Below is Esther’s story about exclusively pumping after her baby was in the NICU. You can read more exclusive pumping stories here. Thank you Esther for sharing your story!
I always knew I was going to be a pumper, but I didn’t always know I was going to be an exclusive pumper. I knew that I would go back to work after my daughter was born and would have to pump during the day. I dreamt about breastfeeding my baby when I got home and how beneficial that bonding time would be for both of us. Reality struck when I was just 12 weeks pregnant, when we found out my daughter had a birth defect (I hate that term) called gastroschisis. Basically, she had a small hole in her abdomen and some of her intestines were outside of her body. It is as heart wrenching as it sounds. As I began to cry, the doctor told me that it was fixable through surgery after she was born. Yay for good news! But she would not be able to drink milk until she was all healed up. Then she looked at me and said “You’ll have to pump. Breastmilk will be the best thing for her with a sensitive digestive tract.”
Almost 60 doctors appointments later, at 34 weeks, our little preemie was born at 3 lb 1 oz via emergency c-section. She was taken straight to the NICU where she spent the first 36 days of her life which were also the longest 36 days of mine. In her first week of life, she had three surgeries. A few hours after she was born, the nurse brought me a hospital breast pump and said, “Okay mommy, let’s get those milk machines going.”
We couldn’t even hold her until she was a week old. During that week I felt hopeless. There was nothing I could do for her, except pump.
Finally, after two weeks in the NICU, she could eat! She had 1 cc! They wanted her to continue to eat from a bottle because one, she was so small my boob smooshed her face, and two, they needed to keep track of how much she was eating. So I pumped along, quickly filling up my freezer and my parents’ deep freezer. The NICU nurses championed me and were a great support.
Before we finally got to take her home, they said to continue to pump, as her pediatrician and surgeon would want to know how much she is eating. So we hugged all the NICU staff goodbye and welcomed Baby Olive home! Eight months later, I’m still pumping. My goal is to make it a year, but I set my goals for one month at a time. So if I only make it to nine months, I know I have a ton of milk in the freezer and that formula is always an option.
Exclusively pumping is a labor of love. My daughter and her condition were the driving forces that keep me motivated. If breastmilk was going to be easier on her tummy, breastmilk was what she was getting.
I have an IKEA cart next to my comfy chair that has everything I need at home, and there is a small empty office at work that I have all to myself to do my “mom thing.” My cousin had bought me the Medela In Style Pump (literally my best friend!) and I got a Ameda Purely Yours pump through insurance, which is the one I leave at work. If you are going back to work, I recommend getting two breast pumps with extra parts if you can. You don’t want to be lugging your pump with you back and forth. And leave an extra set of pump parts at work in case you forget to pack them in the morning.
Many times I have wanted to through my pump out the window. Being hooked up to a machine that literally pulls your tender nipples for HOURS per day is not my idea of a good time. Plus storing milk, making bottles, washing and sanitizing pump parts and bottles! I have wanted to give up so many times but then I look at my daughter, run my fingers over her healed scar and remember that this is the best thing for her. My support system has helped me keep my head up and my pump from flying out the window. My husband will often offer to wash and sanitize my pump parts and congratulates me after I have made it through another month. He’ll even tell my daughter while feeding her, “Your mommy made this just for you because she loves you that much.” My parents and my cousin/BFF have also encouraged me along the way.
I have had many challenges exclusively pumping. Having to put my daughter down or give her to someone else while I pump is hard, especially when I didn’t have the chance to hold her that much in the NICU. Sometimes I feel we missed that bonding period.
Eye rolls and snide comments have also been a challenge. Sometimes other moms are just plain mean. I have had to deal with women thinking I gave up trying to breastfeed just because they see my daughter drinking from a bottle. People at the grocery store, people at weddings and parties, even people at church! And who cares if they thought she was drinking formula! I was a formula-fed baby and I turned out great! Don’t let them get to you. The important thing is that your child is being fed. You should be a proud mama.
Pumping just gets old … quick. It’s a hassle, plain and simple. Washing, freezing, pumping, bottle making, bottle washing, sterilizing, replacing … every day.
With that being said, one thing to remember with exclusive pumping is patience. You need to be patient with yourself. Pumping takes a lot of time out of your day so if the clothes don’t get folded or you don’t finish your report that isn’t due until Friday, don’t sweat it.
Get comfortable. For me, nothing ruins a pumping session worse than a cramped space or a time crunch. I produce less milk when I am stressed or under pressure. Relax and spread out, you’ll be here a while.
For any new exclusive pumpers out there, remember that you are not alone. You are doing an amazing thing for your baby! Exclusively pumping is a lot of work but it is worth it. Whether you exclusively pump for one month or one year, know that there is someone out there – ME (and your baby of course) – who is proud of you and is cheering you on.