My Feeding Story, Part One: Adventures in Exclusive Pumping!
Did you know that August is National Breastfeeding Month? In honor of that I would like to share my breastfeeding story.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I was absolutely positive that I would breastfeed my son. I wasn’t worried about it. I wasn’t concerned that breastfeeding would be difficult. I thought it would be easy. After all, it is said to be the most natural thing in the world! My son, Julian, was born in the water on a cold December evening just before Christmas 2011. He was at the breast before he was even an hour old. I had a little trouble figuring it out at first, but he quickly seemed to latch and I thought things were going well.
We were home the next evening and Julian was not happy. He nursed constantly and things were getting super painful for me. However, Julian was not having the diaper output expected. I called our pediatrician, who had not seen the baby yet, and he said it sounded like we were having latch issues and that I should call and IBCLC and come into the office to see him the next day. I called an IBCLC that has a very positive reputation in the area where we lived. She was not immediately available due to being away for the holiday, but said she would send out her colleague. When I took Julian to the pediatrician, we found out he was also not available and were seen by a different physician. She weighed him and he had lost almost a whole pound since his birth four days prior. This was a loss of over 13% which she said was much larger than normal. She basically told me I was starving Julian by continuing to breastfeed (my milk had not yet come in) and that I should immediately switch to formula. I was devastated.
That same day the IBCLC came over and observed me nursing Julian. She made some suggestions for positional changes and said that it looked like he had a great latch. However, when she weighed him before and after a feeding, it looked like he wasn’t transferring any colostrum at all. She suggested that I pump after every feeding, bottle feeding him what I can pump, and supplement with formula. I started feeding him using a dropper, thinking that would be better than a bottle (I was afraid of nipple confusion), but within 24 hours of starting to supplement him he was completely refusing to latch. Every time I tried to get him to nurse, he would just cry. I called the IBCLC in a panic and she came out again. I even contacted another IBCLC for a second opinion. They both told me to just keep trying to get him to nurse, keep pumping and supplementing with formula.
This was one of the most stressful periods of my life. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I was depressed. I cried several times a day. I felt like a failure. My days (and nights) consisted of unsuccessful attempts at nursing, then pumping, bottle feeding the pumped milk, then giving a bottle of formula. By the time I finished that, I’d have maybe 15 minutes before I had to start over again. My milk didn’t come in until day 7 and even then, it wasn’t a full supply. I never felt a let-down. I never felt engorged.
I reached out to a good friend of mine who told me about how she exclusively pumped for her son for the first few months of his life. I started to research exclusive pumping. There wasn’t much information about it online at the time. I contacted the IBCLC I was working with to discuss it, but she wasn’t particularly helpful or encouraging and told me it wasn’t a good long term option. She actually said “it might be worth a try if you are going to just give up on nursing.” I felt that it was really unfair of her to say that, as I’d been spending weeks doing everything I could to nurse and we were miserable. The only helpful advice she had was to rent a hospital grade electric double pump and to pump as often as possible around the clock in order to establish my supply.
The only helpful advice she had was to rent a hospital grade electric double pump and to pump as often as possible around the clock in order to establish my supply.
The first few months were hard! I pumped around the clock (10-12x/day) and it seemed like all I did was pump, make bottles, and feed my son. One thing that made it a little easier was the homemade pumping bra that I made out of an old sports bra. It allowed me to pump hands free. I pumped every 2-3 hours, whether Julian was awake or sleeping (it was a lot easier when he was sleeping). I pumped at home, at other people’s houses, and in doctor’s offices. I pumped in the car while parked in parking lots, on the street, and while driving. I power pumped in the evenings (pumping 10 min on, 10 minutes off, for a couple hours to mimic cluster feeding). I set my alarm and woke up 1 or 2 times every night to pump. Prolactin levels are highest between 1am and 5am and it is highly recommended to pump at least once during that time while establishing your supply. I was so grateful for my husband, who was 100% supportive of feeding our son however I wanted to, and always helped in any way he could. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.
Speaking of supply…. mine was never great. I was never able to pump enough to feed my son breast milk exclusively. I tried all of the natural supply boosters including fenugreek, oatmeal, mother’s milk tea etc. I know lots of moms who swear by these things, but none of them worked for me. I started taking Domperidone, which is an anti-nausea medication that has the side effect of increasing prolactin levels. That medication is what helped my supply the most and allowed me to feed my son between 50% and 75% breast milk.
I often felt like giving up. I would look around me at the moms who, seemingly, easily and blissfully nursed their babies and I felt jealous and like I had failed. I hated pumping and it often felt overwhelming. I was so tired and for a long time I couldn’t nap while the baby was sleeping because I had to pump. Everything revolved around my pumping schedule and it could be quite frustrating. Thankfully, I was able to find a few online support groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and Baby Center. These online communities really provided me with the most information on exclusively pumping and without them, I don’t think I would have been successful. They taught me to take it one day at a time and set small goals that I knew I could meet. I was told “never quit on a bad day.” So I pushed on and through.
After the first few months, it got easier. My supply stabilized to where it was going to be and I could stop pumping at night. That was a big deal for me. Not having to wake up to pump was a huge relief. I was able to very slowly reduce the number of pumps per day. I made it to 6 months, then to 9 months. And finally, to 1 year. I made it to my ultimate goal!
At around 14 months, I decided to wean myself off of the Domperidone and see what would happen. I weaned off of it very slowly, over the course of about two months. But by the time I was completely off the medication, my supply had dropped dramatically and I could only pump about 1/2 to 1 ounce per day. At that point, I decided it was time to stop. I exclusively pumped for Julian for 16 months, and I am very proud of that.
Is exclusively pumping right for everyone who cannot breastfeed? Certainly not. Luckily, we have options! I support, and have participated in, all forms of feeding babies, because fed is best. We can breastfeed or pump, if we are able, and we can formula feed. Feeding our babies is not an all or nothing choice.
Stay tuned next week for the second part of my breastfeeding journey – this time with my younger son, Rhys!