Somewhere between being severely premature and developing a cyst that blocked 99% of Isaac's airway, breastfeeding got lost in the shuffle. We were just barely trying to stand on our wobbly legs when he came home from the NICU, and pinning all our hopes on the promise "it gets so much better by the time they reach their due date."
I rented a baby scale so we could track his progress, but that was very disheartening. 30 minutes of nursing, if we were lucky to even get a latch, amounted to less than an ounce, when our little man was used to putting away around three from a bottle. Suddenly the arduous task of feeding a newborn became that much more difficult, because instead of just bottle/pump we now had try to latch, try to nurse, then supplement with a bottle and after all that I still had my date with the Medela Symphony. And then his latch got even worse, even with a shield, and unbeknownst to us, eating in a reclining position or even trying to, was quickly becoming a traumatic and basically impossible thing for our son. As our pediatric ENT explained it, "Breathing and eating were too hard to do at the same time, so he figured he'd just breathe."
After his surgery, I was once again hopeful but the damage had already been done, and any attempt to encourage a latch ended in tears of frustration for both of us. Not worth it. We'd already invested in the pump rental and established the habits of exclusive pumping so we've kept at that. It's not the ideal and not what I'd have chosen but here we are.
The Pros and Cons
Exclusively pumping, or EPing as they call it in the biz, is a curious mix of the inconveniences of both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Of course, it also carries with it most of the health benefits of breastfeeding.
When making the case for breastfeeding, advocates will not only mention the vast health benefits, but will also emphasize just how convenient it is. I agree. From where I'm sitting, breastfeeding does look mighty convenient. Pumping isn't free. It isn't really portable, not with a hospital grade breast pump it's not. It comes with tons of accessories that need to be sterilized. It can't be used to quickly soothe a baby, co-sleeping does not mean more sleep for mom, and it doesn't have the same advantages as ecological breastfeeding.
EP-ing even has drawbacks of convenience when compared to formula. Since Isaac was born, I've averaged 3 hours of pumping per day (more in the early days). That means that since he was born I've spent more than a month just pumping. (When I did that math this morning, I didn't know whether to be proud or to cry). Also, it means that each day, I'm tethered to home. No packing up and just going. I need to have a plan to get back home within 3-4 hours max.
Nutrition aside, pumping does have some advantages over formula. Namely, bottles of fresh breast milk are good for at least 6 hours. So no waiting for a bottle heat up with a hangry infant (unless, of course, you are dipping into your thawed freezer stash). Long term it does end up being a little cheaper than formula. Once you've laid out the initial cash of a pump purchase or rental, flanges, valves, membranes, tubing, bottles, nipples, sterilization kits, special bras, breast shields, and probably a deep freezer if your baby's in the NICU, at least you won't be spending more money.
But hands down, the hardest, hardest thing about pumping is that as Isaac gets more alert, he's less likely to not need me when I'm trying to pump. It's really difficult to try and soothe an unhappy baby while you're attached to a machine.
How I make it tolerable:
~Olive Oil-I keep a 4 oz bottle on my pumping table and use it every time. Less sticky than lanolin, allegedly anti-microbial or something like that.
~Pumpin' Pals breast shields-these are angled down unlike the standard issue, it saves your back from constantly leaning forward.
~Medela sterilizing bags-add 2 oz of water, add your pump equipment, microwave for 1:30 and you're all set
~refrigerating pump parts for 24 hours-the theory on this one is, if refrigerated breastmilk keeps in the fridge for at least a week, if you rinse your pumping equipment and refrigerate between uses, it should at least be good for 24 hours. Less cumulative sterilizing, happier mama.
How do I stay sane?
~Extremely supportive husband-who at times might be more invested than I am if we're being totally honest
~Stash of formula in the pantry-haven't used it, but I feel less trapped knowing it's there.
Where I'm at:
~Don't quit on a bad day
~Trying to be grateful for my milk supply, if I stop it will be a decision, not a necessity
~Remembering that if push comes to shove, I am more important to my baby than my milk
~Even though Isaac is only a 6 week old, he has been exposed to my milk since the first day it was available. So when people talk about the benefits of breastfeeding until 6 mos. we're already at 4.5 My goal is to make it to 6 months of pumping and then reevaluate.
A while ago, I was reading a message board about exclusive pumping. A lady posted saying her milk supply had dwindled, she was switching to formula and wanted to know if there was a preferable formula for former preemies. Every comment included what she was doing wrong, and what she needed to do to get her supply back. Every. Single. One. and none of them answered her actual question which was about formula brands. I'm probably being too defensive, but this is a very difficult subject to talk about. I'm not looking for advice, just a place to share our story. And in case you're wondering he's been checked for lip and tongue tie, and we've worked with lactation consultants off and on. If you've read this far, thank you.