Reflecting on a year of exclusively pumping
Ok, almost a year! But anyone who has ever pumped can attest to how difficult it is to go a few weeks, much less a few weeks shy of a year.
Let’s look back…
As a pregnant control freak, I read e-ver-y-thing. I had multiple pregnancy apps, multiple books (including What To Expect When You’re Expecting, of course!), scoured articles & Facebook pages, & followed a ton of other like-minded pregnant women on Instagram. I surrounded myself with every bit of knowledge I could because it eased my mind to try to prepare for something that I couldn’t ever really be ready for. We not only went to childbirth class, but also breastfeeding class. Marcus was SO prepared to be my coach & personal lactation consultant. He was so supportive and could spit out the information from those classes as well as the teacher. I think we felt as ready for breastfeeding as anyone who has never done it could. That’s not to say I thought it would come easy, but I at least had the theoretical knowledge to figure it out.
I was naive.
I had no idea how emotional breastfeeding– or attempting breastfeeding– would be!
I had no idea how exhaustion could make me feel so crazy.
I had no idea I could feel rejection from a newborn baby boy.
But I digress! In labor, I asked for pitocin not to be used if at all possible because I had read (surprise surprise) that pitocin use could affect my body’s production of oxytocin, which would screw with breastfeeding. Awesome! No pitocin.
I also asked for immediate skin-to-skin. Well, Rhett was 41 weeks, & meconium was present, so he got suctioned immediately, and then they placed him on me. My doc was a rockstar, and it was pretty instant. Cool! Check that box, too.
I have a hunch that it was a little traumatizing to be suctioned as he was taking his first breaths. I can’t imagine that felt good, and if it’s possible, it seemed to give Rhett a bit of an oral aversion right off the bat.
The nurse tried to help me get him to latch immediately, but he just screamed and fought. Little did we know, we were seeing a little of what was to come. So we backed off and just hung out with him that first hour, no biggie.
For the next few hours, little man was pretty lethargic & didn’t want to latch still, and they weren’t happy with his temp about 8 hours after birth. So fast forward, and we ended up transferred to the NICU an hour down the road. Once settled into the NICU, a nurse got me set up on their Medela. She showed me how to use it, and I set to work every 2 hours trying to get my milk to come in. Each time, we would try to get Rhett to latch first, although it was a pretty uncomfortable situation. We were initially in a large NICU room full of babies and people, and whipping it out was just so uncomfortable, especially when it was so awkward and not working at this point! Cue the anxiety.
After a few hours, they got us transferred to a private room. It was easier then to work on latching and hooking up to a pump, but there were new challenges. They got Rhett on a cardio monitor that had TWELVE leads. TWELVE. There literally wasn’t enough skin on his chest and tummy, so a few of them were taped to his back. He had a pulse-ox on his foot. He had an IV in one hand (one in EACH hand at one point). Every time we held him, we had to be so aware of all his leads and wires. Burping him set those machines off on a frenzy with beeping because it thought his heartrate was skyrocketing. This just lead to more anxiety and more trouble getting my milk to come in. It was slow going, but we eventually started getting steady colostrum by pumping. We were so relieved, I remember saying, “I’ll do whatever I have to do, as long as he gets breastmilk.” Womp. Careful what ya wish for!
So after a little time & fighting, we managed to free ourselves of the NICU (read about that here), and we finally got to settle in at home. I was pretty strict on an every-two-hours schedule pumping at home, even throughout the night. That was actually a benefit of the NICU if you ask me, they helped me get into that rhythm. I stayed awake as late as I could after getting Rhett to sleep, then I’d set alarms for every 2-3 hours throughout the night. Rhett was steadily sleeping like 4 hours at a time in the night, so it felt important to wake myself up to pump. It wasn’t long before I could hook myself up to that bad boy with my eyes closed.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been more exhausted in my entire life. Not after a marathon or a Tough Mudder or even after labor. Forcing your body back awake every 2 hours & then having to try to stay upright for 20 minute pumping sessions was agony. When Rhett would need a bottle during this twilight sessions, Marcus had to handle it. He was such a pivotal aspect of why pumping was a success. There’s no way I could have handled all the pumping and all the feeding of Rhett. Marcus’s sacrifice in those early weeks did not go unnoticed!
Milk drunk– thanks nipple shield!
We introduced a nipple shield around 2 weeks old to see if that would help Rhett latch, and it was the most success we saw at breastfeeding. It was a happy day! He didn’t really know what he was doing, so he would nurse for a few minutes then fall asleep. I was pretty giddy, so I would just let him sleep a while, then switch to the other side. I figured if we could get the hang of nursing that way, then I could just pump every now and then for extra bottles. The shield was messy & so tedious, but short-lived anyways. After that whole day of nursing on and off, but apparently pretty uneffectively, I ended up with a fever of 103, and I felt like I’d been run over by a semi. Mastitis hit me so hard and out of nowhere, and one of the biggest recommendations is to pump as much as possible. So I got on antibiotics & pumped around the clock. That was the last real nursing trying we did. It was a little empowering to be completely done with even trying to get Rhett to latch. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings you have when your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed. It was so much more painful than I ever would have imagined. Much more painful than the physical pain the pump caused.
I remember feeling like there was no way I was going to make it 2 months on the pump, much less a year. In those early weeks, it is all consuming. When you aren’t pumping, you’re cleaning pump parts or bottles, figuring out the best way to store the milk, worrying about supply, bottle-feeding the baby (likely WHILE pumping), & somehow trying to feed yourself. Clif bars & one-handed snacks became absolute necessities. I was so sleep deprived, as most new parents are, and eventually, it caught up with me. I started sleeping through my alarms at night, and it was at that point we decided I would only wake up to pump when Rhett woke up. Woohoo! A little engorgement was a small price to pay for a little more sleep.
As the weeks wore on, it got easier. There were some days where I resented it so much, and there were others that it became background noise. It was a running joke in my family that you would hear the sound of the pump in every single Snapchat, which was true. I learned to juggle pumping & an awake baby & running, too. 3 months into it, my niece was born, and my sister joined me on the exclusively pumping route. We were pumping buddies! It was kind of nice to have someone who could understand the feelings surrounding the pump. It was nice to have someone to sit with while you hide away at family gatherings.
That’s one of those things you don’t think about with pumping versus breastfeeding… at least when you’re breastfeeding, you’re bonding with your baby. But the pump is just so damn lonely. You’re locking yourself away to pump as often as possible when you’re around other people, you’re confined to the house except for very quick trips out, because otherwise, it will be time to pump again. I remember wanting to run errands after running, but I couldn’t because it was already time to pump again! That was a really tough time. Eventually, I got comfortable enough (and stopped caring?) to pump around family and friends. I took on the mentality of it not being any different than breastfeeding. I was really good at being pretty discreet to hook up, and I covered up once on, but boy, that helped. We’d sit around a table at my in-laws and do puzzles while I pumped! It was such a relief to have so much support and acceptance from family and friends.
I even got bold enough to refuse to go to a room by myself at a nail salon for a girlfriend’s bachelorette! I hooked up right there in my pedicure chair haha. I definitely made the business owners uncomfortable, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the little bit of girl time I was getting.