Let me take a moment to give myself a giant pat on the back. After battling a tongue and lip tie that caused a painful latch and my ever-fluctuating supply, I did it! I met my goal and was able to provide my daughter with breast milk for her whole first year!
The first time I hooked up to my pump, I was terrified. I had no idea how the pump actually worked, or how much I was supposed to produce, and emotionally I was a wreck. Aside from the newborn sleep deprivation, I just felt like such a failure as a mother and as a human being – that I couldn’t provide my daughter the one thing I was biologically programmed to give her.
Although I immediately felt physical relief after switching from nursing to pumping, coming to terms with this decision is still something I occasionally struggle with even a year later. I know I made the right choice, not just for my well-being, but for my daughter and our family too. But even now, I can’t shake that tiny voice in the back of my head that says: I should’ve tried harder. I was being selfish. I stopped too soon. I just gave up. Of course, that’s not true. I didn’t give up; I just found a different way.
The first couple months were a learning process – figuring out the pump settings, how many bottles I’d need per day, how much formula I’d need to use to supplement, and finding a routine for pumping and cleaning all the bottles and parts that didn’t take too much time away from enjoying my baby. At three months postpartum I returned to work, and my life turned upside down once more. I joined an exclusively pumping Facebook group, and suddenly a whole new world of tips and tricks opened up to me. So the next three months were spent re-learning everything – restructuring my schedule for more productive pumps, buying a hands-free pumping bra, finding flanges that actually fit me, and rotating supplements, lactation cookies, Gatorade, and power pumps trying to boost and maintain my supply.
At six months postpartum, I started to doubt if I could make it to a year. I had dropped my middle of the night pump and eventually my after-work pump, so during the week the only pumps I needed to do at home were first thing in the morning and after Peyton fell asleep at night. But pumping was still time-consuming and exhausting, and the weight I was gaining from all of the extra calories I ate was really starting to bother me. As a “just-enougher”, I hadn’t built up the freezer stash I had hoped for. After depleting my stash a couple times when Peyton was sick or when I had dropped pumps, and therefore ounces, I only had enough to last a few weeks if I’d stopped pumping right then and there. Still, I started toying with the idea of stopping before the one year mark. I hit nine months postpartum and decided to drop another pump. I was now at 3 pumps per day – two at work (morning and afternoon) and one at home (after Peyton went to bed). I resigned to push myself to continue the last three months. I wouldn’t drop another pump, but I decided not to do anything to increase my supply again either. I didn’t make anymore lactation cookies. I didn’t do anymore power pumps.
The last three months were awful. I hated every pump. I wanted to be done, but at the same time, it was frustrating to see my supply dropping again, and emotional to know that I could be making more milk again if I just added back another pump. And then suddenly, it was the end of September and my baby girl turned one. I don’t know how, but I made it through her whole first year. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t how I planned it, but I met my breastfeeding goal. I’m proud of my accomplishment, eager to share my advice and experience with other moms, and so excited for this new, pump-free chapter of motherhood!
What I’ve Learned In One Year
There are so many things I’ve learned, not just about breastfeeding and pumping, but motherhood in general, and myself. There are a hundred things I’ll do differently the second time around, whenever that may be. But here’s a list of some of the biggest things that changed my experience as a new mother, or that I wish I’d known from the start.
- Trust your instincts. That doesn’t mean you’ll always know what to do, but when you have a strong feeling about something, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. I knew Peyton had a lip tie from day one, but I didn’t look into it for three weeks because the lactation consultant and pediatrician told me everything was fine.
- Never quit on a bad day.
- Feed the baby, not your freezer.
- Pump until empty! Plenty of EP moms need to pump longer than the “recommended” 20 minutes.
- Formula is NOT a four-letter word, even if your baby isn’t starving. Some days, just knowing I had an extra bottle of formula in the fridge was the only thing keeping me sane.
- Drink a lot of water.
- Coconut oil is a mom’s best friend.
- Get a pumping bra immediately.
- Pumping doesn’t have to hurt (hint – check your flanges!!).
- Join a pumping support group, because no one else will truly understand unless they’ve experienced it.
- Pediatricians are wonderful for medical advice, but not necessarily for parenting advice.
- No, pumping is not some magical experience. It’s torture. Boring, time-consuming torture. But you’ll do it if you need to, and somehow you’ll get through it.
- Even when you’re 100% sure you’re ready to stop, it’s emotionally harder than you expect.