Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably well aware that breast milk is the best nourishment for a baby. We all know the advantages of breastfeeding: healthier babies, higher IQ, DHA, immunoglobulins, better attachment, saving money, easier on the environment — but what if breastfeeding just doesn’t work out for you? Despite growing support for breastfeeding and the best efforts of La Leche League, many women experience difficulties breastfeeding for a variety of reasons and often get discouraging messages and bad advice from hospitals, doctors, family and friends which can make breastfeeding almost impossible. And sometimes the parts just don’t fit right (short frenulum) or your baby just can never get a good latch (more common than you might think). There is a growing movement of moms who have turned to exclusive pumping as an alternative to nursing to get their babies the nourishment they need. Here is one mom’s personal story — from our friend Melissa Womack, mom to 10 month old Jude…
Before my son Jude was born I had bought a single sided pump, but truthfully, I never expected to use it much. I was going to be a stay at home mom, so I thought I would have the opportunity to actually nurse him through all of his feedings. I had taken a breastfeeding class before he was born and had read most of the available literature on the topic. I, myself, was a champion breastfeeder as a baby/toddler and was not weaned until age 2 1/2. It had never really occurred to me beforehand that breastfeeding might prove to be a challenge. I felt prepared. But little did I know, I was about to embark upon one of the most challenging experiences of my life: exclusively pumping to feed my baby my breast milk via bottle.
My first attempts to breastfeed Jude did not go well. He was sluggish/sleepy and did not seem to be interested in eating at first. Once he became more alert and hungry, he was almost too frantic to nurse. When I would try to latch him and there was difficulty, he would get very agitated and wail. He would get so worked up that I had to stop my nursing attempts to try to soothe him. Every attempt would end with me vowing to never put him through that again. I started to dread trying to breastfeed him.
The baby nurses would come in to our room every few hours to check on our progress, and they offered suggestions and tips, but not one of them could really help him latch on well enough. Everyone said that it would just take more practice and so I soldiered on. In the early morning of the day of dismissal from the hospital, our pediatrician came in and told us that Jude had lost 10% of his birthweight and was also quite jaundiced and would need to be checked again the next day. If his blood levels were not improved by the next day in her office, she was going to re-admit him for therapy. She suggested that I try to nurse him more and/or consider supplementing with formula as a means to help both issues. When she left the room I cried. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally from this entire ordeal.
The next time a nurse came in to check on Jude, I asked her for some formula and fed him a tiny amount. He accepted it right away, and for the first time since right after birth, he slept soundly and peacefully for several hours.
Right before I was dismissed from the hospital, I met with a lactation consultant and she tried to help Jude latch on. She saw that he was having trouble and suggested that I rent a Medela Symphony pump to help my milk come in and to build my milk supply while Jude was learning to nurse. I made an appointment to meet again with her in two days. I gave him pumped colostrum and formula around the clock and attempted nursing several times a day.
Like in the hospital, every time I tried to get him to latch, Jude would become inconsolable, but now for longer and longer periods of time.
He rooted frantically all over my chest with his mouth open and ready, but he could just not latch well enough to get any milk and that would drive himself completely crazy with frustration.
My visit with the lactation consultant the following day went about as well as our visit in the hospital. She could get Jude to latch momentarily and he would drink a few gulps before he popped off. She felt all around his mouth and determined that he had a very short and tight frenulum, which is the little membrane under the tongue. A tight frenulum, she said, can cause lots of breastfeeding problems. She suggested we consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist about having it clipped. My husband and I looked at each other with this mention and just shook our heads. We had just grappled with having our son circumcised, and we were not about to subject him to another procedure that may or may not help the nursing problems. I asked the LC if it were possible to just pump full time and she looked at me like I had two heads. She said that she really did not know, but if she were to guess, she thought that my milk would eventually dry up and I would not be successful. This really scared and depressed me and I left the appointment feeling dejected.
During the next few days, I did some Internet research and found a handful of websites and support groups with information about Exclusive Pumping. I learned that there are a small number of women who have and are currently successfully pumping full time for their children for all sorts of reasons (cleft palate, latching issues, graveyard shifts, offshore work, just preference, etc). I studied all of the information I could find and devised my own pumping schedule.
Most of the information I found agreed on a few principals, such as: You must pump for a total of 120 minutes in a 24 hour period to keep a full milk supply and you should not go for more than 5 hours between pumps at the very most.
I began to follow all of the rules religiously and noticed the beginning of an abundant and steady supply of breast milk. After about five days on this schedule, I did not need to supplement Jude with formula anymore. I even started having enough milk to store and freeze.
None of this success came without major hardship. The rigorous pumping schedule required me to pump at least once during the night, even if Jude was soundly sleeping. During the day, I was not able to nap often because I would always have an approaching pump scheduled — not to mention the sink full of extra bottles and pump equipment to wash.
Fast forward 9 months and I am still exclusively pumping for my son. I never thought I would have a chance to write that statement because I thought about giving up literally hundreds of times. I have had to lug my pump, sterilized parts, and bottles to every event in my life. I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding at about 6 weeks postpartum and missed most of the reception because I was away pumping. We canceled our 7th anniversary getaway that my husband and I had been looking forward to because I did not want to have the hassle of dealing with the pumping situation away from home and in a hotel.
Even the day to day is hard to maneuver while pumping. Finding a time that Jude is not napping, does not need to eat, and I don’t need to pump is rare, so getting out of the house can be tough. I think pumping makes the isolation that a new mom like myself feels even more profound. In a word, I absolutely HATE pumping, but I would not change my decision had I had it to do it all over again.
There is upside to all of the hardship though. Besides being able to provide my son with all of the benefits of breast milk, pumping has allowed me to donate my extra milk to a baby who did not have this opportunity.
Since August of ’09, I have been donating 300+ ounces a month to a close friend who was not able to produce more than an ounce or two of milk a day. Knowing that not one, but two children were counting on my milk has given me the encouragement that I needed to continue during the times when I felt like I was missing out on life.
Lastly, I want to mention how important it is to have a supportive partner who understands and believes in the importance of providing breast milk for their child, especially through unorthodox means. My husband has done everything he could along the way to facilitate me continuing to pump (mostly through talking me out of quitting) and I am certain that I would not have been successful without his unyielding support.
My goal is to continue pumping full time until Jude is one year old. When he was 8 months old, I began to keep my extra frozen milk rather than donating it. He will start drinking the 4 months worth of frozen milk when he is a year, so if I use it judiciously, he will be getting at least 10 oz of breast milk a day until he is 16 months old. Not bad for a child who wouldn’t breastfeed, if I do say so myself!