Doctor-mum on how she exclusively pumped for a year
Updated: May 7
Dr Sandrine Rey-Scalco is a working mother aka multi-tasker extraordinaire! She is a medical doctor and social gerontologist. At home, she is a mother to a two-year-old boy, an 8-year-old dog and awaiting the next little one in the next couple of months. Here is Sandrine's story:
Anya reached out and asked me to share for her blog my story of exclusively expressing milk. I thought I’d give some background tome about this journey and just remember this is anecdotal advice, I’m by no means an expert but hopefully, a few things here will resonate with you and may help.
The two things I ruminated about during pregnancy was breastfeeding and having an episiotomy. I like to tackle problems or worries and so for both of these, I tried to educate myself as much as possible. I met Anya at one of her amazing free education sessions and learnt about my pelvic floor. As a doctor I knew breastfeeding would be difficult, it was the thing I was most nervous about during pregnancy because it’s not as easy as it looks despite what (little) is out there in the media. And so I went to a few breastfeeding classes. My husband came to the breastfeeding classes too as I felt he needed to know that it wasn’t just a simple thing.
Turns out despite educating myself and pelvic floor exercises and devices, due to a difficult position of my son's head he needed a forceps delivery and I, therefore, needed an episiotomy. This was done brilliantly and I healed very well. My fear was slightly unfounded. But the breastfeeding?! Now that I was totally right about! For me, it was definitely not a simple process.
Unfortunately, we never succeeded with direct breastfeeding. My son did not latch, got dehydrated and consequently jaundiced needing treatment. He had a tongue tie and this was addressed very simply by the ENT specialist. We attended several lactation consultant visits and breastfeeding group sessions, back in the day you could meet in a group (note: article written during the Covid-19 pandemic). After several weeks of trying anything and everything, mixed with hormones and feelings of failure, we decided we could not exclusively breastfeed. It was a joint decision as it is not an easy journey and I think you need not only a buy-in but support from your partner.
I had been pumping breast milk in the hospital and the community midwives lent me a breast pump when I left the hospital. Eventually, I realised I’d need my own pump as I was fortunate enough to have supply and could pump breast milk for my son. I exclusively pumped for about a year. I pumped mostly at home, but also in aeroplanes, restaurants, my graduation ceremony, cars, trains.
This is what I would advise any pumper:
Listen to your body and mind. You know what you can handle and it’s ok to say No.
Be kind to yourself.
Get an excellent pump. This does not necessarily mean you have to spend a fortune. My first pump was a Medela double swing and I got a second pump for going out called the Bella baby which was a fraction of the price and ended up using as my primary one.
Be hands-free as soon as you can. This can start with a hands-free bra. You can get milk collection cups like Freemies that fit in your clothes or get a pump like the Elvie. For the last two I mentioned, I would do a lot of research before purchasing them especially in relation to the type of pumping you will be doing, i.e. exclusive versus mixed with breastfeeding.
If you are going to be pumping outside the house get a pump that is easy to mobilise with. People actually don’t look at you funny and I did not feel judged or weird pumping in public. I must add that I did not do this often and actually adapted my pumping times so that it would not affect me going out. (see point 8)
Get extra parts as this will minimise the time you spend cleaning! Cleaning parts takes an incredible amount of time.
Get an app that can track the milk you are making and if you are able to create a freezer stash you can be reminded when that needs to be used. I used Milk Maid, but there are many.
Follow people or read blogs from people who are doing this. I read many different ones and found one that I kept going to as it had quite grounded non-judgemental advice: https://exclusivepumping.com/.
There is not a lot of evidence to follow with pumping which I found hard as I like to have evidence behind my choice or decision. So there are “rules” out there that people can be quite passionate about and forcefully stating you needing to stick to them. However, I changed the rules to guidelines and adapted them to me and my situation and I’m so glad I did. A lot of things you can trial and error and nothing is necessarily permanent so you can always take steps back to what you were doing. One example of this is: I dropped my middle of the night (MOTN) pump much earlier than the rules said because I was psychologically affected by the diminished sleep it required, especially since my baby and husband were sleeping through that time. So I coincided my pumps with their waking hours and my mental health improved drastically! Remember point number one. Another example is in point number three I mention getting a second pump. I like some parts of the one pump and some of the other so I modified the pump to have both parts and it worked and I ended up with a great version of my pumps.
Pumping is not easy, whether it’s exclusive pumping or mixed with breastfeeding, so just be patient with yourself and always kind. But pumping is totally possible and doable, so if you have supply and want to try it out, I would encourage you to do just that and see if it works for you. I hope these small things helped as a starting point to your journey with breast pumping.
Interested in one-on-one support in transitioning to working motherhood? Learn more about my coaching approach here.