From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I thought that it would come naturally, the way the movies make it seem. I thought that it would be easy. I thought that it was what everyone did. Until my breastfeeding journey didn't go as planned and I had to start exclusively pumping to make sure my babies were fed. The journey was tough, one 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 breastfeeding, and that I wasn’t failing at all—just taking a different route. 

My sweet baby E was born at 34 weeks. We gave it our best shot, but he was not ready to breastfeed. The drive, the coordination, the latch…they just weren’t there, and I often found myself feeling like I was failing at motherhood. 

mom breastfeeding a baby using a boppy

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I switched to exclusively pumping, and the time I spent feeding my baby doubled. I would spend 30 minutes manually holding my pump on, then another 30 minutes feeding my son what I pumped. And then I would spend time holding my happy spitter upright and burping for a while, all to have to start the whole process over again an hour later. No one was sleeping, E wasn’t gaining weight and I was a nervous wreck. I gave up. 

18 months later, my second child was born. Breastfeeding a full-term infant was going to be a breeze—except it wasn’t. Maybe I just lacked the focus needed for me to really learn how to breastfeed. Maybe I was just too traumatized by our experience with poor weight gain from our first born. I found myself obsessing over trying to figure out exactly how much M was eating and worrying that it wasn’t enough.

Related: To my wife who is exclusively pumping: I am in awe of you

I truly wanted the “magical” experience that is breastfeeding. I envied friends who were still breastfeeding their one to two year olds. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to terms with pumping. I would know how much milk M was getting. I would still be giving him milk produced by my body. He would still be getting the health benefits of breast milk, such as antibody protection from illnesses, 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 to M through a bottle instead of directly from the breast. I sought out things to make pumping (while caring for two under two) easier and more manageable so I had more control—and this time around it worked for us!

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

1. Find a way to get handsfree

It can be a bra to strap those flanges on or collection cups to replace your flanges. Either way, being able to feed your baby a bottle (or do anything else you might need to do, such as write this article) while you pump is a huge time saver! 

2. Use the fridge hack

Keeping my flanges in the fridge between uses and washing them once a day instead of 5-8 times a day is monumental. You’ll need a good wet bag or Tupperware container big enough to fit your flanges so that you can store them in the fridge safely between uses. Something airtight will keep them separate from any bacteria that might be living in your fridge. (This “hack” might not be for you if you have a preemie or infant 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 handsfree. You’ll also want a good cooler bag to keep any milk you’ve pumped on the go cold until you can get it to the fridge! 

Related: The best bottles for breastfed babies

4. Get the hospital-grade pump (if it is covered through insurance)

Even if it has to be plugged in and you only use it one or two times a day, it will be way more effective at removing milk and keeping supply up. Your OBGYN should be able to help you sign up to get a pump through insurance, but there are also many different vendors out there (Edgepark, Acceleron, and Aeroflow just to name a few) who 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 effective, if covered by your insurance or Health Savings Account. 

5. Find a good water bottle

Fill it up, drink it up, fill it up—all day long! Give your body adequate hydration. Extra fluids won’t increase your supply, 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 on hand at all times so you can drink anytime you are thirsty and prevent 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 out there that pumping is still breastfeeding. I am recognizing the time, patience and dedication that it takes. 

I am reminding you that it’s not easy, but you are doing it and that deserves to be celebrated this month and every single day! And if you tried and it didn’t work out, I’m here for you as well—because I’ve been there too, mama.