during the day and one to two times overnight. They have some cow’s milk during the day in straw cups, too. (If you want to laugh at my experience tandem-feeding twin toddlers, be my guest!)
Even if they hadn’t suddenly mastered breastfeeding at close to a year old, I would still, I think, have stopped pumping at that point or reduced it to the bare minimum. I know moms who continued to pump well into toddlerhood, and if that’s your goal, I hope some of my tips can help you make it there!