There are few things more natural than breastfeeding. I don’t mean it comes naturally (like many other women, it certainly didn’t come naturally to me), I mean that the female body was created to make exactly the right kind of nutrients for her baby in the form of breastmilk.
Unfortunately breastfeeding was something that I couldn’t do. It was excruciating for my baby to nurse past a milk blister on a flat nipple that was so damaged it looked like hamburger meat. I pumped on that side and introduced a bottle much sooner than I would have liked. Her latch was never very good but it became worse in the middle of the night. She’d fall asleep while eating and after hours of feeding her and then setting her down to sleep, she would wake up hungry 20 minutes later and it would start all over again.
I was both mentally and physically exhausted and she obviously wasn’t sleeping much either. I was also extremely depressed and anxious. I had my first anxiety attacks during this time. I was so worried that she wasn’t eating enough.
One evening I made the decision to pump exclusively and feed her breastmilk in a bottle. It felt like a huge weight had lifted off of my shoulders. I had some milk stored in the fridge, which I fed to her, and then I pumped. The next morning, as I pumped and my husband fed her, I regretted my decision. My breastfeeding dream was falling apart and the feeling of a lifted weight off my shoulders was turning into a feeling of failure. While dealing with these emotions, my husband, daughter, and I went to our first WIC appointment. They offered me support for breastfeeding and even weighed my baby to show that she had been gaining enough weight. I felt a renewed sense of hopefulness that I could breastfeed. That day I tried everything I could think of to successfully breastfeed her. It still took about an hour each feed but I figured that was normal. That night was different, however. I was up until 5am trying to feed her. At that point I woke my husband and asked him to get some of the premixed formula the hospital had given us. I had completely given up. He got the formula and started feeding her and then urged me to go pump. I was so defeated that I just wanted to switch straight to formula but that little push was all I needed to finally become an “exclusive pumper”.
Now she is getting the same nutrients, just in a different form. I sometimes mourn the loss of our breastfeeding relationship but when her little fingers wrap around my thumb and her eyes stare up at me as she eats, I know she doesn’t care what or how she’s eating. I’m a happier mom, she’s a happy baby, and we’re much better bonded this way. My husband said something to me when I was really struggling that I won’t easily forget. He said, “when she gets older, she’s not going to remember how or what you fed her, she’s going to remember you playing with her or singing to her.” Smart man, my husband.
It’s difficult and time consuming to pump exclusively but it’s worth it for my daughter. There’s also much less support out there for exclusive pumpers. It’s almost as though there are two schools of thought on how to best feed your baby: breastfeeding and formula (or bottle) feeding. It’s also not as widely accepted. I’ve gotten some strange looks and people have asked me why I don’t try and relatch her. I had a midwife tell me that it’s much more enriching to “nurse a baby rather than a pump”. I guess the thought is that I gave up too easily. If I can produce enough, why don’t I nurse? However, it’s not just up to me. I’ve thought about trying to relatch her but at this point it doesn’t seem worth it to me. We’re bonding regardless. Yes, breastfeeding is easier. I wouldn’t have to cart around milk, wash bottles, or pump every 2-3 hours but she’s healthy and happy.
For those women who are having difficulty breastfeeding, know that there is an alternative besides formula. It’s a lot of hard work but your baby will be getting the same thing. And if you have to supplement with formula or can’t provide any breast milk, remember that formula is not poison. Don’t beat yourself up. Your baby needs to eat and you’re doing nothing wrong by feeding him/her what you are able to provide.
Women are bombarded with information and research about what’s best for their babies. It’s no wonder women develop postpartum depression and anxiety. I don’t know if I was just overly sensitive to it, but a lot of things I read didn’t even consider exclusively pumping to be an option. Most things I read said that it would get better and feeding my baby for 5 hours at a time was normal. Being exhausted was normal. Sleep when the baby sleeps or bring the baby to bed with you (in another post I’ll talk about the contradictions I heard quite a bit as a new mom and how it contributed to my anxiety). But God-forbid I stop breastfeeding and feed my baby formula. Thankfully I had a very supportive sister-in-law who told me that she exclusively pumped with her second child. I had never even considered such a thing but now I’m living it and we’re happier for it.