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I Breastfed My Daughter For One Year Without Nursing

img_9041Let 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!

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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.

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