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Sharp Health News

Exclusive pumping: A way to breastfeed

Aug. 5, 2022

Laura Holloway of Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center

Laura Holloway, who works at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, and her son, Thomas.

Laura Holloway is the director of marketing and communications at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

While pregnant with my son, I was asked if I planned on breastfeeding. “Yes, if I can!” I replied in my limited knowledge as a first-time mom who was only aware of one way to breastfeed: directly from the breast.

After Thomas was born, I tried nursing. Nursing, I learned, is the term for feeding directly from the breast. But he wasn’t able to draw milk; as a result, he began to lose weight. That’s when I learned about pumping.

Some parents both nurse and pump, while others exclusively pump, or “EP,” as it’s known in the pumping community. There are a lot of reasons someone who wants to feed their baby breastmilk may have to, or choose to, exclusively pump.

Some babies are unable to latch, while some parents have difficulty establishing nursing because of a baby’s NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) stay or other health-related reasons. And some parents choose to exclusively pump because it allows other caregivers to feed the baby.

“With pumping, a breast pump that is operated by a motor simulates a baby’s sucking to draw milk from the breasts, which gets collected in bottles,” says Kika Sandoval, perinatal educator at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “This milk can either then be fed to the baby right away, or refrigerated or frozen for later use. Breastmilk can be safely refrigerated up to 4 days and frozen up to 4 months.”

It’s important to understand that pumping is a type of breastfeeding, just like nursing. And like nursing, pumping has its benefits and challenges. I’m certain I would have thrown in the towel had it not been for the support I received from Sharp’s free breastfeeding support group and educators. That is my first piece of advice to anyone preparing to pump: Know the resources available to you and use them.

Getting started: pick your pump and accessories
Like nursing, getting started with pumping requires time and effort. For the first several weeks, I was pumping 10 to 12 times a day to establish my milk supply. This can be different for everyone, so it’s important to speak with your health care provider about what’s right for you and your baby.

Under the Affordable Care Act, breast pumps are covered by most health insurance plans for free. Check with your insurance provider about what is available to you.

I chose to rent a hospital-grade pump for a fee from the hospital where I delivered. In my experience, I found it to have the best milk output in the least amount of time. Many others find the same with other types of pumps. However, it required me to be plugged into a wall, which was mentally draining at times.

I also purchased a bra from Sharp’s New Beginnings Boutique & Gift Shop that let me pump hands-free. Later, as my baby got older and we began doing more things together, I decided I also wanted a pump that would let me pump on the go. There are several options for wearable, wireless pumps that fit in your bra.

In addition to a pump, you will likely need bottles, nipples, breastmilk storage bags, and a way to clean and sanitize your pump parts and accessories. I’ve been gifted storage bags and other accessories from friends and my local Buy Nothing group, an online platform for giving and receiving free items.

Maintain your milk supply
There’s a lot talked about when it comes to maintaining and boosting milk supply, from drinking coconut water, to taking certain supplements, to eating specific foods, such as oats. While some have been shown to work, staying well hydrated and eating a healthy, balanced diet are tried-and-true ways to protect your milk supply.

Perform self-care
Breastfeeding — whether nursing or pumping — can create some physical wear and tear, but there are products that can help. For nipples, apply nipple cream or coconut oil to prevent cracks, bleeding and dryness. Heating pads or warm washcloths placed on the breast can loosen clogged ducts and help milk flow; cold compresses can provide cooling comfort after. A good set of gloves and moisturizer can help prevent dry hands and nails from frequently washing bottles and pump parts.

Additionally, if possible, seek support. Depending upon your pumping situation, you may have to be stationary or have limited mobility for a period of time. If someone can safely care for your baby while you pump, this may be a nice time to read a book, journal, attend a support group or meditate. Sharp offers free breastfeeding support groups to help parents learn from others about their breastfeeding successes and challenges.

“When it comes to breastfeeding, there are three important things to consider: feeding baby, mom’s mental health and protecting milk supply,” says Sandoval. “Breastfeeding can be challenging for many women, and we’re here to support patients with all three.”

Lastly, breastfeeding — no matter how it’s achieved and no matter for how long — is something to be proud of. Some people pump a few days, a few weeks, months or more than a year.

As my personal pumping journey begins to wind down, I remember how hard those first few days and weeks felt. Many people told me things would get better, and they were right. There is a large, proud community of EPers and we are all here to support each other.

For the news media: To speak with a Sharp lactation educator for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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