Below is Angela’s story about exclusively pumping after a rough experience nursing. You can read more exclusive pumping stories here. A big thank you to Angela for sharing her story!
As I prepared for the birth of my baby, I felt confident in my body’s ability to give birth, but I was not so sure about my ability to breastfeed. I was determined to face the challenge and power through. However, I was not prepared for the level of anxiety breastfeeding caused me to feel. It seemed that my daughter knew what to do right away, but even when a nurse was standing there saying that everything looked good, it did not feel good. I tried to believe that it would get better and that my nipples just needed to toughen up as people had told me they would.
I began to dread having to feed my daughter. It made me feel like I was on the verge of a panic attack, and I hated myself for feeling that way. Considering how often newborns eat, I spent the majority of the day and night feeling like I was unable to provide my girl with what she needed. Even when it didn’t physically hurt very badly, it felt like my skin was crawling. Like nails on a chalkboard multiplied by a million. Because of pain/damage on one side, I began to pump one side and nurse on the other. This caused some engorgement issues, which led to more pain, and more pumping.
I borrowed a double electric pump from my sister-in-law and gave it a try. It was weird but very bearable. I didn’t quite know if the fit was right or if I was even doing it right, but instead of being frustrated with my girl I was frustrated with a machine — a much more tolerable feeling. My sister-in-law had exclusively pumped for around seven months due to a cleft pallet and lip, so I knew that it was a time commitment, but possible.
After three weeks (quite possibly the longest weeks of my life) of trying to make breastfeeding work I decided to quit and exclusively pump for as long as I could. It felt like an instant weight had been lifted from me – from our whole family actually. There were a few times in the beginning while I was trying to pump that my baby was in her crib crying where I thought, “This is stupid, I should just be holding and feeding her instead of being hooked up to this machine.” But then I would finish pumping and give her a bottle and realize that if I had been trying to nurse her I would have felt really anxious, which would have made her cry more, and we both would have been really upset. Pumping helped give me confidence and peace of mind that I could take care of my daughter. This is something that is sometimes hard to explain to people when they wonder why I would bother with all the extra work that pumping takes.
When I first started pumping I basically did it whenever I had the chance (around six or seven times a day). I soon set myself a six pumping session a day schedule and starting eating oatmeal for breakfast. I quickly realized that I had a good supply when I was able to freeze bags of milk pretty much every day, so I quit the oatmeal and we made room in the freezer. I also found that I had to eat more food than ever before and drink more water than I thought was humanly possible. To this day I can tell if I haven’t had enough water when my supply dips slightly.
I also found it difficult at first to know if I had the proper fit with my pump. There are diagrams and measurements to look up, but it is quite difficult to accurately measure your nipple. I decided to try a larger size of nipple shield to know for sure, and sure enough it felt much better right away. Something else ‘fun’ that I learned about my body is that my skin is pretty elastic. Even though my shields fit well at the start of a pump, by the end is a whole different story. This is why lanolin is my best friend.
I’ve had some stumbles along the way: damaged nipples, blood in my milk (like an alarming amount), milk blisters, clogged milk ducts, a repetitive strain injury in one wrist, but I’m still going. I set myself little goals and they kept getting easier to reach. First I wanted to go six weeks (since that had been my initial breastfeeding goal), three months, six months, and now I’m just assuming at some point it will feel right to stop.
I found that every time I dropped a pumping session, it got a little easier. When you pump six times a day it can feel like that is all you are doing (especially if you get the chance to nap in between), and like there is no time to leave the house. The good news is you don’t always have to pump that often. The days feel longer and you eventually get more freedom. I lasted six weeks on six pumps a day, seven weeks at five a day, 11 weeks at four a day, 22 weeks at three a day, and now that I am back to work I am at 2 a day.
My supply started to drop a bit when I got mono. In case you are wondering, mono + exclusive pumping + baby = feeling like a zombie and not remembering very much of your daughter’s fourth month. Turns out when all you do is sleep your body doesn’t get enough food or water to make all that important milk. My supply came up a bit once I started eating like a teenager again, but then I got my period back and it stayed a bit lower. Also, I was dropping sessions without adding on much extra time to stay at that two hours a day mark. I find that I can’t last much longer than 28 minutes in one session. In my prime I was pumping 57oz a day and now it is around 25oz if I am lucky.
There is no doubt in my mind that exclusive pumping was the best thing for me and my family. It is true that it is a lot of work, and there may be times when you hate your pump more than you should hate an inanimate object, but the most important thing to remember is that it is just one stage. You won’t always have to wake up at 6:30am to pump, whether your baby is awake or not. You won’t always have to turn down social engagements because they conflict with your pumping schedule. You won’t always have to pack so much extra stuff when you go on a day trip and then have to awkwardly pump in the back of your car. You won’t always have to do bottle dishes EVERY DAY! And you won’t even always smell vaguely of breastmilk and lanolin. In the meantime, you will get to provide food for your baby and power through a lot of Netflix. Take it from someone who has been hooked up to a pump for 500 hours in the last 11 months—YOU CAN DO IT!