Erin, mom of two and a mother behind Motherhood, shares how her feeding journey led to exclusively pumping.
What was the beginning of your feeding journey like?
The beginning of my feeding journey was so challenging. I had taken a breastfeeding class while pregnant and thought I was prepared, but honestly, I wasn’t. They say breastfeeding comes naturally but, in my case, it just didn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing, it was awkward, and I just felt like something wasn’t right.
They say breastfeeding comes naturally but, in my case, it just didn’t.
In the hospital, I was having the hardest time and kept asking for help, and every nurse seemed to show me a different position or way to hold my son Hudson. And on top of that, it HURT! It got to the point where I would just cringe whenever he tried to feed. My nipples were cracking before we even left the hospital. When the hospital’s lactation consultant finally came to see me, I told her I was in so much pain, but she said the latch was fine and the baby had a powerful suck, which she was thrilled with. But I remembered that my breastfeeding instructor said multiple times that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. So, though something didn’t seem right, I kept at it because I was determined to make it work.
My Type A personality was also an issue because I didn’t know how much milk Hudson was getting, or if he was getting anything at all – the whole thing was just so stressful. I kept trying to feed him and I kept feeling like he wasn’t getting anything, and every time he latched, it just got worse. I was already nervous and unsure of how to care for this little baby and the pressure I was putting on myself was intense.
Our first night home from the hospital, Hudson was so fussy and cried nonstop. We were taking turns with him, and I tried to get a few hours of sleep, but he wouldn’t stop crying. I just knew he was hungry. I came downstairs around 2AM, completely exhausted and burst into tears. Then I told my husband to go buy some formula. And I instantly felt like a failure. I didn’t want to supplement. He was supposed to have breastmilk exclusively, and it was only day two! But I kept hearing my breastfeeding instructor say that no matter what challenges you face, there were two things you must do: feed your baby and maintain your milk supply.
I felt like I was failing, but at the same time, I was thinking: what type of mother let’s her baby cry all night of hunger? So, we fed the baby some formula, and I immediately texted my husband’s aunt to help me learn how to pump. I also made the next available appointment with my pediatrician’s lactation consultant. That next morning, my husband’s aunt came over, she helped me set up the pump and we got started. As soon as I saw those first drops come out, it was like a weight had been lifted. I was capable of making milk, and everything was going to work out!
What was that lactation consultation like?
I called the pediatrician’s office in tears, and they were able to schedule me with a lactation consultant that day. I met my consultant, Angela, who was a godsend. She helped me get into position, watched us feed, and immediately called out his tongue tie. She showed me how his tongue was attached, and how his little mouth could barely open to get onto the nipple. To overcompensate, he was sucking as hard as he possibly could which was literally drawing blood.
So, the first step was to get the tongue tie fixed – she recommended a dentist who did it by laser at five-days-old. We then had to work really hard to teach Hudson how to latch. And we also had to work really hard to get my milk supply up. Since I had missed some precious time, I relied on pumping, oatmeal, and A LOT of fenugreek. Since Hudson would get frustrated by my initially low supply, we used a trick with a tube so he would get a mix of breastmilk and formula while nursing until I could make enough to satisfy him. When I had my second son, Crosby, I knew what to look for and I knew how to be prepared.
What made you decide to exclusively pump?
I so badly wanted a natural and easy breastfeeding experience, and to bond with Hudson. We did everything we could to make it work. In the beginning, there was so much damage to my nipples, that I would only breastfeed once or twice a day and then the balance was pumping. But I really wanted to keep that time so we could bond. But as the weeks went by, I realized we weren’t exactly bonding – he would try to wiggle out of position, would yank off the boob, and honestly preferred the bottle. I would get frustrated and often start crying, and it just wasn’t this calm thing where we could gaze lovingly at each other. I realized I was forcing something that wasn’t working, and I was making it worse.
After making the decision to exclusively pump, initially, I struggled with guilt. Even though I was pumping, and I did have a few solid months of feeding him exclusively with breastmilk, I just felt like it wasn’t enough. But once I got into a good rhythm with pumping, everything got so much easier, and it was like another huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. We were still bonding, he was happy and healthy, and I was doing everything possible to feed him!
Did you deal with any supply issues?
Yes, because I wasn’t successful in getting milk out and I held off on pumping until the day after we came home, I think I lost some precious time that impacted my supply. I also don’t think I had the best supply to start with. Plus, the damage had been done to my nipples, which made pumping a nightmare at first (pumping blood isn’t fun). I made lactation cookies, invested in bottles of fenugreek pills, and pumped as much as I possibly could. Months two and three, I was able to feed Hudson exclusively with breastmilk, and after that I needed to supplement with some formula. This caused more guilt, but I did everything I could to make it work. And even though I wasn’t producing enough to exclusively offer breastmilk, I did make it 11 months of pumping.
And even though I wasn’t producing enough to exclusively offer breastmilk, I did make it 11 months of pumping.
With my second child, I was prepared. I saw his tongue tie the moment he tried to latch. We kept trying in the hospital, but I brought the pump this time, and pumped nonstop after having him. It made the biggest difference in my supply. And just knowing what to do the second time around made me so much calmer and more confident – no tears this time! We figured it out until we could get to Angela, the lactation consultant, and to the dentist to correct his tongue tie.
How did you manage your pumping/feeding schedule?
Initially, every 2-3 hours I would feed and/or pump. If I fed, I pumped immediately after. After the third month, I eliminated breastfeeding and then switched to exclusive pumping following the same schedule. As time went on, I would slowly lower my times per day. Knowing that my milk supply would drop after going back to work, I worked really hard to pump as much milk as possible to freeze while on maternity leave. The second time around, I was able to make enough to keep my son exclusively on breastmilk for the first 6 months!
I think the best thing about pumping is that you can rely on someone else for feeding.
I think the best thing about pumping is that you can rely on someone else for feeding. If I wanted my husband to feed in the middle of the night, he could. Granted, I still had to get up to pump, but it could speed things up a bit. Or if we wanted to grab dinner, there was always breastmilk in the fridge for my parents to use while babysitting. The worst is the time it takes, especially when trying to feed AND pump. You literally are a milk machine! And then trying to pump for my second, while I was also home with my 2-year-old was a challenge. Trying to stop him from climbing up on the coffee table, while attached to a pump and watching a newborn, wasn’t easy!
What is the best advice you have for pumping mothers?
I think the best advice for any mother feeding their child is to decide the best course of action for you and your baby and to get the help you need to achieve your goals. There are so many great resources out there. If you decide pumping is the route you want or need to take, lean on others for support, and don’t give up! And don’t feel guilty for doing what you know is best for you and your family.