Below is Cassie’s exclusive pumping story about pumping for her daughter after she was in the NICU. (You can read other exclusive pumping stories here.)
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Why did you decide to exclusively pump?
My daughter, my first child, was born after an exhausting three-day labor. I had planned on a natural un-medicated birth, but after 72 hours of labor my daughter arrived via c-section. My body was pretty overwhelmed by what we had gone through, and I was in a rough place after my surgery. It took me a few hours, and a cat nap, to feel human enough to be able to rejoice in my daughter’s arrival.
I was 42 weeks and 1 day pregnant when she was born, and because she was so late she was at high risk for a respiratory infection. She ended up spending two days in the NICU. I saw three lactation specialists while in the hospital to ensure that I knew what I was doing when it came to breast feeding. I wanted to be able to share this with my daughter, especially since my birth had gone so differently than I had planned.
In the hospital it was hard to get to her because she was in the NICU and I was not really mobile, but using donor milk and with a lot of help form my amazing nurses I was able to breastfeed for some of her feedings while we were at the hospital. Once we got home it was another story. She refused to latch and instead screamed endlessly when presented with my nipples. I saw two more lactation specialists before finally deciding, for my own mental state, that I needed to take a break from trying to breastfeed.
I kept pumping so that I would be able to try again when I was ready. And then I found this website and learned that there were women like me, who wanted to breastfeed, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t working for them or their little. I made the decision to stop trying to nurse because it was affecting my relationship and bonding with my daughter. I knew I wanted her to have breast milk so I made the choice to continue to pump and to feed her via bottle.
How did you make exclusive pumping working for you?
One day at a time. When I first started I didn’t even know that exclusive pumping was a choice. I was just pumping so that I could try again to breastfeed. Once I decided to take a break from trying to breastfeed I found that I was in a much better place mentally; the constant rejection, though unintentional, from my daughter was taking a toll on me.
The biggest lesson that I have learned so far in motherhood is ‘do what works for you.’ There are always going to be people in your life that question your choices or tell you how ‘this is the best way.’ But the best way is whatever works for you.
A happy baby and a fed baby, along with a happy mom, are what are most important.
What was your biggest challenge with exclusive pumping?
The mental part of EP-ing was the hardest for me. I had this picture in my head of what I wanted feedings to look like and that was not matching up with reality. I took my daughters refusal to feed personally and couldn’t stop thoughts like ‘But breast feeding is natural, why can’t we make this work?!’
Once I took a break from trying to breast feed and instead focused on getting into a good rhythm with pumping things got better. I took time to grieve what I had lost, that picture in my head of how it was supposed to be, and then refocused my energy on feeding my daughter (just in a different way than I had planned).
How long did you exclusively pump?
My initial goal was to pump for two weeks. I am currently at 4 months and my goal is 5 months. I try to take it a day at a time and every time I meet a goal, I create a new one.
What advice would you give a new exclusive pumper?
Exclusive pumping is hard. Like really hard, or at least it was for me. I initially felt very isolated, especially if we were at a social gathering where I would have to go off into another room to pump and be out of the loop for 30+ minutes. So I would say have a good support system. Read other stories here, find other moms that that been EP-ers to talk to, find a system that works for you and stick with it. Routine really helped me when I felt like giving up.
I’ve had to supplement with formula since she was about 2 months old, no matter what I tried I couldn’t get my supply up. I felt horrible and like a huge failure for needing help until I talked to a wise friend of mine. Her advice was simple, she asked me ‘Is she fed? Is she happy? Is she safe? If all three of those are true then you are doing great as a mom.’
I don’t know if this will help you, but I just really needed to hear that it as okay to struggle and grieve for what I had lost in the way of the picture in my head for how I would feed my new little.
Are there any other thoughts about exclusive pumping that you’d like to share?
When possible, spend your pumping time doing something that you like to do. I would make a snack or enjoy a glass of wine, watch a show on Netflix or read a good book. Anything that makes you feel good!
A huge thank you to Cassie for sharing her story! You are doing awesome!