Okay, guys, I'm gonna be real today. And if you don't want to read about breastfeeding, this post probably isn't for you. I'm going to use the word nipple - fair warning.
This article about exclusive pumping inspired me to share my struggle. It's definitely worth a read if you're not sure how much goes into exclusively pumping breastmilk for a baby.
*I am not anti formula feeding. I am pro feeding your baby and taking care of your baby and helping your baby grow strong in whatever way you choose. This is simply about how much I had my own heart set on breastfeeding.*
This is something I haven't really shared with many people yet... mostly just people who have visited us in Ohio to meet sweet Annabelle. Or people who see me feeding my tiny baby a bottle and I feel the need to justify myself for whatever reason. Or the judgmental ENT who performed my baby's tongue tie clip and was flabbergasted that I couldn't just whip out a breast to feed Annabelle after the procedure.
Breastfeeding sure isn't as easy as they make it look and sound when you take all those classes during pregnancy. They show you videos of babies, minutes old, crawling up to their mothers' breasts and latching on like it's no big deal - like it's the only thing they know how to do in the entire world. Lactation consultants come speak about how all you have to do is move your baby's mouth if they have a poor latch - and voila - problem solved.
Not so much.
Let me start at the very beginning.
Annabelle was born via induction (more on that soon - hopefully), and the medicine used can make breastfeeding more difficult. She also was taken from me after about 15 seconds due to her not crying. I didn't get her back in my arms for over 40 minutes, missing out on crucial skin to skin bonding time. That can also hinder the breastfeeding process. That said, those things may have contributed to us not being able to feed/eat the way I had planned.
The more likely reason? Who knows? Annabelle has a small mouth. She also eats like a barracuda, growling at whatever comes her way, shaking her head in excitement, and going crazy when the food doesn't come out quickly enough for her liking. I tried, and I tried to get her to eat from me. Dan tried his best to help by supporting her in different positions for me. He held her hands back out of the way. He called the nurses in to help (and they tried everything - they were wonderful). He even called the lactation consultant on base multiple times to get us seen by her - and she was so helpful too... even if the only thing she helped me with was accepting the fact that breastfeeding just wasn't going to work for us.
I was pretty devastated. I had been pumping milk since the second day of Annabelle's life, but I wasn't getting much - certainly not enough to feed her. Because of her low birth weight (just over six pounds), the pediatricians were worried and told us to supplement with formula... so we did. I kept pumping, as painful as it was, and as little as I was getting, so my baby could at least benefit from the nutrients and antibodies in my breastmilk. Dan tried his best to be supportive, but I felt like I was letting our entire family down. Annabelle wasn't getting the milk I thought she deserved. Dan was having to spend money on formula, which we did NOT plan on at all. And I was feeling down because I felt like I let them both down.
But if you know me at all, you know how stubborn I am. Stubborn people are persistent... and I did not give up. While I never have been able to get Annabelle to latch onto me for more than 20 seconds, I did keep pumping. Now, I'm making more milk than she drinks each day by 10 whole ounces. I have pumped close to 1,200 ounces in the past seven weeks, and Annabelle has eaten all but the 116 ounces I have frozen to use in the future.
One awful bout of mastitis and a trip to the doctor for antibiotics later, I am feeling extremely confident in our routine. Ask me again after we travel for the holidays when I have to pump in an airport, possibly during a flight, and in a car during a long road trip. I'm not sure how confident I'll be feeling then, but I'll always have this blog post as a reminder of how hard I've worked so far.
It may not be ideal, but we have a system down now that works for us. During the day (and in the middle of the night), I will feed Annabelle her four ounce bottle of breastmilk, and then she will play on her play yard or go back to sleep in her crib while I pump nearby in the rocking chair in her nursery for 20 minutes. I pump five to six times a day now for 20 minutes at a time and get about 35 ounces of milk a day. When Dan is home in the evenings, he feeds her while I pump.
It was super difficult at first. I felt like I was wasting my time because I couldn't do anything at the same time, and it was so much work for so little milk. I literally watched an entire season of Friends in three days, all while hooked up to a breast pump. Sensing my frustration (or seeing my tears), Dan quickly ordered me a hands free pumping bra online. Life changer. If you're in this situation, you absolutely need one. Now, I can Facebook, blog, read, make Etsy orders, etc. all while pumping - multitasking at its finest, am I right?
Dan did the math for me (because why else would I marry a physicist if he wouldn't do tough things for me?!), and if I keep pumping at the same rate until July, we will have enough milk stored for little Miss Annabelle to continue reaping its benefits until she is one year old in September - and even beyond once we throw solid foods into the mix as well. One year of breastmilk for my baby is my ultimate goal... but if something prevents that, at least I can say I tried my very hardest.
So while exclusively pumping may not be ideal, and while it may feel like a hassle sometimes because I have to set aside time to feed my daughter AND make time to produce food for her separately, I know I am doing what my heart tells me to do.
And I'll work on trying to not feel the need to justify myself.