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Before Emma was born, I didn’t know that exclusively pumping was a thing. I thought either you gave formula or you breastfed by nursing. That was it. Pumping was only what you did when you went back to work, right?
Me? I was going to breastfeed. I had shining visions of sitting in our beautiful nursery, holding Emma’s tiny body close to my chest, and smiling down at her lovingly while she nursed from my breast. I’d be providing the best nourishment possible, made just for my baby, while forming a wonderful, unbreakable bond with my tiny human. I scoffed when we received free formula samples at the doctor’s office and through the mail. I wouldn’t need formula! Breastfeeding is natural. Women have been nursing their babies for millennia. If it’s natural, then it must be easy, right? I mean, how hard could it be?
After Emma’s birth, I started trying to nurse right away. I’d read the books. Taken the classes. This should be cake! So I was surprised when she latched and it hurt. A lot. I asked for help. Multiple times. The lactation consultants would have me unlatch and re-latch repeatedly, while asking me over and over if it felt any better. It didn’t. They all said Emma’s latch looked good, but my nipples told a different story. They were covered in purple hickeys by the time we made it home (just 24 hours later). Tongue tie. Revision at 3-days-old. No relief.
Any time I brought my baby to my breast, she’d scream and scream and scream while I struggled to get her to latch. When she finally did, it was all I could do to keep from screaming myself. It was painful. So, so painful. Fire and tiny knives and get her off of me! Those first weeks were filled with lots of screaming and lots of crying. I’d even started having panic attacks. This wasn’t at all what I thought would happen and I didn’t know what to do.
I dreaded my baby. I just wanted her to stay asleep. I never wanted her to wake up, because then I had to try and feed her again. I didn’t want her anywhere near me or my nipples. This was so, so far from the sweet, milky snuggles I’d dreamed of. This . . . this was a living nightmare.
Before Emma, I’d never been much of a crier. After, I cried every day. Every. Day. I would hide in the shower and sob, so that my husband wouldn’t hear me. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t this working? I’d cry to release the pressure/frustration/anger/fear, then I’d slap on a “happy” face, come out, and pretend that I wasn’t slowly breaking apart.
After about 2 weeks of this hell, I had a breakdown. I’d jumped in the shower for my usual cry-fest, but this time . . . this time I couldn’t stop. I cried and cried and cried some more. When I finally came out (still crying), I walked into the living room and held my arms out to my husband to hand me the baby. “I’ve got her,” he said. And in my distraught condition, my response was to scream, “I need my baby!“
He handed her over and I laid on the couch, holding my tiny baby, and sobbed.
Of course, now there was no hiding my distress. He gently asked me what was wrong and the floodgates opened. All my stress and fears and anger and disappointment and guilt came rushing out of my mouth in a jumble of words. I hated it. All of it. The pain, the screaming, the stress, everything. I didn’t want to do it anymore and I felt so guilty for that. I felt like a huge failure. Like a terrible, selfish mother for wanting to quit and I was so afraid he would think I was too. I just wanted to like my baby.
He didn’t think I was a bad mom. He didn’t care if I breastfed or not. We would figure it out.
Ultimately, we decided that in order to preserve my mental heath, I would throw in the towel. At first we agreed to try pumping, but within a couple days, because of the stress and it’s corresponding loss of appetite, my supply had vanished, and to be honest, I was relieved. I just wanted to be done with it all. So, formula it was. And then the best thing happened . . . the crying stopped. The panic attacks stopped. The dread stopped. I was finally able to just enjoy my baby. She was happy and healthy and I didn’t have to sacrifice my sanity for it.
Now fast-forward to being pregnant with Charlie. Even though I’d given up on breastfeeding with Emma, I knew I wanted to try again. This time, I knew that just because it was natural, didn’t mean it would be a walk in the park. This time, I armed myself with a contingency plan.
I really wanted to give a good effort to give this baby breast milk, but I’d also given myself permission to go the formula route again, guilt-free, in order to preserve my mental well-being, if that’s what was needed. There’s more to being a good mom, than how you choose to feed your baby. I am a better mom when I’m emotionally and mentally in a good place.
After Charlie’s arrival, I tried nursing right away. And then tried again. And then again. By midnight, it was clear we were going to have problems again. Bad latch. Was it possible to work with her on it and get her to latch correctly, without pain? Probably. But knowing the mental spiral it put me in last time, I decided to change tactics. I asked the nurses for some formula and decided that when we got home, I would try exclusively pumping. That way she’d still get the breast milk I so very much wanted her to have, she would just get it from a bottle, instead of straight from the tap.
As soon as we got home from the hospital, I pulled out the pump I’d been gifted by a sweet friend. I thought pumping would be easy. Straight forward. How hard could it be? (Notice a trend here? I really need to stop thinking that.)
(Photo Credit: Birdie Fyffe Photography)
I thought nursing was hard. Well guess what? Exclusively pumping is hard too! Very hard. It takes time and patience and work. So much work. Trying to manage a pumping schedule, a newborn schedule, and a toddler is no an easy feat. Pumping takes the same amount of time as nursing (sometimes more) PLUS all the feeding time, and bottles, and cleaning that are involved in formula feeding.
Being an EPer has meant being up for twice as long when Charlie woke in the middle of the night. It means that even though Daddy can help feed her, I’m still on the hook for providing the food. It means planning my errands around when I’ll need to pump. It means stepping away from the family gathering so I can find a private place to do my thing .
Thankfully, since I’m no longer a first-time mom, I already had a Mama Support Team in place. While most of my mama friends aren’t pumpers themselves, they pointed me in the direction of some exclusively pumping Facebook groups that have been instrumental in my success thus far. These fellow pumping mamas are a wealth of knowledge on all things pumping related. How to help prevent clogged milk ducts. Which pumps are the best. Foods that can help boost your supply.
They say that they first 6 weeks are the hardest. And they’re right. I’ve wanted to quit so many times. I’d actually told my husband at one point that I was going to wean. So many mamas set goals for 6-months, 9-months, 12-months of pumping. I couldn’t even imagine myself making it to 3! But the phrase we exclusively pumping mamas like to say is, “never quit on a bad day.” It’s OK to quit. It’s OK to use formula. It’s OK to do what we have to do to care for ourselves. But we need to make sure it’s because we actually want to quit and not out of frustration. I’ve had to repeat that mantra over and over to myself so many times. Forget taking it one day at a time, some days, I could only take it one pump at a time!
It doesn’t matter if you’re nursing or exclusively pumping, breastfeeding is hard. There’s no shame in throwing in the towel if you need to. How you feed your child does not determine your worth as a mother. But for me, watching my daughter drink a bottle of milk, my milk, milk that I made just for her, makes me so very happy. Happy and proud. Proud that I can do this for her. Proud that I’ve made it this far.
Now here I am, 3 1/2 months later, still plugging along, pumping liquid gold for my little pumpling. I’ve battled low supply and lots of clogs. I’ve persevered through sore nipples and cried over spilled milk. But I’m still here. I’ve leaned on my army of women to teach me how to manage pumping while maintaining my sanity. I’ve found a routine that works for me and allows me to balance being an EPer while still caring for Emma and participating in the rest of my life. In the beginning, I’d never thought I’d make it this far. Now I know I can. Next stop, 1 year!
So, to all you fellow EP mamas out there, keep on pumping! We are strong. We are capable. We can do this!
**Update: I’m happy to report that I was able to exclusively pump for 12 months! If you’d like to know how I managed to make it a whole year, check out this post for a round up of all the things I learned
that helped me make the journey a little easier**