Exclusively pumping

So what I wish I knew about breastfeeding before my baby was born is huge! I focused so much on getting pregnant and after so many losses, including my second trimester loss, I was so afraid to even use the P word, I really didn’t start thinking in Mommy mode till I was on the C section table. To be fair, I did take one breastfeeding class, but I definitely didn’t realize it was not just going to be easy peasy. In fact, I didn’t even buy a single bottle cause why would I need a bottle? I was going to breastfeed. It will just naturally happen.

But it didn’t. Here’s what actually happened.

Around 32 weeks or so they thought they saw a knot in my son’s cord. Remember, I had several early losses and lost my twin girls due to incompetent cervix. I firmly believed in my transabdominal cerclage, but I was acutely aware through the whole pregnancy that things happen. So hearing there is possibly a knot and reading that they can result in a stillborn some percent of the time – even though a super small percent, it is still a percent – I was holding my breathe and getting scared I may lose another baby. I was told to do kick counts and I was doing stress tests weekly or twice a week, can’t recall now.

At 36 weeks, I had gained about 20lbs quickly, like in a week. I had a headache. I knew what this meant. I went to my OB appointment telling my new puppy (yes, I had a puppy while I was having a baby – do not recommend but more on that later), I would be right back but knowing I would not. My BP was 146/86 or something – not super high but very high for me. They sent me to labor and delivery and did some blood work and urinalysis. My doc came in a few hours later and basically told me that there may be a knot, my BP is going up probably cause they scared me with the knot, the fluid looks a little low and I am 36 weeks and 2 days. She was suggesting we take the baby. It was May 5th. I totally agreed but was glad when she said tomorrow. (I was picturing trading my Cinco De Mayo Margaritas for Paw Patrol and popsicles).

The next day, my beautiful son was born, 7lbs and 5oz, big for his gestation, with no knot in the cord! It was the most wonderful sound I had ever heard, him crying. The hospital had prepared me for NICU, as their policy is all babies born before 37 weeks must go to NICU for at least one night. I was fine with it of course, but that meant he was whisked off after just a couple of little kisses from me and I was carted to recovery. In recovery my BP bottomed out, dropping super low then half an hour later went up super high. It was all over the place. I finally got to see my baby when they stabilized me and wheeled me into NICU. This was the first time I had a chance to try to latch him. He had already sucked down 15mL of formula like a total champ. He wasn’t super interested, but latched for a second or two.

Once I got to my room, instead of being able to go back to the baby in a wheelchair, and later as my legs woke up, by foot, I was put on magnesium due to the crazy BP fluctuations. That meant I spent 18 hours locked to the bed, away from my baby. Once I was off of it, I was moved to the regular maternity ward and he was allowed to come to my room, finally. By now, he was loving his formula and bottle and my milk hadn’t even begun to come in. I started pumping and tried to latch him a few times. I had no idea what I was doing and although the lactation consultants offered to help, I wasn’t sure what I needed help with.

Eventually I was pumping on the Symphony at the hospital and rented one as soon as we got home. I tried latching him when I could but then also had family over to help and was super exhausted. I always thought I could work on that later, if the milk would come in good then he would latch. It was also painful for me. I couldn’t stand the pain if he latched more than 2 or 3 times in a day. I expected it to hurt a little at first but then get better. It never got better. Overtime I started reading up on breastfeeding issues and read about tongue and lip ties. I had a lip tie myself that had to be fixed before I could get braces on. I could clearly see he had one too. I called in a lactation consultant to help me confirm.

The LC walked in and mentioned torticollis right away, then confirmed the ties I suspected. I went and had them laser revised that same week. But this was week 12. I got him to latch maybe 2 or 3 times after that. I didn’t try very hard. I was afraid he would be hungry and unsatisfied, that he wouldn’t grow well, that he was too upset when trying. I basically gave up. I exclusively pumped for him for 10 months. And that was awful! Would never recommend.

Exclusively pumping means for most of us, a constant battle with supply. It was impossible for me to ever make enough to feed him without supplementing. I pumped every 3 to 4 hours, around the clock for awhile, to “establish supply” as they say. All it ever established for me was being in a complete stupor. I could make at most 18oz a day as my baby was eating 26oz a day and then later up to 30oz a day. I finally scaled back and pumped about 5 times a day only during daylight, meaning I allowed myself to sleep for 6-8 hours. I decided to freeze some milk and feed some milk so over time I could space it out and he could always have 10oz a day till he was a year old. It was hard as can be. I used an app called Pump Log, and as soon as I had enough frozen to feed him till his birthday, I was so glad to hang up the flange.

During the process, I spent about $90 a month on pump rental, as well as who knows how much in pump parts (I didn’t know insurance will often cover these), different size flanges till I found what worked, and even more on things like pumping bras, freezing bags, etc. I am doubtful I saved any money overall since I still had to buy formula too. Did it make him healthy? I don’t know how much I believe in all the hype. But in case it is real, he had breastmilk.

What I learned with baby #2 and wish I had known with baby #1, is nipple confusion isn’t really real. You absolutely can get a baby back to the breast after having a bottle. A baby really can remove milk way better than a pump and help with your supply. If you don’t “establish supply” right away, it’s ok, you can still increase it over time. The best tip I can give anyone who is thinking of exclusively pumping is to offer the breast, with a smile and soothing words, don’t push, be playful, try it when they are sleepy, try it when laying in a warm bath with them, make it a nice option, and when they refuse, don’t take it personally, don’t let them see you upset, don’t sweat it, at all.. just give them the bottle and try again the next time. I firmly believe most babies can be coaxed back to the breast in these ways. And if you find you can’t get them back, exclusively pump if you want but do not feel bad at all for saying heck with it. It’s such a hard path and ultimately, it took so much time away from my baby that overall I wish I hadn’t done it.

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