Our question today is from J:
"Out of curiosity, what prompted you to pump rather than nurse? I am having a difficult time with the idea of either."
My inability to breast-feed was a source of guilt and frustration for at least the first three months of Emma's life. The problems started in the hospital room. The first 48 hours are crucial to breastfeeding. Boobs are a smart milk production factory. When your baby takes that first drought of milk, your mammary glands automatically take into account how much milk was drained and adjusts accordingly. If all the milk is gone, the glands make a little bit more next time. If there is some left, they make a little bit less. This is why, if everything goes according to plan, you never run out.
Of course I couldn't have things go according to plan. It's just [apparently] not my style. Emma was early, and very small, and I couldn't get her to latch (technical speak for chomp down and suck). This is a problem with many babies who, like Emma, were born premature. There were several factors in addition to Emma's issues. I hadn't really done my research on breast feeding, thinking that it would just be a natural thing because that's the impression all those benefits-of-breast-feeding pamphlets give. In addition, the on-duty lactation consultant (who took her job title to mean, literally, woman who tells you how to breastfeed) was matter-of-fact and abrasive, and gave me the impression that if I did anything other than her way, it would be wrong. At one point she actually said, "No, you're doing it wrong," grabbed my breast, and squeezed it to make milk come out. Ouch, okay?
More than anything I must stress to you, there is no one way to breastfeed, and (unless you need an anatomy lesson) there is no wrong way. When Emma and I finally learned how breast-feeding works, we found that we were most successful when we were soaking in a warm bath. The lactation consultant failed to tell me that each mom and baby experience will be a little different, and while the mechanics are the same, no 5 step process can work for everyone.
But back to my mammary glands. Because Emma and I were having issues, the hospital got me a breast pump in an effort to keep my milk supply up. The pump was awful. It didn't work right. Of course I didn't realize that. I thought I was just defective. When we were released from the hospital, my now husband got me a professional-grade Medela Breast Pump. It worked really well... for the glands.
Newborns need to eat about every three hours. So for a month I followed a breast feeding/pumping/sleeping routine. I would breastfeed for about a half hour. She would get frustrated and refuse to latch. For another half hour I would give her formula so she'd stay hydrated. Then I'd change her and put her down and go pump my boobs for a half hour each, in an attempt to get my still insufficient milk supply up to par. Then I'd maybe eat something? Or perhaps shower. Then I'd use whatever was left of that hour to sleep. Then I'd get up and do it all over again.
A lot of people talk about how important it is for a baby and mom to stay physically healthy during the first few months, but the mother's mental health is not so often discussed. I felt like a machine, a non person. The stress and depression I experienced effected further my ability to supply milk.
I put myself through this routine torture for two months, until my mom sat me down and explained to me that I would still be a good mom if I didn't breastfeed anymore. I wasn't healthy, and it was effecting my ability to perform every day tasks. The stress and the work and the guilt were piling together for a perfect emotional breakdown. And that's when I decided to switch completely to formula.
And that's the story. As far as recommendations go, I would say, if you can, absolutely breast feed. There are so many great benefits, that you can't get even from using a pump. I'll go into that in another post. But more than anything, don't feel guilty if for some reason you can't or don't want to breast feed. There are hundreds of thousands of healthy, well adjusted children out there who, like mine, spent the first year of their lives on an almost all-formula diet. There are some awesome formula options out there, even for children with special diet needs, and there will be ample time for cuddling, so don't worry about bonding with your child. There are greater consequences if you don't take care of yourself.
Check tomorrow for a post breaking down the pros and cons of breast feeding and bottle feeding. In the meantime, check out this article on feeding on the Mayo Clinic website.