This morning, I pulled out a bag of frozen breast-milk for my son and realized that it was the very last bag in the freezer. Feeling the tears begin to well up, I tried to remind myself that I knew that this day would come when he would no longer have any breast-milk. I should be proud of the fact that he had breast-milk for so long, when so many other babies (me and my husband included) have had very little, if no breast-milk at all, for various reasons.
When I was pregnant, I had planned on breastfeeding. While I am a proponent of “fed is best” and feel that if a baby is fed, it doesn’t matter if it comes out of a can, bottle or breast, I wanted to exclusively breastfeed. Understanding that there are challenges with regards to breastfeeding, I tried to equip myself with as much knowledge as I possibly could by reading as many books, articles and the like during my pregnancy.
When my son was born, I started to breastfeed immediately. I had no idea what I was doing, but the lovely nurses at Women and Infants Hospital, where he was born, helped and I had visits from two lactation consultants. However, he would almost immediately fall asleep when he would begin to nurse. We would try to wake him up and he would nurse for a little bit and then drift right back into sleep. As with most parents of newborns, sleep was almost nonexistent for us in the early days, as our bundle of joy would wake up almost every half hour to nurse and then, as I mentioned, quickly fall back asleep.
By the time we went to the first appointment at the pediatrician, only a few days after he was born, we were told that he had lost too much weight since he was born- over 10% of his body-weight. This sent me into a panic. When I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy, the baby was diagnosed with Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) which “refers to a condition in which an unborn baby is smaller than it should be because it is not growing at a normal rate inside the womb.” Our baby was born at 5 pounds, 15 ounces and hearing that he had lost additional weight was disturbing.
The pediatrician recommended that we have him nurse 15 minutes on each breast and then give him one ounce of formula after that. She said that I should also pump for 30 minutes to help stimulate milk production. She also gave us tips on keeping him awake while feeding.
We went home and followed the doctors’ orders. Unfortunately, he continued to snooze during mealtime. The doctor had instructed us that while nursing I should keep bright lights on in the room, talk loudly, undress him down to his diaper and if that didn’t work to put cold compresses on his body to wake him up. I wish I could say that any of this worked. But, it didn’t. Not even the cold compress worked and it just made me feel horrible doing it.
We then decided to give him formula. He made the most horrific face and gagged the first time he tasted it and rejected it quite forcibly. After some time, he did take the formula, but always with repulsion. We continued trying to nurse (failed attempts I should add!), followed by formula.
That is when my journey with exclusive pumping began. Not wanting to give up on breast-milk, I decided to pump instead of nursing. I started to pump around the clock. At first I pumped every two hours, all day and night. My husband would then give him breast-milk from a bottle as I still had hopes of breastfeeding and didn’t want to confuse him by me giving him the breast-milk. I’m not sure if nipple confusion is even real, as I am not a lactation consultant, but at the time I had too many odds against me in that department.
I cried the first time he tasted my milk from the bottle. He first made his usual face of repulsion when the bottle hit his lips, but then when he tasted my milk, he opened his eyes and gladly sucked down the entire bottle.
I pumped around the clock for the first three months, dropping to every three hours when he began sleeping for more than twenty minutes at a time. At my checkup appointment with my OBGYN, I told her that I was exclusive pumping and pumping eight times a day, she made a slightly perplexed face and reassured me that it would get easier.
It did, sort of. I continued to attempt nursing on occasion but each time he would fall asleep, so I threw in the towel and stopped trying to nurse him around four months. It was around then that I dropped my middle-of-the night pump and only pumped six to seven times during the day. I did this until about six months when I had enough and dropped to five and then four pumps a day. It was also around then that I joined an exclusive pumpers group on Facebook that has some of the most wonderful women that I have ever met (on the internet, of course) and I am so thankful to them for sharing their knowledge and experiences not only with me but with the entire group.
Eventually, I dropped to a blissful three pumps a day. I pumped in the morning, middle of the day and in the evening. Unfortunately for me, each time I dropped a pump, I had to add in more time to the other ones. I was pumping for an hour at each of the three pumps. It would irritate me a little watching him down an entire bottle of milk in ten minutes when it would take me an hour to express. But compliments to the chef, right?
I didn’t drop to two pumps a day until he was almost one-year old. As a matter of fact, dropping to two pumps per day was my Christmas gift to myself. Since he would be turning one-year in a matter of days, I decided to give myself a bit of a break. My goal was for him to have breast-milk for a year and after surpassing that goal, I decided to go a little longer so that he would have some in the freezer.
I am so proud to say that I made it to 14 months of exclusive pumping and saved enough milk in the freezer that our little love could have his mamas-milk (sporadically) until he was 19 months. While I am not here to say that exclusive pumping is easy or something that every mother should do, it is something that I wanted to do for my son.
I endured painful clogs, blisters, cuts, sores from massaging while pumping and like other breastfeeding mothers, I had to be careful of what I ate or drank with regards to how it could affect my milk supply. (No peppermint tea for me!) My back ached horribly from sitting hunched for such long periods of time and my wrists still hurt to this day from the hours of massaging while expressing each day. My pumping schedule also meant that I missed out on some social events and other activities since I was not comfortable pumping in the car or out of the home for the most part. Producing breast-milk also meant that my body held onto the last 15 pounds of baby weight up until after I weaned. Not to mention the fact that in addition to pumping for an hour each time, I had to also take a good amount of time, multiple times a day to clean the pump parts, bottles, nipples and feed my son.
However, it was all worth it and it was all for him. I must confess that I got some satisfaction this past Sunday when he was drinking his mama’s milk at church and he tapped the sides of the sippy cup when it was almost empty. But again, all for my little love.
"And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it." 2 John 1:6
As always, thank you for reading. God bless you and may the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always!