I exclusively pump. Some people try to tell me that it is not breastfeeding. I agree… It is harder. It is breastfeeding from a bottle. Some people give me kudos, but ask, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to give formula?” Of course it would be. But I want to give my baby this gift.
When I had a breast reduction in 2003, having babies and breastfeeding was not high on my priority level. I was just interested in not looking like a twig with two basketballs hanging from my chest, and not dealing with shoulder and back pain before my career as a nurse had even really begun. I thought, “I will just formula feed, no big deal. They make some great formulas nowadays.” (and they do, I am in no way anti formula!)
When I got pregnant in 2010, suddenly all I wanted was to breastfeed this little life inside of me. I read every book and internet article I could about breastfeeding after a reduction. When at 37 weeks I saw the first few drops of colostrum from my nipples, I cried tears of joy! When my son was born in April of 2011 in a hospital after an epidural, I did skin to skin as soon as I was able, the nurse helped me latch him on and I crossed my fingers.
Latching was an issue. Two days in the hospital, and only one nurse helped me try to fix his latch. It was the weekend, so there were no lactation consultants I could call. I just could not get him to latch and when he did he would pull off and cry. I would cry. The nurses told me I should give him some formula in a bottle. The doctor told me I should give him formula in a bottle. I asked for a pump. They brought me one, but she didn’t know how to get it to work. The doctor told me I would be discharged, but my baby would have to stay until I fed him formula from a bottle. I was tired and defeated. I gave him a bottle.
When we got home from the hospital, my husband ran out to the store and bought me fenugreek and blessed thistle, rented a hospital grade pump and we had a lactation consultant come to the house. We tried everything to get my milk to come in and to get baby to take the breast. But he had already had a bottle; it was easy, it was fast and he was not going back. I decided to exclusively pump. I tried to exclusively pump. I tried to get hooked up every 3 hours, but my son was colicky. He cried every time he was put down. I tried to keep up with the washing and sterilizing of bottles and pump parts. I tried to power pump to get more than 2oz at a time. It was hard. I cried. The pump hurt. My son was crying. I lasted a month.
I remember crying in the shower when I made the decision to stop. I felt I failed him. I was angry about my experience in the hospital. I felt we had been robbed of this relationship.
It took a long time to get over that feeling. I formula fed my son and he is a happy, healthy 3 year old.
In 2013 I became pregnant with my second child. I decided on a midwife instead of an OBGYN, and a home birth instead of hospital. I had learned a lot with my first son and I was going to succeed with breastfeeding this time, gosh darnit! My second child was born in the water at home and he was latched on to my breast before I had even delivered my placenta. He stayed there happily for over an hour. Sometimes sucking, mostly sleeping. It didn’t hurt. I was euphoric. I started taking my supplements and drinking mothers milk tea immediately. I had my placenta encapsulated and started taking that. But alas, the latching issues started. My midwives tried to help; they were at my house twice a day. He would latch and fall asleep. Always falling asleep at the breast, comfort nursing. I kept it up thinking he would get hungry enough to suck and swallow, but eventually I turned to the pump again.
This time I was strict about pumping every 3 hours. Around the clock. I had extra pump parts, I had freezer meals, and I had a laid back baby who would sleep in the swing or on a nursing pillow in my lap while I pumped. I had a 3 year old who was excited about TV or ipad time when I pumped. I was going to do this!
I did do it, for 9 months. Countless supplements, endless calories, gallons of water. Pumping in the car, at friends houses, at holiday dinners. Bleeding nipples being ripped at by a mechanical pump, never having a chance to heal. I kept saying I was quitting, I was done, I can’t do it anymore! But then I did. I couldn’t stop. Even when my supply would take a dip and I would have to power pump and find time for an extra pump, I didn’t quit. I couldn’t. I wanted to give him my milk. I wanted to give him myself.
I just packed my pump up yesterday. I did it for my baby. He is my pumpling and I breastfed him from a bottle.
Courtney works as a Registered Nurse. She and her husband live in Ontario, Canada with their sons, Colin and Liam, a dog and two cats.
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Photo credits: Courtney Monteith