In honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month in the US, I reached out to mom friends and asked them to share their breastfeeding stories. Breastfeeding doesn't always look like a baby at breast. Pumps, bottles, syringes, feeding tubes can all be involved when it comes to giving a baby breastmilk. Jenny shares her story of exclusively pumping.
Hi! My name is Jenny and I'm the blogger behind the screen at Love, Jenny, a motherhood and lifestyle blog based in Tucson, Arizona. I'm a firewife, mother of 2 little girls, and lover of books, donuts, and DIY.
I'd always dreamed of nursing my children. Snuggling those sweet babies, gazing down lovingly on their heads, as the suckled at my breast. There was never any doubt in my mind that that's what I would do.
I mean, why not? It's completely natural. And by "natural", I naively thought that meant "easy." I was wrong.
Before my first daughter was born, I was fully prepared to breastfeed. For me, there was never even one, single moment where I thought about formula feeding. Breast is best, and all that. I even took the Breastfeeding 101 class that the hospital offered. Then my daughter was born. I met with four different lactation consultants during my 36 hour stay in the hospital. Everyone (including the class instructor) said that it wasn't supposed to hurt. If it did, then I was doing something wrong. But it did hurt . . . a lot. They all said how I held her looked good. How she latched looked good. There shouldn't be pain, but there was. Finally, right before we left, the last lactation consultant noticed that my darling baby had a tongue tie. Get that fixed, and problem solved. So at 2-days-old, she had a tongue tie revision. But there was still so. much. pain.
The stress of trying to breastfeed, coupled with the pain (add to that the sleep deprivation of a new parent) and I was quickly spiraling into a very unhealthy mental state. I cried every day. I stopped eating. I even started having panic attacks. I dreaded my baby. I never wanted her to wake up, because then I would have to try and feed her. I began to think that I'd ruined my life by having a baby.
Then, one day, I had a complete mental and emotional breakdown. I started crying . . . and then couldn't stop. I must have sobbed for an hour, surprising and scaring my husband. He asked me what was wrong and everything came spilling out in rapid succession. Words tumbling over one another as I wailed about the stress, the pain, the panic attacks, and the dread. I just wanted to enjoy my baby, and I didn't. I was worried he would judge me, think I was a bad mother, instead, he gently suggested we switch to formula. To protect my mental health. And we did. Then the stress went away. The crying stopped. The panic attacks stopped. I was myself again. I was happy. And I finally enjoyed my baby.
Fast forward almost 4 years and I was expecting another little girl. I had decided that I wanted to try to breastfeed again. But I was also acutely aware of how quickly and deeply I had spiraled last time, so I gave myself permission to give up, if it didn't work out. After my second was born, I tried nursing her right away. And then tried again. And then again. By midnight, it was clear we were going to have problems again. The pain was starting to grate on me. Was it possible to work with her and get her to latch correctly, without pain? Probably (although I didn't know that at the time - lack of education). But knowing the mental spiral it put me in last time, I decided to change tactics. I asked the nurses for some formula and decided that when we got home, I would try pumping.
As soon as we got home from the hospital, I pulled out the pump I’d been gifted by a sweet friend. I thought pumping would be easy. Straight forward. How hard could it be? (Notice a trend here? I really need to stop thinking that.) While I didn't have the pain that came with direct nursing, pumping had it's own set of challenges. It takes time and patience and work. So much work. Trying to manage a pumping schedule, a newborn schedule, and a toddler is no an easy feat. Pumping takes the same amount of time as nursing (sometimes more) PLUS the time it takes to actually feed the baby the bottle, and all the prep and clean up that are involved in formula feeding.
When I started pumping, I had zero goals in mind. I would just do what I could and quit when I wanted to. Honestly, I didn't even know exclusively pumping was a thing. I just put one foot in front of the other and took it one pump at a time (literally only one pump at a time, I couldn't commit to any more than that). Thankfully, I was member of a small, very supportive mom Facebook group. I asked a pumping question in there and was directed by another member to a couple of exclusively pumping Facebook groups. I was amazed that there were so many other women like me! Women who, for whatever reason, didn't direct nurse their children and instead chose to provide breast milk for them solely by pumping. I learned so much from them and credit them with my making it a full year exclusively pumping for my daughter.
It was hard. Probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I can't even count the number of times I almost threw in the towel. But I didn't. I kept going. Because watching my baby drink a bottle of the nourishment that I had provided her, it made me happy. Me. Not anyone else. I knew she would be fine if I stopped and switched her to formula. Her older sister is as healthy and happy as they come. But it warmed my heart and gave me a sense of peace, knowing that I could do this for her. The journey was hard. Being an EPer meant being up for twice as long when she woke in the middle of the night (feed, then pump). It meant that even though Daddy could help feed her, I was still on the hook for providing the food. It meant planning my errands around when I needed to pump. It meant stepping away from the family gathering so I could find a private place to do my thing. It meant washing sink full after sink full of bottles and pump parts, every night. It meant literally crying over spilled milk. But I persevered and am proud to say that I exclusively pumped for the entire first 12 months of my daughter's life. In the beginning, I couldn't even imagine making it 12 days, let alone 12 months. But I did it! And it's probably one of the accomplishments I'm most proud of!
Many people think that in order to be a breastfeeding mother, that means you have to directly nurse your child. But that's not true.
I'm just a much a breastfeeding mother as anyone else. I provided breast milk for my daughter for 12 whole months. I just gave it to her from a bottle, instead of straight from the tap.
So, to all you fellow EP mamas out there, keep on pumping! You are strong. You are capable. And you can do this!