I have started writing this post a million times, but always end up giving up on it. I struggle when it comes to writing about things that are personal to me, but this time I feel it is important to share my story. For the past two months I have spent countless hours reading blogs, breastfeeding forums, and consulting with my doctor. All of these women have helped me so much along my breastfeeding journey simply by sharing their stories. I would like to do the same in hopes that what I have been through (and continue to go through) will bring someone else comfort or insight.
I have been exclusively pumping breast milk since James was 3 weeks old. Even now I feel like this is something that I admit with a hint of shame. I wanted breastfeeding to work for me and James so badly, but it just wasn't working. James had a poor latch due to my flat nipples, and even when he would latch with the use of a nipple shield he wouldn't nurse for long due to my low milk supply. For a few weeks it seemed as if anything that could go wrong, did. My lactation consultant had advised me to breastfeed 15 minutes each side, then pump 15 minutes each side, then feed a bottle of pumped milk back to my baby, then top him off with formula. I was to repeat this method every 2 hours in hopes that my milk supply would increase. After 2 weeks of this 24 hour regime, I was about ready to lose it. I wanted so badly for James to have breast milk because I knew that was what was best for him, but at the same time I knew this could not be a long term feeding solution for us (especially when I went back to work). I asked my doctor about exclusively pumping and she agreed that this would be a suitable solution.
For the past 5 weeks I have exclusively pumped breast milk for James, all the while having mixed emotions about it. I have felt anger, at the fact that no matter what, I would never produce enough milk for James. Frustration, at having to be somewhere suitable for pumping every 3 hours. Judged, by mothers who will never understand what it is like to have a dysfunctional breastfeeding relationship. Blessed, that he does at least get some breast milk, no matter how meager my offering may be. Failure, at my inability to do what so many claim "comes so naturally to mothers." Ashamed, at feeding my baby a bottle of formula in public. Peace, at knowing that NO MATTER WHAT he eats, he is EATING, and THRIVING. Determination, to stick to my goals, my pride, and my mother's intuition.
Let me start out by saying that I am SO grateful that our country is pushing breastfeeding so strongly. I think that is amazing. Breast milk is incredible, it is specially designed for our little one's bodies and fulfills all of their needs. But at the same time, I think all of our education about breastfeeding has left us no room for gray area. We automatically judge mothers who feed their babies formula, give pacifiers and bottles, or heaven forbid, feed them pumped milk. We assume they are being selfish, that they made a conscious decision to deprive their baby of "what is best." But what if instead of seeing a selfish, formula-feeding mother, we see a mother who has a baby with multiple allergies, or works long hours. Instead of a bottle-feeding mother, a mother who has tirelessly pumped milk for her baby, striving to give him what she can. Maybe she has flat or inverted nipples, over active let down or low milk supply. Maybe the baby was underweight, premature, or had tongue-tie. I don't believe there is just one right way to feed our babies. After all, wouldn't we rather have healthy babies, no matter how they are fed? The right feeding relationship is the one that works for mother and baby. Everyone is different, and every relationship is different.
So please, don't feel sorry for me because I pump. What I do is empowering. I give James everything I can, and sometimes that just isn't enough. And you know what? It's okay. He drinks formula 25% of the time and he is one happy, healthy, chunky little dude. We bond in so many ways that work for us and make us happy. And please, think a little more carefully the next time you judge the way a woman feeds her baby, because you never know how many tears she has shed, prayers she has said, and pain she has gone through to make the decision she has made (or sometimes to cope with the decision that nature has made for her).
Eventually I would love to get James back to the breast. But I also have a lot of reservations and fears about doing this. Not a day goes by that I don't pray for my son, for his health, and for my inspiration as his mother. I trust that the Lord will watch over and protect us and guide us to what works best for us. If you are a mother who is struggling with low milk supply, exclusively pumping, or any other breast feeding challenge, I would love to hear from you. I would also love any advice or experiences you would like to share.
Things I have learned about LOW MILK SUPPLY:
- Fenugreek works best when paired with milk thistle. (2 tablets 3x a day of each)
- Pumping works well to fully empty the breast (double electric, hospital grade pumps work best). When the breast is empty, it will produce more.
- Mother's milk tea (I am about to start trying this, I'll keep you updated)
- LOTS of calories and LOTS of water!! (These make the biggest difference in my supply)
- Oatmeal (this one hasn't made much of a difference for me)
- Power pumping! (Pump 10 minutes, rest 10 minutes, repeat for 1-2 hours- I have never tried this because I haven't had time)
Things I have learned about EXCLUSIVE PUMPING:
- Car adapters ROCK my world and make running errands bearable
- Pacifier wipes allow for quick, easy, and hygienic cleaning of pump parts
- Check pump flanges and replace every 3-6 months (they greatly influence suction)
- Massage encourages relaxation- more milk from pumping!
- Sometimes pumping longer than 15 minutes will get you more milk
- Use bottles that are made for infants who breastfeed as well (this will allow you to go back to breastfeeding easier if you so choose. I like Tommy Tippee bottles the best)
- Breast milk stays good at room temperature for 4-6 hours. So don't worry about having to refrigerate your milk if you pump while you are out.
- You can pump almost anywhere by using a nursing cover