Below is Emily’s exclusive pumping story after a NICU stay and four visits to lactation consultants. You can read more exclusive pumping stories here. Thanks Emily!
Simon was born at 40 weeks and 3 days, a healthy baby boy at 7 lbs, 6 oz and 20.5” long. I was blessed with a pretty easy pregnancy and an even easier delivery. Born at 6:32am, we spent the first few hours of his life introducing him to grandparents and sharing news of his arrival with friends and family. He seemed to be a scowly baby who grunted a lot, but we were told all was fine.
I tried to nurse him every few hours, and he had a great latch, but he struggled to actually suck when at the breast. By 10:30pm on the night of his birth, a new nurse had decided that she wasn’t happy with the way he was breathing and took him to the nursery to undergo tests and monitoring. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to the NICU for treatment for inhalation of amniotic fluid and possible pneumonia. Over the course of his first night, he went from being monitored, to on a nasal cannula, to a CPAP machine, to finally being intubated around 5:30am. While intubated it was impossible to nurse, so almost exactly 24 hours postpartum I was told it was time to start pumping.
The rest of Simon’s NICU stay was a bit of a blur. By the time the ventilator and feeding tube were removed and we were permitted to feed him, it was clear that he still had a great latch but struggled to actually nurse. At that point, I was desperate to get him to eat and decided it was best to start bottle feeding him.
For the first week I pumped every two hours (11 times per day), for 15 minutes each session. I quickly realized that this was a rather grueling and likely not sustainable pumping schedule. By the end of the second week I had settled into a routine of eight 20 minute pumps per day, for a total of 160 minutes. I worked with multiple lactation consultants hoping to make breastfeeding work, but after my fourth consultation and a diagnosis of a tongue tie, I decided the frustration and anxiety I was feeling wasn’t worth it and threw in the towel.
Looking back on my maternity leave, I remember feeling overwhelmed with the time spent just pumping and feeding, pumping and feeding, pumping and feeding. I found it difficult to enjoy the time at home because I felt so tied down and unable to get out of the house without having to rush home to pump. I also felt incredibly frustrated every time someone told me “sleep when the baby sleeps.” This advice seemed oversimplified and not particularly helpful.
When I returned to work at nine weeks postpartum, I was still pumping seven times per day but was lucky to have my own office with a door, shades, and a mini fridge in addition to a boss and coworkers who were 100% supportive of this cause.
When I first started, I set a goal of pumping for three months. I struggled mentally nearly every day, but when I hit the three month mark, I set another goal of pumping for six months. Again, I struggled; it was tedious and exhausting, and left little time for working out or doing things away from home. I attempted to wean twice during the first six months, but as much as I struggled to continue to pump, I also found it difficult to stop. I felt guilty and selfish. I worried every time Simon was sick that he wouldn’t have fresh milk, or perhaps any milk at all, to help him the next time he fell ill. Sometimes, I felt that not making it to a year would be a mark of failure – as a mother, as a provider, and a caregiver.
I also experienced another set of challenges as an oversupplier; I ran out of freezer space on multiple occasions, and had to purchase a larger, full-sized freezer, and even become a donor to our local milk bank in order to manage everything I was producing.
There are two things that I strongly believe have helped me continue to pump into my 8th month. First, without a doubt I would not have made it this far without the support of my husband. He spoils me with his love and support, and has listened to me complain about sore nipples, clogged ducts, and pumping schedules more times than is probably fair. He has washed bottles and pump parts every single night with the exception of just five nights since Simon was born. I am confident that I would not have had the success I’ve had as an exclusive pumper without him as my partner in this adventure.
Second, when I felt frustrated, selfish, overwhelmed, or worried, I focused on what I needed to do for me. Most of the time this meant I would cut back on the total amount of time I spent pumping each day – not to wean, but to ease any sense of burden I was feeling in those moments. At this point, I have gone from pumping 160 minutes per day to just 70 and from producing 55-60 ounces per day to just 18. I still have moments or days where I feel incredibly guilty, but I remind myself that I would not have made it this far if I had continued at my initial pace. The older my son gets, the more I value the time I can spend with him rolling around on the floor, helping him learn to reach for toys, crawl, and now take his first assisted steps. These are all things that would be seemingly impossible if I were still attached to a pump for nearly two and a half hours per day.
It’s important that we be physically and emotionally healthy so that we can not only care and provide for our children, but also so that we demonstrate healthy behaviors for them. Breastfeeding, formula-feeding, and pumping are all hard work – being a mom (or a dad) is hard work! I wanted to share my story not only because I’m proud of myself, but also to encourage others to share theirs. If you are struggling, please reach out for support. I can tell you that in my short time being Simon’s mom that parenting doesn’t always go the way we plan it to, but sometimes – many times – that’s okay!