Right after my son was born, my labor and delivery nurse put my baby on my chest. She showed me how to hold him, how to position him so that he could latch on. From that first “nursing” session, my baby showed very little interest in the breast.
Given that this was my first child and I’d never really seen others breastfeeding before, I had no idea what I was doing. In the days that followed in the hospital, I tried to nurse my baby but was never really successful. I tried to wake him up to eat every 2-3 hours like they told me to, but he just wanted to sleep and had no interest in eating. I tried pumping between “nursing” sessions, but I just got a few drops of colostrum one time. (A pediatrician saw what I’d pumped and said “That is a very small amount of have pumped.” Copious amounts of tears ensued.) The other times I pumped in the hospital I would got absolutely nothing.
There was no lactation consultant in the hospital, and the recovery nurses would all show me a different way and then disappear for the rest of my stay. I was urged constantly to supplement by the nurses. I had read before giving birth that the nurses would try to pressure me into formula feeding, so I struggled with wanting to say “They told me on the internet you’d say that! Go away!” and wondering if I really did need to give him some formula.
When it was time for us to be discharged 48 hours after my son’s birth, he had lost 8% of his birth weight, and since it could be another 3 days before my milk came in, the pediatricians told us we needed to supplement after leaving the hospital. So, feedings became the following process: put the baby to the breast for 10 minutes on each side, then give him as much formula as he wanted via syringe, then pump for 15 minutes, every two hours.
The early days at home
I did this, and my milk came in the morning after we left the hospital (day 3). Feedings were so frustrating, though, between difficulty latching and difficulty feeding via syringe (he wanted to suck and more often than not would dribble the formula out). And then – assuming I got him to eat and he would go to sleep – I had to pump.
Given that I was doing this, more or less on my own, every two hours, I felt like a giant failure and was pretty much losing my mind. I was so unsure and so tired and so just ready to give a bottle and give up. I did give formula, but I still wanted to make breastfeeding work.
Not enough weight gain
When my little one was 3 weeks old, I took him for another weigh-in. He was still not up to his birth weight. So after talking to the pediatrician, I started doing the following at every feeding:
- Nursing on each side until he dropped off/was done
- Supplementing with pumped breast milk (at this point I was pumping enough to feed him)
What happened when I implemented this plan was that my son would nurse for around an hour, total, with me waiting for him to drop off the breast on each side. Then I would offer him a bottle, and he would furiously suck down 2.5-3 oz, a full feeding (or more) for his weight at the time in about 2 minutes. Then I would pump 2.5-3 oz.
With the nursing, bottle feeding, and pumping, the whole process took at least an hour and a half, to be repeated every three hours from the start of the feeding.
The good news was that he was gaining weight this way, sleeping well, and thriving. The bad news was that I was losing my freaking mind.
Exclusive pumping it is
Eventually I just dropped the first step, the hour spent nursing. He clearly was getting very little, so I assumed it must be the latch – but I had two lactation consultants check and they said it was great. They blamed supply problems – but then why could I pump plenty of milk? There was no satisfactory answer for this.
When I quit nursing, it was so freeing. All of a sudden I had tons (relatively speaking) of time! I knew he was eating enough, and he gained a ton of weight.
I exclusively pumped until my baby was 14 months old. I pumped whenever my baby ate when I was on maternity leave, and then got on a five pumps per day schedule when I went back to work at three months. Around six months I dropped to four pumps. When he turned a year old, I gradually dropped the two pumps during the day, keeping only the morning and evening. Then I dropped the morning pump.
I was going to keep the evening pump going indefinitely, but then I got pregnant with my daughter and my supply crashed. That was the end of my pumping days (for nine months, anyway)!