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Exclusive pumping is breastfeeding. Here’s how to make it easier

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I thought it would come naturally, as the movies show. I thought it would be easy. I thought that was what everyone was doing. Until my breastfeeding journey didn’t go as planned and I had to start pumping exclusively to make sure my babies were fed. The journey has been difficult, a journey that often made me feel defeated and like I was failing at the very basics of motherhood. But over time I started to realize that pumping is still breastfeedingand that I wasn’t failing at all, I was just taking a different path.

My adorable baby E was born at 34 weeks. We did our best, but he wasn’t ready to breastfeed. The drive, the coordination, the lockdown…they just weren’t there, and I often felt like I was failing motherhood.

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I switched to exclusive expression and the time I spent feeding my baby doubled. I would spend 30 minutes manually holding my pump, then another 30 minutes feeding my son what I had pumped. And then I would spend time holding my merry spitter upright and burping for a while, only to have to start the whole process over an hour later. No one was sleeping, E wasn’t gaining weight and I was at my wit’s end. I dropped.

18 months later, my second child was born. Breastfeeding a full-term child was going to be a broken– except it wasn’t. Maybe I just lacked the focus to really learn how to breastfeed. Maybe I was too traumatized by our experience with poor weight gain since our first born. I found myself obsessed with trying to figure out exactly how much M was eating and worried that it wouldn’t be enough.

Related: To My Wife Who Pumps Exclusively: I’m In Awe Of You

I really wanted to have the “magical” experience of breastfeeding. I envied friends who were still breastfeeding their one- to two-year-olds. But the more I thought about it, the more I accepted the pumping. I would know how much milk M was getting. I would continue to give him milk produced by my body. He would still enjoy the health benefits of breast milk, such as antibody protection against diseases, and a lower risk of asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), type 1 diabetes and ear infections.

Pumping would be my labor of love, just fed M through a bottle instead of directly from the breast. I’ve been looking for things to make pumping (while dealing with two under two) easier and more manageable so I have more control – and this time it worked for us!

These 5 things helped make the pumping journey easier for us:

1. Find a way to go hands-free

It can be a bra to attach those straps to or collectible cups to replace your straps. Either way, being able to bottle-feed your baby (or do whatever else you might need to, like write this article) while you express your milk saves you a ton of time!

2. Use the fridge hack

Keeping my bridles in the fridge between uses and washing them once a day instead of 5-8 times a day is monumental. You will need a good wet bag or Tupperware container large enough to fit your bridles so you can safely store them in the fridge between uses. Something airtight will keep them away from any bacteria that might be living in your fridge. (This “hack” may not be for you if you have a preemie or a baby with medical conditions, so talk to your pediatrician first!)

3. Have the ability to pump on the go

It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but a backup pump (whether battery-powered or manual) for on the go can make your life easier. Bonus if it’s also hands-free. You’ll also need a good cooler bag to keep the milk you’ve pumped on the go cold until you can put it in the fridge!

Related: The best bottles for breastfed babies

4. Get the hospital grade pump (if covered by insurance)

Even if it has to be plugged in and you only use it once or twice a day, it will be much more effective at removing milk and maintaining supply. Your OBGYN should be able to help you sign up for a pump through insurance, but there are also many different providers (Edgepark, Acceleron, and Aeroflow to name a few) that can help you easily make these arrangements by filling out an online form and will even help ship you monthly replacement supplies to keep all your pump parts fresh and efficient, if they’re covered by your insurance or health savings account .

5. Find a good bottle of water

Fill it, drink it, fill it, all day! Give your body adequate hydration. Extra fluids won’t increase your intake, but staying hydrated can help ensure your body is ready to go when it’s time to pump. Make sure you have a bottle of water handy at all times so you can drink whenever you feel thirsty and avoid dehydration.

Related: A postpartum plan is just as important as a birth plan. Here’s how to make one.

As we celebrate Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I just want to remind my fellow pumpers that pumping is still breastfeeding. I appreciate the time, patience and dedication it takes.

I remind you that it is not easy, but you do it and it deserves to be celebrated this month and every day! And if you tried and it didn’t work, I’m here for you too, because I’ve been there too, mom.