We always like to share a wide range of experiences and personal stories with you and today’s guest post is one which we haven’t covered before. Our feeding stories have covered breastfeeding, formula feeding, tongue tie and more which all show that there are very different and personal reasons when it comes to feeding your baby. Today’s post is by Isobel who chose to exclusively express and bottle feed her baby for a number of reasons. I’ll hand you over to Isobel to tell you all about her experience.
Although I’d always imagined that I would breastfeed any children that I had, when I got pregnant with my daughter, Rose, it was just not something that I could picture myself doing. So I made the unusual choice to exclusively express my milk from birth, luckily my husband James was totally on board with the idea and we’ve found that for us it has been the perfect way to feed Rose.
To my knowledge exclusively expressing from birth is not very common in the UK and I really didn’t know what to do. I began by speaking to my midwife and health visitor about it and if I am honest the reactions I got were frustrating, they didn’t seem to be able to get their heads around why I didn’t just want to put the baby on my breast. They struggled to answer my questions about what I would do in hospital when the baby was just born and how I would give her my colostrum, they just kept trying to encourage me to try ‘normal’ breastfeeding. So I turned to the internet to find out more. Here I found interesting stories about women who exclusively expressed, what their timetables for expressing were and why they had ended up expressing, but I still struggled to find much information on preparing for expressing before the baby arrives. I had read that I would need to hand express to start with, so spent hours googling this and trying to find videos of how to do it (whilst hoping that my neighbours wouldn’t see me watching these videos through the windows!). This is something I would recommend all women who are wanting to breastfeed or express do, it is really simple once you’ve got the hang of it but I imagine trying to work out how to do it once your baby is here is stressful and hard. I also did a lot of research into what type of pump to get, I decided on the Medela freestyle double pump as it seemed to be the best on the market and I would be using it a lot, I got it at a baby event so got £100 off the rrp which was great.
Whilst still pregnant I started to think about expressing a stock of colostrum to freeze before Rose was born, again a google search helped a bit here as I wanted to know if it was safe to do so, it’s not recommended before 38 weeks pregnant because expressing can cause your uterus to contract and potentially induce labour. I ordered some sterilised syringes online and when my maternity leave started I would spend 15-20 minutes a day expressing by hand, and eventually by pump, then freezing the colostrum I got out. To start with I was only getting a very small amount, but the amounts increased every day and soon I had a good stock frozen ready for my daughter. In fact I had to stop expressing at 41 weeks pregnant as I didn’t have enough space for it all in the freezer!
We took some frozen syringes of colostrum into hospital with us when I went into labour and the midwife put them into their freezer for me, I did this so I didn’t have to worry about expressing as soon as Rose was born and could just enjoy cuddles with her. In the end I had a fairly traumatic last 30 minutes of my labour and Rose was rushed into intensive care. As awful as it was, I felt lucky to not have to worry about how I was going to feed Rose and James was able to bring my freezer stock of colostrum into the neonatal unit; the nurses were all quite shocked at the amount that I had managed to stockpile! The shock of the labour definitely had an impact on when my milk came in but I think that because I’d already built up my colostrum supply I did not see as much of an impact as I might have done if I hadn’t expressed prior to Rose’s birth.
Rose came home after five days in intensive care and then the fun really began! To start with, whilst James was on paternity leave, he did all the feeds and I would ‘express on demand’ whenever Rose wanted a feed. In the first few weeks this was about every 3-4 hours and I would express for about 15 minutes at a time. We quickly got into a routine and there was a constant supply of breastmilk stored in the fridge, as well as bottles that James could grab to feed Rose with – a benefit of breastmilk is that you don’t need to warm it up so Rose has it cold, straight from the fridge. I had made myself a pumping bra by cutting a couple of holes in an old sports bra so that I could be hands free whilst pumping, this turned out to be very useful as I could cook, eat and scroll through Instagram whilst expressing.
When James went back to work I stopped expressing quite as much cutting down to about 6 times a day, including once in the middle of the night when Rose had her feed. I have a good milk supply and one problem that cutting down my pumping sessions so quickly caused was mastitis, I would also get engorged breasts quite a lot so quickly learnt good massaging techniques for blocked ducts. Very early on I also had problems with blisters on my nipples, which were caused by using the wrong sized nipple flanges when I used the pump that the hospital provided whilst I was staying there. These made it painful to pump, but I applied lots of lansinoh and also lubricated the inside of the flange with a bit of olive oil when I pumped to help, it took about two weeks to clear up.
I’ve now been exclusively expressing for Rose for four months and although there have been a few not so great moments; on the whole it has been amazing. We’ve settled into a really good routine and I express three or four times a day, normally at 6am, 12noon, 5pm and 10pm, getting between 200-300ml each time. I’ve found a few useful pins on Pinterest for the amounts of milk to give to Rose as she has got older, and she takes around 800ml a day over five feeds. Expressing really works for us as a family, James loves that he is so involved in the feeding and has had the opportunity to bond with Rose in a way that men don’t always get. One of my anxieties about it early on was that it would stop me from being able to do things, but we have gone on numerous trips away in the past few months and it hasn’t been a problem. I have managed to express in the car, at a flower show and even in front of the gas man when he came to read the meter (that one was less planned!). I think that the secret behind our success was starting to express before Rose was born and therefore being confident about how feeding would work for us, it certainly saved us sleepless nights early on.
Our next challenge is going to be weaning Rose onto formula as we are doing shared parental leave and I will be going back to work soon. I have heard that if you mix formula in with the breastmilk it will help them slowly get used to the taste, but any advice anyone has would be very useful.
My Expressing Tips and tricks:
Start expressing pre-baby or at least have a go at hand expressing so that you know what you are doing.
Ensure that you are using the right sized flange (nipple funnel bit) for your nipple to prevent blisters or soreness.
Buy or make a handsfree pumping bra, I cut a couple of holes into an old sports crop top.
Have a hand pump for when you are out and about.
While your milk supply is still settling down do a bit a breast massage before pumping to help with any blockages.
Get people to help with feeding, they love it and it means you can pump (or have a cup of coffee and some cake) whilst they feed your baby.
I don’t sterilise my pump kit after each use, I pop it in a sandwich bag in the fridge which saves a lot of time.
Image by Little Beanies Photography.