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.
You are a rock star. Your little guy is so lucky to have you. And you are absolutely right. You are more important to him than your milk. That's such a healthy, logical way to look at it.ReplyDelete
So proud of you for pumping exclusively. It's hard work, and I'm glad you're so level-headed with it all. It helps you keep this time sacred with that sweet baby of yours instead of hyperfocusing on breastmilk. You're a rockstar. Keep up the good work, mama!ReplyDelete
Oh, Anne! I seriously applaud you! You could've gone down the much easier road by now. And let me say that as an exclusively breast feeding momma who has broken down into tears when I've had milk supply issues that this point you made was the BEST thing for me to read: "Remembering that if push comes to shove, I am more important to my baby than my milk"ReplyDelete
Oh, so, so tough! I'm impressed...and a little jealous. I couldn't ever pump more than an ounce. It completely added to my misery and frustration during the times my babies were in NICU. Semms that because my first 5 babies were EBF, that my body wouldn't respond to a pump. And, even with Will, I really wasn't able to produce good, fat, plentiful milk.ReplyDelete
Just look at that healthy, beautiful boy and know that you are doing the absolute best for him and he will benefit from it for the rest of his life.
Good on you, Mama!
Good for you! Pumping is a lot of work. You are so right the the baby needs you more than the milk. I think that all three methods - formula, breastfeeding and exclusive pumping have their conveniences and inconveniences.ReplyDelete
Exclusively breastfeeding is so hard but exclusively pumping? You are a hero! Just keep trusting your gut and don't let any sort of guilt from any camp creep in. You ARE more important to Isaac than your milk.ReplyDelete
My sister EP for NINE months with her youngest. There were no physical problems with either of them but something about the shape of her mouth was extremely painful for my sister. No lactation consultant could help her but she, like you, was bound and determined to breastfeed her baby for as long as possible. She was in the same place as you and pumped and pumped and pumped. You guys are my heroes b/c I only had to pump when I was at work with my boys and when Colin and Heidi were too little/weak for the whole suck/breathe/swallow mechanism to work properly. It is a LOT of work. Good job Mama!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Marcella, your sister sounds pretty incredible!Delete
Mommy wars are the worst! I am going back to work after baby #3 is born, so ill be 60% pumping, 40% nursing. Did you look into buying a pump and having insurance cover it? I haven't done much research but wondered if that is something you tried and got denied etc.ReplyDelete
Keep up the good pumping work. I love your comment, you are more important than your milk to Isaac.
Also, considering Isaac for our little ones middle name! St. Isaac Jogues was a badass.
Huge fan of the name Isaac :) The insurance from my catholic school teaching job should cover the rental on account of his being a preemie, but otherwise I would have been SOL. As for moms being more important than their milk? It was our childless pediatrician who told me that!Delete
I just want to say - WAY TO GO, YOU! It is SO hard to EP (did it with my oldest for 9 months...and now again w/ #4). Keep up the good work. And you are absolutely right in that you are WAY more important to baby than the milk he gets. Baby Isaac is precious!ReplyDelete
You're so awesome! And I know you don't want advice buuuut it has nothing to do with trying to get Isaac to latch and just to make pumping easier - you might think I'm totally crazy, but have you thought about pumping in the car when you go anywhere? I've done it about a million times because a 15-20 minute drive seems totally wasted to me but with a pumping bra and either a scarf or a nursing cover, I don't think there's any way anybody could possibly know what I'm doing, and it meant I didn't have to pump in front of the kids (ALWAYS fun with the 4-year-old trying to press the buttons and asking why I had my private parts showing) and didn't have to worry about the twins trying to grab the tubing!ReplyDelete
And you probably do, but do you have extra pump parts? Having an extra set when I was pumping all the time for my first was SO helpful! And I totally refrigerated my pump parts to avoid washing (although NOT the shells because holy cow, THAT is a cold shock!!!) - anything to make it a little easier!
It really is hard, isn't it? I had to EP for my fourth for a few months and I told DH that if I had had to keep it up longer, I would have switched to formula. As it was formula was more convient when we were out and about- no keeping milk cold and if the water spilled, who cared.ReplyDelete
You are doing a wonderful job and have a great perspective.
You completely amaze me.ReplyDelete
I just had to comment for support! I was so blessed to have an easy time nursing with all of mine - so I think any Mom that would take the time and effort to exclusively pump is beyond heroic. Especially with so many formula options out there. You're amazing. My sister had to EP for my niece - who was full term with no visible reason for not nursing. She would just never latch on properly. My sister worked with a lactation consultant for months and my niece would never nurse. She pumped for almost a year. My cousin was the same with her daughter. The bottom line is that you have to make the best decision for YOU and your baby. The main thing he needs is your love, and he's got that in spades!ReplyDelete
I never had milk with either of my boys. Not for lack of trying. For two weeks, I pumped, took supplements, etc, and never got more than a few drops. My eldest still loved to nurse at bedtime, so I was basically just a living pacifier. My youngest, though, would put up a fight if I tried to get him to latch. He wasn't having it. I was heartbroken, but we decided to look for the best replacement for breast milk we could find. We wanted something organic, so we went with Earth's Best. It's a bit more expensive, but if you have Amazon Prime and get a subscription to it, you'll save a bundle ($25 per can instead of $35).ReplyDelete
I love our Amazon Prime subscription, is yours part of Amazon Mom? With Amazon mom, if you have five items delivered in a month via subscribe and save, you save 20% vs. 15%. With monthly shipments of diapers, wipes and formula, I'm more than halfway there each tim!Delete
God bless you. I have four children. My third was born with an undiagnosed (to this date, 16 years old) neurological disorder. He was medically fragile as an infant and bottle feeding was difficult, never mind breast feeding. I breast fed all my children but with Jack I exclusively pumped. It is so worth it, but do not feel bad when you stop. You are so right: you are more important to your baby than the milk you produce. And how wonderful that you have the support of your husband.ReplyDelete
My friend Emily, who roomed with you at one point, sent me a link to your blog because she said it reminded her of me. My first born was born at 37 weeks, was tongue-tied, and never figured out how to latch on. I was devastated! I was so determined for him to at least get my milk that I EPed for about 6 months. It was stressful, made my Post-Partum Depression more accentuated, made me feel isolated (because I was so tied to home) and was not good for my body. After my fourth round of mastitis, I was forced to stop because the antibiotics were affecting him adversely. I had to switch to formula. At the time, I was consumed with guilt, frustration and sadness. Looking back (he is five now) it seems like such a minor bump in the road of parenting. I have had two boys since him, one who nursed for 15 months and one who is still nursing at 11 months, and I can honestly say there is no difference between how I have loved/bonded/experienced life with him verses my nursing babies. In fact, my bottle-fed first born was the best sleeper, eater and most flexible baby by far!!!!! That is NOT his personality either. :) There are perks to having a baby take only a bottle! ;) I wanted to encourage you to rid yourself of the guilt on whatever path you choose to go down. There will be many other challenges of parenting that are beyond your control and this is just one among many lessons of letting go. We simply can not do it all. You are not a failure if you need to stop pumping and switch him to formula. What a gift you have given him up to this point. Do what is best for the both of you! (Your sanity matters too!) I hope that helps a little! Great work so far! What a blessing that he is so healthy! Amy BReplyDelete
Amy, thanks so much for commenting! I think I remember when you were expecting, wasn't it during Emily's last year in Princeton? I appreciate the encouragement, and very much agree the EP can definitely contribute to PPD; my mood has improved dramatically since I cut back from 6x/day to only 1-2. Sitting in that chair, attached to a machine, you just feel so trapped! I'm beginning to realize that parenting really is one long letting go, mostly of unrealistic expectations. Now that I'm not expending so much energy just trying to even find the time to pump, I'm definitely getting to enjoy Isaac so much more!Delete
Good for you! That is so much work! I can't pump more than a few teaspoons and with our first I had a low supply and we ended up supplementing with formula.. I felt like a failure at first, because I wasn't doing everything the books said I should. But in hindsight, it was best for that particular child and for me at that time. You just gotta do what you gotta do! HAts off to you for making it this far!!ReplyDelete