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pumping

Family, Pregnancy

When Breast Isn’t Best

August 11, 2015

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Last week, I posted about breastfeeding (or rather, not breastfeeding and choosing to formula feed instead) on Espresso and Cream’s Facebook page. As I should have anticipated I got a lot of responses, some good and some filled with outrage. Because Facebook is short-form, I’m not sure my intent and thoughts behind my post were conveyed properly and with the clarity that I intended. I thought perhaps it was worth devoting a post to further clarification and explanation.

When I was pregnant with my first and only child I got asked a lot by health professionals, friends and fellow moms if I was planning on breastfeeding. It was, by far, the most commonly answered question of my pregnancy. I found the questions strange. Sure, I hoped to breastfeed, but I had heard plenty of stories about women who couldn’t or chose not to, and I didn’t want to set myself up with expectations that were unrealistic.

I’m the woman who went into childbirth with few notions of what I wanted or didn’t want. I thought perhaps I would like to try natural childbirth, but wasn’t sure. And after experiencing six hours of labor at home with contractions in frequent intervals I decided an epidural was the way to go. The same goes for breastfeeding. I thought I would give it a go, especially for those first few months when it’s extra valuable, but I didn’t have any strong leanings either way.

I did, however, feel the societal pressure to breastfeed. Doctors, nurses, lactation consultants and friends all repeated the same phrase: Breast is best!

Ainsley and I got off to a rough start with feeding. In the hospital she didn’t latch or eat well, and we spent hours with nurses and lactation consultants trying to get her to feed. And she did feed occasionally, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in how things were going when I was discharged from the hospital. The first couple days and nights were filled with lots of tears on both my end and Ainsley’s. Listening to your baby cry and cry because they’re hungry is the worst sort of torture. I couldn’t understand what was wrong: I was producing plenty of milk, but our little one simply thrashed her head from side to side in frustration every time she tried to eat. It was emotionally depleting on me, especially when I was worried about a thousand other things and sleep deprived on top of it all.

At four days old, Ainsley got admitted to the NICU with a low temperature after a home health nurse came to visit for a routine postpartum check-up. I had heard that breastfeeding was hard and I should just push through the hard to get to the other side, but in my heart I knew something wasn’t right. It was such a relief to hear the doctors and nurses in the NICU confirm that things were harder than usual for us because of the gap in the corner of Ainsley’s lip. That tiny gap was causing major issues with latching, leading to a lot of frustration for both of us. I was told that if we worked really hard we could probably salvage our breastfeeding relationship, but at that point I wanted nothing more than to pump exclusively and give Ainsley a bottle. She took to the bottle well, ate like a champ and was a completely different baby than the fussy, hungry newborn I had just a day before. It was sweet, sweet relief.

At first, exclusively pumping felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders. But eventually, pumping itself started to feel like a major burden on top of caring for a baby. There are many benefits to pumping and bottle feeding, but let’s face it, it’s double the work and difficult to manage time-wise with an infant who eats around the clock.

During the first 14 weeks of Ainsley’s life, she was exclusively fed breast milk via bottles. I pumped dutifully and stored up a major stash in the freezer. I hated every second of it and felt emotionally drained. I must have threatened to quit a thousand times during those 14 weeks, but I felt so much guilt at the idea of introducing formula to Ainsley. I would ruin her gut health! She would have allergies! I wouldn’t be able to protect her from sickness and give her valuable antibodies! She would get more ear infections! The list could go on and on.

Eventually Joe said something to me that really stuck: “Giving Ainsley the “best” isn’t just about giving her breast milk, it’s about being the best, most emotionally available mom you can be to her. That’s what’s best to Ainsley. If pumping/breast feeding is causing you this much stress, maybe she is better off drinking formula so you can enjoy her more.”

And you know what? He was SO right. When I let go of the weight of pumping and breast feeding Ainsley, I was a better mom. I had more to offer her, I could enjoy her more and I felt more like myself than I had in months. My concern with the push to breast feed is that the focus of “breast is best” is so very narrow. Is breast milk the perfect food for our babies? Absolutely! And it’s so cool that our bodies can nourish our babies. But when the push to breast feed results in a stressed out, emotionally depleted and unhappy mom, sometimes formula is best, and that’s okay, too.

So if you didn’t produce enough milk to feed your baby, it’s okay. If your baby didn’t latch well or had a medical issue that meant breast feeding was ridiculously hard, it’s okay. If you’re a mama via adoption and breast feeding wasn’t an option, it’s okay. If you just didn’t want to breast feed, it’s okay, too.

My hope is that we can have fewer conversations about how we feed our children all together. It’s such a deeply personal choice that’s become public fodder. The way I see it, motherhood is hard enough as it is without carrying extra guilt or shame about how you choose to feed your baby, and at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to do the best we can.

Madison

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Exclusively Pumping: Making It Less Miserable

May 6, 2015

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Flashback photo from Ainsley’s first week of life, when we were still figuring out the whole pumping/bottle feeding thing.
Eeek! Can you believe how little she is there? Be still my momma heart. 

I think one thing everyone who has ever breast fed can agree on is this: pumping is absolutely the worst. Anyone with me on that one? Although Ainsley is only two months old, I have already put my pump to good use since I’ve been exclusively pumping since she was four days old. Seriously, I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Since Ainsley had a small gap in the corner of her lip it was clear from the first few horrible days in the hospital that breast feeding just wasn’t going to happen for us. I lasted a couple more frustrating days at home before I made the switch to bottle feeding breast milk, and I can’t tell you the wave of relief I felt when the doctors confirmed that Ainsley’s lip gap was probably a big source of our lack of success at breast feeding.

Of course there are a number of reasons that women pump: to keep up their supply, because they’ve returned to work, because breast feeding multiples is just not working, etc. And I think that the universal opinion on pumping is that it’s just plain miserable. So, if you’re in the same boat that I’m in, I’ve brainstormed a few things you can do while pumping to make it less miserable…

1. Embrace Pumping in the Car
I thought this was so strange when my friends told me that they pumped in the car driving places. But after one too many days scheduling my life around being home to pump, I decided to just embrace pumping while driving. I bought a set of Freemie cups (which are WAY more discreet while driving and easier to use) and a car adapter and my world was changed. It’s great to be able to multitask while driving and it’s even better not to feel chained to getting home in order to pump or to sneak away to a bathroom somewhere in the middle of an event or activity.

2. Blog!
How do you think I made time for this blog post?! But seriously, sitting down with your computer to blog, do bookwork, catch up on e-mails that you never have time to respond to and other semi-productive tasks is a great way to get your mind off pumping and get caught up on those things you say you never have time to do. I usually keep my computer next to my pump so it’s always within arm’s reach.

3. Blow Dry Your Hair, Do Your Makeup
Every now and again when I’m really crunched for time, I set up my pump on the bathroom sink and do my makeup or blow dry my hair while I’m pumping. Finding time to do your hair or makeup as a new momma is hard enough, so this is sort of an easy excuse to take a little time to yourself.

4. Refrigerate Your Pumping Supplies
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but when a new momma friend told me you can take your pumping supplies and store them in the refrigerator for the day it was a game changer. Refrigerating your supplies for the day eliminates the need to clean them every time, and those extra minutes can be used for more important things – like napping!

5. Pump and Feed
This isn’t meant to be an advertisement for Freemie, but I’ve loved the cups so much and they’ve been a game changer for pumping. It’s not easy, but I have figured out that I can pump with the Freemie cups and feed Ainsley her bottle at the same time. I don’t do it often, but when she wakes early and needs to eat and I need to pump, it can be done!

Mommas who have exclusively pumped, do you have any other tips to share? 
Madison