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I learned about exclusively pumping after my preemie was born

When my husband and I first found out we were pregnant, it was never a question for me as to whether or not I would breastfeed; I promised myself I would at least try. I asked for all of the breastfeeding gear at my baby shower—a pillow, nursing bras, nipple creams and a cute breastfeeding cover—assuming it would all work out and I would breastfeed with no difficulty.

I had heard that breastfeeding was challenging for some, but my naïve pre-baby self didn't understand how or why. The idea of breastfeeding seemed pretty natural to me; the baby latches and everything goes perfectly (HA! I know, you can laugh with me), you breastfeed your baby while on maternity leave, and then you pump when you return to work and breastfeed while at home. So simple, right?

Well, it can be a lot more complicated than that.

I gave birth early, so my daughter was a preemie and immediately taken to the NICU in another wing of the hospital. I wasn't near her at all times and this posed a challenge for our new breastfeeding journey.

I'll never forget when the lactation consultant at the hospital came in to discuss how to breastfeed a premature infant. I was told if I wanted my preemie to receive my breastmilk, I would have to start pumping…immediately. Overnight. Early morning. Every three hours.

At first, pumping every three hours didn't seem so bad to me, but I quickly learned that this didn't include washing and sanitizing pump parts, the actual 20-minute pumping session, walking my breastmilk down to the NICU, and then bottle feeding my baby.

I was pretty overwhelmed. I didn't even have a pump yet because I was told when I was pregnant that I "wouldn't need it right away," as most moms who plan on breastfeeding do not.

As I took in everything the LC told me, the NICU let me know there was a donor breastmilk program that my daughter could utilize until my supply came in. I still needed to try to breastfeed my preemie every time I visited her in the NICU on top of pumping 8-10 times a day.

It took me almost seven full days for my supply to come in and get more than just a few drops of milk, so I also felt like most of my time and efforts were wasted. With my hormones raging, I figured I might as well hook myself up to the pump and stay there for the rest of my life.

I didn't feel like I could do anything—my family visits, personal time and thoughts all centered around pumping every three hours and breastfeeding somewhere in between.

As exhausted as I was by the constant merry-go-round of breastfeeding and pumping, I was determined that my daughter would receive breastmilk if at all possible, but my attempts at both of us learning how to have her eat from my breasts were failing. She was fidgety, didn't really know how to suck and I wasn't able to keep track of how many ounces she had taken in.

This is never going to work. Why don't I just continue pumping to get her my breastmilk? That was where I put a halt to breastfeeding and had pretty much decided I was going to be an exclusively pumping mom.

Exclusively pumping was never brought up as an option to me in the hospital. And after scouring the internet for more information I came upon story after story from other moms who struggled with breastfeeding who also didn't know they could exclusively pump and give the benefits of breastmilk to their babies through a bottle.

I wish I had known sooner that I had this choice because it was the best one for us.

I gave breastfeeding one last try after my baby came home. I figured she was strong enough now to figure it out. We failed again, but I didn't get stressed out this time. I knew I had different ways to feed her, and she was still getting my breastmilk.

As difficult, draining and time-consuming as it was and still is, if you have the opportunity to exclusively pump for your baby it's 100% worth it. As one NICU nurse put it when I told her I was exclusively pumping, it is truly a "labor of love."

My daughter is almost 4 months old and hasn't had formula a day in her life. And when she does? Great! It will likely give me some reprieve while still feeding her my pumped milk as well.

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When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

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Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

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Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

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Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

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Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

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Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

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Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

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Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

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