Today I'm very pleased to post a breastfeeding story by Chris, who lives in Chicago. Chris exclusively pumped for her baby after a long struggle with nursing at breast. I think that her story does a great job of highlighting the challenges and rewards of exclusing pumping, and also highlights some misconceptions about it.
What happens when you can’t overcome a breastfeeding challenge? If you’re like me, you end up exclusively pumping breastmilk for over a year.
My breastfeeding journey was not at all how I’d planned it. In the months leading up to the birth of my son I worked hard to lay a good foundation for breastfeeding. I read “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, attended La Leche League meetings, took a “How-to” class, and opted for an epidural free birth.
My son was born full-term and healthy. That is to say, there wasn’t a reason in the world why we shouldn’t be able to breastfeed. But we couldn’t. Our attempts at nursing were evaluated by three lactation consultants, my LLL Leader, and countless friends and relatives who had successfully breastfed. No one could get my son to latch and no one could tell me why.
When I started pumping at the hospital, I assumed it would be a temporary fix. Two weeks later I started to think that this might go on for much longer. The “experts” I consulted for guidance were unprepared and frankly were unsupportive about exclusively pumping. I was told it would be impossible to effectively establish and maintain my milk supply. I tried anyway, and you know what, they were wrong.
After three months of trying, I finally gave up attempting to nurse. Emotionally it was too hard to be “rejected” over and over by my son. So I found myself on a road much less traveled as I continued to pump. He thrived on my milk and I took comfort in that. He was getting much of the same benefits of breastmilk, just not the traditional way. Just after his first birthday I started to “wean” from pumping as he transitioned to cow’s milk.
We may have failed at nursing, but I feel like I succeeded at breastfeeding. Some of the challenges are the same with pumping as with nursing, clogged ducts, mastasis, cracked nipples. But in my experience the challenges of exclusively pumping were not understood or acknowledged. There is a misconception that pumping is somehow easier and more convenient than nursing. Believe me, there is nothing convenient about relying on a breast pump to feed your child. Forget “sleeping when the baby sleeps;” you have to pump when the baby sleeps. In the beginning, it’s usually 8 to 12 times a day, although most women can cut back as the baby gets older. Pumping in public? Forget it, although I was known to discreetly do so when necessary. It’s also hard if not impossible to soothe a crying baby or entertain a mobile baby while pumping. A simple question, “Are you breastfeeding or bottlefeeding?” becomes very complicated to answer.
Emotionally you also have to deal with the loss of a nursing relationship. That has been the hardest part for me. I’m trying to look forward now. I’m pregnant with my second child and hoping that nursing, not pumping, is in our future.