When my husband and I first found out we were pregnant, it was never a question for me as to whether or not I would breastfeed; I promised myself I would at least try. I asked for all of the breastfeeding gear at my baby shower—a pillow, nursing bras, nipple creams and a cute breastfeeding cover—assuming it would all work out and I would breastfeed with no difficulty.
I had heard that breastfeeding was challenging for some, but my naïve pre-baby self didn't understand how or why. The idea of breastfeeding seemed pretty natural to me; the baby latches and everything goes perfectly (HA! I know, you can laugh with me), you breastfeed your baby while on maternity leave, and then you pump when you return to work and breastfeed while at home. So simple, right?
Well, it can be a lot more complicated than that.
I gave birth early, so my daughter was a preemie and immediately taken to the NICU in another wing of the hospital. I wasn't near her at all times and this posed a challenge for our new breastfeeding journey.
I'll never forget when the lactation consultant at the hospital came in to discuss how to breastfeed a premature infant. I was told if I wanted my preemie to receive my breastmilk, I would have to start pumping…immediately. Overnight. Early morning. Every three hours.
At first, pumping every three hours didn't seem so bad to me, but I quickly learned that this didn't include washing and sanitizing pump parts, the actual 20-minute pumping session, walking my breastmilk down to the NICU, and then bottle feeding my baby.
I was pretty overwhelmed. I didn't even have a pump yet because I was told when I was pregnant that I "wouldn't need it right away," as most moms who plan on breastfeeding do not.
As I took in everything the LC told me, the NICU let me know there was a donor breastmilk program that my daughter could utilize until my supply came in. I still needed to try to breastfeed my preemie every time I visited her in the NICU on top of pumping 8-10 times a day.
It took me almost seven full days for my supply to come in and get more than just a few drops of milk, so I also felt like most of my time and efforts were wasted. With my hormones raging, I figured I might as well hook myself up to the pump and stay there for the rest of my life.
I didn't feel like I could do anything—my family visits, personal time and thoughts all centered around pumping every three hours and breastfeeding somewhere in between.
As exhausted as I was by the constant merry-go-round of breastfeeding and pumping, I was determined that my daughter would receive breastmilk if at all possible, but my attempts at both of us learning how to have her eat from my breasts were failing. She was fidgety, didn't really know how to suck and I wasn't able to keep track of how many ounces she had taken in.
This is never going to work. Why don't I just continue pumping to get her my breastmilk? That was where I put a halt to breastfeeding and had pretty much decided I was going to be an exclusively pumping mom.
Exclusively pumping was never brought up as an option to me in the hospital. And after scouring the internet for more information I came upon story after story from other moms who struggled with breastfeeding who also didn't know they could exclusively pump and give the benefits of breastmilk to their babies through a bottle.
I wish I had known sooner that I had this choice because it was the best one for us.
I gave breastfeeding one last try after my baby came home. I figured she was strong enough now to figure it out. We failed again, but I didn't get stressed out this time. I knew I had different ways to feed her, and she was still getting my breastmilk.
As difficult, draining and time-consuming as it was and still is, if you have the opportunity to exclusively pump for your baby it's 100% worth it. As one NICU nurse put it when I told her I was exclusively pumping, it is truly a "labor of love."
My daughter is almost 4 months old and hasn't had formula a day in her life. And when she does? Great! It will likely give me some reprieve while still feeding her my pumped milk as well.