My breastfeeding journey
Your reason for wanting a breast pump might be very different from mine and I make no guarantee that a Spectra® pump will work for you. However, I want people to be aware that they have an option of a good quality, hospital grade pump, at a fraction of the price that you would normally pay for one.
When I found out I was pregnant there was no question of whether I would breast feed her or not. My Mother had breastfed me for 18months and as a midwife I knew the health benefits, so it was just a given that I would. I didn't even think about researching pumps or bottles, let alone buy any.
Two days after Olivia was born (at home) my nipples were so sore I didn't want her anywhere near them and in my experience I knew that meant there was a problem. I went to see a lactation consultant (IBCLC) who told me she had a tongue tie. Again, I knew the issues a tongue tie could cause so I immediately found a doctor to cut it. I didn't notice an immediate difference but hoped that it would get better over time.
My daughter wasn't weighed properly at birth, but using the weight we had and the weight the IBCLC got when we saw her it seemed Olivia had lost almost 17% of her weight, in just 2 days. Looking back at photos its clear that she had lost some weight, but just how much it was we’ll never know.
Since I couldn't feed her directly I started expressing. The morning of day 3 I was in Big W quickly trying to research which of the pumps they had available would be best. I chose one and took it home, only for it to rub on my nipples more and cause more trauma. Later that afternoon my midwife loaned me a Medela® Freestyle, but at the beginning I could only get out 1 or 2ml. By day 5, when my milk should have come in, I was getting maybe 10mls at the most. Obviously this wasn't enough to sustain Olivia so we had started giving her formula as well.
In between all this I was trying to get her to go back to breastfeeding directly but each time was a fight and once she was on she would fall asleep after only a few minutes. Then she would wake up screaming a few minutes after taking her off. So I knew she still wasn't able to transfer milk. The day before a second doctor’s appointment to get the tongue tie cut further (after another IBCLC had said that it wasn't 'fixed') she was on the breast for almost 8hrs straight, but she wasn't ‘feeding’, she was more just ‘comfort’ sucking. A weighed feed at the next IBCLC appointment confirmed she was only transferring 12mls in over 20 minutes.
By now I was getting between 20-30mls of milk each time I expressed, but I knew I should be getting more. I started taking medication and herbal supplements (galactagogues) that I had often recommended my patients take, but it didn't seem to make a difference. I was also doing a lot of research into lactation, ties, galactagogues, and pumps. Around 2 weeks post partum I was given a hospital grade pump (a Medela® Symphony), but I still only got about 30mls each time.
I saw a chiropractor, I saw 2 IBCLC’s and emailed 2 others for advice, and took just about every herb thought to increase supply. Nothing helped. But instinctively I just knew that I could make more milk - I had had an almost perfect pregnancy, I had given birth at home, I should be able to make enough milk. Through all this I learnt to hand express and I could hand express at least 10mls in 5 minutes, whereas a pump took at least 15mins to get the same amount. The only reason I didn't ‘exclusively’ hand express was because my hand would be cramping and was too tired to do more than 5 minutes at a time.
In my research on pumps I found the Avent® had ‘massaging petal inserts’, which they claimed would better mimic the action of the baby feeding. So I asked to borrow a friends and on the first try I got 40mls! The only problem was that it was a single pump and so each session took over 40mins. I looked at getting a double Avent but more research told me that it probably wouldn't survive exclusive expressing.
I should probably explain here that Olivia was still not directly breastfeeding, we were trying supply lines and feeding with a shield but each time was a real fight to get her on, which would usually end with us both in tears. I hadn't made the official choice to exclusively express, but it was basically what I was doing.
Around this time a friend recommended I get a Spectra® pump. I had never heard of this brand, so I was wary of spending hundreds of dollars on a pump that might not work. She also suggested that I join a Facebook group for mothers who were exclusively expressing. A few days after joining I posted my story and received numerous comments making suggestions on how to increase my supply. I learnt that some of the herbs I was taking can actually LOWER supply and there are ‘cooking’ herbs that I should be avoiding (like rosemary and sage - and one of my favourite meals was rosemary and sage marinated lamb!). I learnt that I should be expressing at least 8 times a day with a hospital grade pump and that I should try ‘power pumping’ for a few days. An IBCLC I had seen told me to 'just pump after she feeds' - little did I realise that because we were giving her mostly formula she was only feeding 5-6 times a day, so I was only expressing that often - not enough to increase my supply, just maintain it
But I was using a hospital grade pump, and I was getting 10mls less than the Avent pump! So what should I do? In my research on the Spectra® I found I could get similar inserts to the Avent pumps. And they claimed their pumps were ‘hospital grade’ (although I had never heard of them in any hospital I had worked in). I asked the Facebook group for their thoughts on the Spectra® and got an overwhelming response in favour of them. So I ‘bit the bullet’ as they say, and bought an S2.
It arrived the next day and so I set it up and used it at my next session. I got my usual 30mls. So I used it the next time and got the same. I was going to have to return the rental I had in a few days so I figured I would keep using the S2, to get used to it, and if it was going to give me my usual 30mls, then it certainly wasn't doing any harm.
I remember I got the pump on a Wednesday. That Friday I got one lot of 90mls…!!! I had had acupuncture that Wednesday as well, so I put the increase down to that. My next session I got my usual 30mls, so I figured it was a fluke. But surely if I could get 1 lot of 90mls, I should be able to get more??
By now I was using a smartphone App to track my output and how much Olivia was drinking (I was getting about 180 - 220mls/day and she was drinking about 900mls/day). A week after using the Spectra® my supply had increased by about 100mls/day, and I was consistently getting amounts around 60mls/pump. The next week it had gone up again. The next week, up again. It took about 6 weeks, but finally I plateaued at about 850mls/day!!! My daughter was now 15 weeks old and I was able to give her 95% breastmilk. I had ‘given up’ on directly breastfeeding completely around 12 weeks, as she now had a breast aversion (she didn't even like being laid down in the position to feed), and so I had officially become an ‘exclusive pumper’.
What exactly caused the increase? I don't know. What I do know is that I tried 4 different brands of pumps, 2 of them being pumps that are used in hospitals here in Perth, but I saw the increase after using the Spectra®. Around 6 months I weaned off all the galactogogues I had been taking and didn't lose any volume, so I’m pretty sure they hadn't been doing anything.
Being a NICU nurse I thought I knew everything about expressing and breastfeeding. But I realised from this journey that I knew very little. And I realised that just because health care professionals tell you to do something in a tone that sounds like they know what they are talking about, doesn't mean they actually know what they are talking about (one IBCLC told me to ‘just’ pump when Olivia fed, which was usually 5-6 times in a 24hr period. I learnt from the Facebook group that you should be expressing 8-12 times/24hrs for the first 12 weeks at least.)
Some people will respond well to any pump that is put in front of them, others will need something very specific. Some people will make milk just by looking at their baby, others will need to put in a lot of effort to make just enough. Everyone is different. I am not going to claim that the Spectra® pumps will definitely work for you if others have not. I just want to give you the option to try it, at a reasonable price, so that you can see if it will work for you before you commit to spending hundreds of dollars.