Pumping and bumping
I wanted to breastfeed Oli. When the midwife asked me at one of the prenatal classes how I was planning to feed the baby, I replied 'breastfeeding' without hesitating a second. I was so sure and relaxed about it. My worries during my pregnancy involved so many aspects, but this was not one of them. Heard that it was not easy at the beginning, and that if someone was determined, it would work. Well, it didn't.
At exactly 36 weeks my water broke and 2 days later our most beautiful tiny little creature was born. He was healthy, but super small. Even though he did not need NICU, he and his feeds had to be closely supervised. His jaws were not strong enough, so we were struggling with the latch from day 0. He had to eat, his blood sugar levels were dropping, so then it happened... the first bottle... then the second and the next and the next.
One week later we were discharged from the hospital and I thought, 'yeah, this is it, it will work in the comfort of our own home'. In the meanwhile I started pumping to get my milk going. We tried different positions, different times of the days, after a bottle, with and without nipple shield, left and right breast. Our midwife also tried to help with the latch, but Oli was not up for the breasts. It was getting obvious day by day that he was getting used to the bottle and not happy with the extra work we were expecting from him.
Give up or give in?
I think it was around 1 month postpartum that I gave it up mentally, I was exhausted, felt guilty and a total failure for not being able to do the most natural and beautiful thing for my baby. I wanted to be one of the breastfeeding mums so much, I wanted to feel him as close as possible while feeding and nurturing him, I wanted to preserve our ‘oneness’. Shame and embarrassment were my companions from that moment, even though nobody blamed me. For a good while I felt totally defeated. But one day all the guilt, shame and embarrassment transformed into determination and the dark clouds started to dissolve. What if I did the second best thing that I could do for my baby? What if I started pumping seriously? I immediately did some research on pumping and on how to increase milk supply. I was drinking nursing teas, eating oat like crazy, but my milk supply was building only very slowly. The idea of pumping during night felt insane because our sleep was already catastrophic, I could not imagine back then that I could wake up and spend time pumping while I could have just a few minutes of sleep instead. When I saw that there was no other way, I finally gave in and became a proper zombie. I was pumping around the clock. When Oli was sleeping, I was pumping to prepare his next feed. I woke up once or twice during the night to keep the juice flowing. Our walks, outings, everything was planned around pumping. It became the rhythm of our lives in all senses. This went until 7.5 months. Yes, I know... it's mad. But all that mattered that baby was getting his feeds mostly from breastmilk. (I could never pump as much as he wanted.)
At around 7.5 months postpartum I just collapsed, mentally, physically. My body turned against me and my milk supply started to decrease significantly day by day. The sleep deprivation, the pumping, lots of comfort food that I ate to keep me going messed with my head. I had to take care of myself. I was so tired at this point that I could not find joy in our days with Oli. I had to face that this was the end, there was no other way than to stop pumping.
With this all my previously suppressed emotions surfaced, my hormones were all over the place. I even wrote a poem to my breastpump... I know, it's nuts, but it helped! :)
HYMN TO MY BREAST PUMP
Oh dear companion of the last 8 months,
I love you and hate you, that’s all.
Everyone told me that #fedisbest
But I kept pressuring my breasts.
Could not make the bubba latch,
And I did not know that there was a catch.
Just wanted to give him the best possible food,
But I ended up sacrificing my mood.
Kept pumping day and night,
So we became best buddies of all time.
Your pulsing sound echoed through our whole lives,
We did not mind that for a while.
One day I felt I cannot go on anymore,
My body felt like a shell, and not whole.
Our final goodbye is coming close,
Still my heart is full of shadows.
I cannot get rid of feeling guilty,
Which I know sounds super silly.
Take care of yourself, my friend,
I am grateful to you, don’t forget!
So what is the gist of the story? Here are my lessons learnt:
Get help! Seriously, this is the one thing I regret. I did not ask for more help from lactation consultants, professionals, other mums etc. I was sitting there by myself after the first failures feeling demolished.
Start pumping consciously even if you are working on the latch with professionals, get the supply going. There were a good few weeks for me when I was not doing it properly or enough, cause I was hoping that the latch would work.
Try not to be hard on yourself if it does not work or if you decide to give up. All I accomplished with beating myself up was that a challenging period felt even more difficult. Don't forget that #fedisbest! I only read about this movement later.
Be proud of the way you are feeding your baby. Noone is judging. I was the one judging myself. When scrolling through social media back then I saw all those breastfeeding mums wearing their success like a badge. This was all in my head. I completely forgot that every breastfeeding story has difficulties (cracked nipples, mastitis, nursing million times at night etc.), and those are not always visible from the surface.
Bonding works through the bottle as well. The more I was pumping and was able to breastmilk-feed Oli, our feeds felt more intimate. I started to feel our 'oneness' in our bottle-feeds, spent time with extra cuddles. Also, I tried to make sure I was the one feeding him if possible.
Pumping is hard work. Pumping and breastfeeding work with similar mechanisms, but while your baby is super effective in emptying your breasts, and helps you produce the right hormones, you need to literally squeeze the juice out of your breast to make sure your supply is kept. Regular massaging, squeezing, pressing are a bit of torture for the breasts, but I can see that they are slowly recovering now.
Get a very good double electric pump with a bra (or you can make one yourself from an old bra at home to save money). Since pumping was planned to be a backup solution, I had a great pump, but it was probably not effective enough for my mission. Also, I was stuck to the pump while not being able to do much because I only had a single pump. With the double pump and the bra mamas can have two hands free.
Get help! I know this is the second time mentioning it, but it is so important. We are living far away from our families, and I was too stubborn to ask for help from friends. I was pumping while Oli was sleeping cause the noise was quite irritating for him. I could have had a bit more rest if someone was watching the baby once in a while.
If you give up the breastfeeding and latch idea, do not offer the breast after a couple of months, unless you want to have a good laugh. I did it around 5 months and baby was staring at me completely confused and a crushing look that said 'Mum, are you serious?!'. :D
Do the pumping as long as you feel healthy in your body and mind. I stretched this a little too far.
After being on the breastfeeding/breastmilk-feeding rollercoaster for 8 months, I just would like to send a huge shout out to all mothers/parents feeding their babies in whatever way they can. Kudos to them, kudos to me. You did great, Mama! :)