Before my first child was born, I decided that I wanted to breastfeed him. It was what everyone said was best, my friends all nursed their babies, and it was, well, natural. It’s what we evolved to do, and I saw no reason to mess with it.
I did end up breastfeeding my son, but I ended up having to do this very “natural” thing in a very artificial way: I breastfed him for over a year by exclusively pumping.
Exclusive pumping means feeding your baby breast milk only by pumping and bottle feeding breast milk. After the first couple of weeks, I didn’t nurse my baby, but he was only fed breast milk. (I was lucky and had a good supply, so I never had to use formula after I started exclusively pumping.)
How did I end up tying myself to a breast pump for two hours a day for over a year?
In a way, the reasons behind it went back to before my son was even conceived. Before he was born, I experienced three miscarriages in one year. I felt like my body was failing me, failing my husband, and failing my (potential) children. When I got pregnant with my son, my pregnancy was more filled with anxiety than joy (though there was that, too).
It felt like a miracle when my son was born healthy – and then when I tried to nurse him in the days after his birth, it felt like my body was failing me again. He would not latch on in the hospital, and instead of helping or finding me a lactation consultant, the nurses told me I was starving my baby and pressured me to give him formula. When the doctor saw how much I’d pumped, she said “that is a very small amount to have pumped.” In retrospect, my milk wasn’t in yet - it was colostrum, so of course it was a small amount! At the time, though, I was really demoralized.
When I got home from the hospital, I kept trying to nurse my son. While he started to latch on, he still wasn’t gaining enough weight. The good news at his three week weight check was that he had stopped losing weight, but he wasn’t back up at his birth weight, and he wasn’t thriving.
To my emotional, hormonal self, it seemed like whereas before my body had failed to keep my babies alive in utero, it was now failing to nourish the one I’d managed to deliver.
I couldn’t go on being this anxious about his well-being and not knowing if he was getting enough to eat, so I turned to exclusive pumping. With exclusive pumping, I knew how much he was getting at every feeding, which helped my anxiety. (If there was a way to see ounce measurements on the side of my breasts, maybe I would have been more successful with nursing!)
Even though I was really happy with the practical side of exclusive pumping, I still felt a little ashamed that that’s what I was doing. I would quickly change the subject if someone asked me if I was breastfeeding. I felt like I wasn’t doing things “naturally,” that my son and I were missing out on the bonding experience of nursing even if he was drinking my breast milk. I felt like I hadn’t tried hard enough to make nursing happen.
Luckily, these feelings didn’t last forever. My son is now three, and he is a happy, funny, thriving little boy. I’m happy that I was able to provide him with breast milk as long as I did, and now instead of being ashamed, I’m proud that I did it - exclusive pumping is a lot of work! I know that I did the best that I could. Even if our start wasn’t how I wanted it to be, the start isn’t everything.
Did you pump exclusively as an alternative to baby-on-boob nursing? Share your story below!
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