Exclusively Pumping. And why it sucks.

I had a ridiculous amount of issues breastfeeding Christopher. I never thought it would be so difficult to do something that’s supposed to be so natural. I remember when I was pregnant, I read about how breastfed babies have higher IQ’s, have less ear infections, are healthier and just are all around better babies in every single way. I mean come on now, how can you not breastfeed??! How could you even consider feeding your child formula? God forbid, the horror of it. The pressure of breastfeeding is really ridiculously overwhelming.

So anyhow I had these grand thoughts of breastfeeding and I remember very distinctly the nurse placing Christopher on me to feed for the very first time and well, it didn’t work out as I expected. He didn’t latch correctly — something about being tongue-tied and then later after his tongue was clipped and breastfeeding still didn’t work, I heard comments about his mouth being too small and my nipples being too large and then later it was something about my not producing enough milk and it just went on and on.

I hired a lactation consultant the first week and she travelled to me in her lactation nursery van (yes I’m being serious and it was actually kind of awesome). I bought from her 2 different types of milk producing vitamins, a breastfeeding pillow called My Brest Friend and a Medela Supplemental Nursing System. I remember writing her a check for $500.

Let’s talk about the Medela Supplemental Nursing System. It’s basically a plastic flask-like container you fill with formula (or pumped breastmilk) that’s connected to a tiny thin tube that you then tape to the edge of your nipple so that when the baby latches and sucks, he receives milk. It is ridiculously difficult to setup and it requires the help of another adult to get into place and working. I tried it for three weeks and then threw it in the trash because I was so frustrated with it. Imagine trying to tape a tiny thin tube to your nipple while a plastic flask filled with milk is hanging around your neck and your newborn child is screaming his brains out and you’re sweating like a pig which makes the tape not stick to your nipple and then you have to get more tape but that requires a pair of scissors and well, you can see where this goes. It is seriously the most flipping ridiculous thing ever made and now 5 years later I can look back on this and realize how f*cking insane I was.

After trying to breastfeed Christopher for 4 weeks it just was not working. I remember getting scabs on my nipples and how he’d suck off the scab after each feed (which remember is every 3 hours) and how the wound would never heal because the scab kept getting sucked off every time. I remember cringing in fear every time I heard him cry because I know I’d be subjected to torture again. I remember watching endless DVD’s on how to breastfeed. I remember borrowing books and reading blogs and all of the lactation consultations and phone calls. In the end, I decided that breastfeeding was not for us. But the guilt of not feeding him breastmilk overtook my sanity so I made the choice to exclusively pump.

Who knew that a whole world of exclusively pumping moms existed. I found blogs and forums and Facebook groups. I learned more about pumping — schedules, technique, storage, etc. than I ever wanted to know.

I rented a Medela hospital grade pump (the Symphony) and setup a schedule to pump every 3 hours to keep my supply up. I pumped every three hours (8 times a day) for the first twelve weeks of baby’s life.  When I hit week 12, I reduced it to 7 times a day. I pumped everyday at 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 10pm and then set the alarm at 2 am to pump once more in the middle of the night.  Each pump session was 45 minutes. I did this until baby turned 6 months. Keep in mind that I’m working a 50 hour job.

I remember getting this panicky feeling every time it was beyond the 3 hour mark and thinking, man this is gonna ruin my schedule and how in the world am I going to get in that extra pump if I don’t get home and my milk supply (!) it’s going down every minute I wait! Those crazy blogs and forums I tell you made me sick in the head. And because I spent so much time attached to the pump it gave me even more time to read  pumping blogs and forums to make me really go crazy.

I traveled everywhere with my pump. In fact, when I traveled to Boston I brought two pumps with me. My trusty Symphony and my travel pump just in case god forbid something happened to my Symphony during the trip.

I’ve pumped while driving. I’ve pumped in Chris’ dad’s car, Chris’ mom’s car, my sister’s car and my dad’s minivan. I’ve pumped in the bathroom at work before they had the pump room ready. I’ve pumped on an airplane, at the mall, in parking lots, back offices at work with paper taped over the window. I’ve even pumped hunched in a corner at SFO.

At the 6 month mark I decided to reduce it to 6 pumps a day — dropping the 2 am pump. For the first time in 6 months, I slept an entire night. I didn’t set the alarm and I didn’t have to stay up until midnight to pump. It was wonderful. I kept this up until the 10 month mark and then slowly went down to 5 times, 4, times, 3 times, 2 times, once a day, every other day, every 3 days and then stopped at month 12 because, I mean, you absolutely have to provide breast milk for your child until the 1 year mark. Doing anything less than that would be barbaric.

My experience with breastfeeding and pumping is singlehandedly the worst thing I’ve ever had to go through. Worse than giving birth to a 10 lb. baby, worse than the aftermath of giving birth to a 10 lb. baby and even worse than my first semester at MIT.

When Waverley was born, on day 2 of her life, I mixed 2 scoops of powdered formula and water into her new Tommy Tippee bottle and stuck it into her mouth. She happily drank all of it and then we both took a nap until the next feed.

A large part of motherhood is sacrifices but at some point you have to draw the line. For me that line was drawn when I was 9 months pregnant with Waverley and pulled out my old pump and pump parts and started hyperventilating. I knew that I couldn’t go through that again so I donated everything and bought a can of Earth’s Best formula.

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