Sometimes occasions arise which prevent a mom from being able to nurse her baby. Many mothers who have a baby who cannot or will not latch, for whatever reason, resign their breastfeeding dreams to failure folder and reach straight for formula. There is a more baby-friendly option however, and one that doesn’t seem to get the support or acknowledgment it deserves: exclusive pumping.
When faced with receiving breast milk, or not, method of delivery often becomes a moot issue. Many exclusively pumping mothers are doing the best they can in the situation they find themselves. However, situations evolve. Lots of pumping moms dream of sacking the pump in favour of exclusive nursing. The following story details one mom’s journey from one end of the spectrum to the other.
“When I was pregnant with my son I wasn’t sure I wanted to breastfeed, since I had failed to breastfeed my daughter in the past. But time waits for no mom, at 35 weeks pregnant I woke up to regular contractions ranging from 3 to 10 minutes apart. I waited until after supper and then headed to Labor & Delivery triage to be monitored. It turned out these contractions were only Braxton Hicks however the medical staff found proteins in my urine and my blood pressure was borderline high, so I was admitted for a 24 hour urine analysis.
Induction or c-section?
After the 24 hours were up I was beginning to develop preeclampsia. Consequently it was decided that I should be induced that night. I had just settled in to watch a movie when my nurse rolled in, announcing the news. Nothing short of “freak out” could describe me at that point. It was 11:30pm and my mom wasn’t answering her phone, so I was starting to have a mild panic attack. I couldn’t be induced alone!
I finally got in touch with her while I packed up my stuff. She wheeled me into a labour room and the on-call OB came in to talk to me. She did an ultrasound to determine baby’s position and talked to me about my options. Since I was only 35 weeks my cervix definitely wasn’t primed for delivery, which meant I would have some sort of device inserted into my vagina against my cervix to help ripen it. After a certain amount of time if it wasn’t ready I was told I would have to consider a C-Section.
The nurse also told me that because of the C-Section I had with my daughter, the medicine used to help thin the cervix also posed a risk to my previous incision, meaning rupture and potential death for me and my son. Since I had already gone through a C-Section and knew the risks, I decided to just go for it. The OB’s bedside manner sucked and I felt pressured into a decision without being able to consider fully my options.
Once that decision was made the nurses started prepping me for the surgery. When time came for the spinal I had another mild panic attack and was given some meds to help me calm down. It made me spacey and by the time my son was born I’d forgotten why I was there in the first place. I didn’t get to completely enjoy his moment of birth because of all the drugs I was on.
My son was 4 lbs 2 oz at birth and because he was born at 35.2 weeks gestation he was taken to the NICU. I don’t remember looking at him before he was taken away and didn’t get to see him until he was almost 8 hours old. I didn’t get to hold him until he was 14 hours old. Although I loved him completely I felt disconnected because he was stuck in his plastic box and the only way I could touch him was through a small hole in the side.
My son’s assigned nurse told me I needed to pump every two hours to build and maintain a decent milk supply. I tried hard not to bawl each time I thought about what a wreck my mothering experience was thus far. How did she expect me to attach myself to a pump every two hours? The Lactation Consultant was lovely and tried her best to help me express manually, but I wasn’t quite catching on. I still had the drugs in my system and found it hard to stay awake for more than an hour at a time. My milk hadn’t come in so when I did pump I would get very little, which made me feel like my body wasn’t able to produce anyway, so what was the point?
Day 3 and my milk started coming in. The nurses were very impressed so it boosted my confidence in this pumping nonsense. Day 3 was also when my “baby blues” kicked in full force. I cried almost all day for close to three days straight. I couldn’t cope with not being pregnant and not having a baby to show for it. I developed a pumping routine, but nowhere near the 2 hours the nurses asked for.
Day 4 was my discharge day. My hospital’s NICU has “parent care” rooms that they offer to the baby’s mothers. I had my 5 year old daughter at home so I would be with her during the day and then I stayed at the hospital for the first two nights. I rented a pump from the hospital to keep with me at home and used it when I was able to but my determination left much to be desired. During the day at the hospital I would pump there. I had a decent stash in the NICU’s fridge so I didn’t see it as a priority to pump as often as I should of.
During my son’s 11 day NICU stay the LC tried helping me to get him to latch and nurse on a few occasions. Because of the premature birth and the NICU ins and outs, I was resenting pretty much everything. I didn’t want to put forth the work to get him to latch if it wasn’t going to magically happen the first time. I figured since I was already pumping anyway, once we went home I would exclusively pump and feed him by bottle.
During the first 3 – 4 weeks I had a major over-supply so I didn’t pump as often as needed to maintain a decent milk supply long term. Around the 6 1/2 week mark I noticed the 4 – 6 bottles I had in the fridge started dropping to 2 – 4. By the end of that week I was pumping just for the upcoming feed.
Exclusive bottle feeding to exclusive breastfeeding
Numerous times I wondered briefly about putting my son on the breast just to see what he’d do. Then one day when my daughter was at school and I was home alone, I decided to try. After a full bottle feed I put my son to the breast. To my surprise, he latched and started nursing like a pro! He was a rockstar nurser! It took roughly 3 days to go from 8 weeks of exclusive bottle feeding to exclusive breastfeeding. The process was fairly simple: I would let him nurse as long as he wanted and if he still seemed hungry I would top him off with a bit of a bottle. Gradually he just wouldn’t want the bottle after nursing. To say I was proud of myself and my son was a huge understatement. I felt like we could do anything!
Pediatrician pushing formula
Since he had been born, my son had a bit of a stomach issue. His stomach couldn’t tolerate big feeds and he would throw it back up, hindering his weight gain. Because of his prematurity we see a pediatrician as well as his regular family doctor. The pediatrician’s main job is looking for problems related to being premature. One big concern, for me, was the fact that he would spit up constantly after every feed. The pedi started bugging me to supplement with formula to get his weight up. I was devastated. I did not want to give him formula because of everything he’d gone through in the NICU, his stomach issues, plus finally developing our breastfeeding relationship. It felt like we’d gotten 3 steps ahead then were pushed 6 steps back. The pedi didn’t seem concerned about his spitting up at all, just about getting calories into him. I wondered how was he to gain weight when he can’t keep anything down. Despite not gaining he was a happy, healthy baby so I opted to try other methods before resorting to formula.
My son’s weight gain has been slow, but at his 9 month appointment he weighed over 17 lbs, so I would say he is thriving well. He is almost 12 months old now and is still breastfeeding. He was made to breastfeed.
Through all of this I’ve been single so I’ve been doing it all on my own. My son’s father is not supportive and would rather I wean if it means he can have overnight visits sooner. He would rather give his son formula than let him have the best start to his life possible. Needless to say he wasn’t impressed when I’d told him our son was exclusively breastfeeding. When our son refused the bottles with the formula, my ex went behind my back and tried to give him a sippy cup,even though I’d specifically told him not to.
Breastfeeding has been a very empowering experience, especially considering how rocky our start was. My original goal was 12 months but now I’m hoping to exceed that by a long shot. I think it’s selfish to not even try. Breastfeeding is so good for the baby and for mom too!”
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