Sep 25, 2015

Pump it up

I've been wanting to write a post about exclusively pumping, and since I'm coming up on my five-month mark, I figured now was as good a time as any! I thought for awhile about how to write this post - pro list, con list, but as everything is so intertwined, a point/counterpoint format seemed to make the most sense.

Having said that, let me be clear - this is all MY experience. This should in no way be interpreted as a "you should do things a certain way," type post. If you're feeding your child that's all that matters! There are of course challenges with nursing and formula feeding, but since I don't have experience there I'm not speaking to that, and I don't mean to diminish them in any way. Again, this is all my experience and any emotions or comments are just proof of all the thoughts that go through my head on a regular basis. 

Also, this post is long. I'll try to break it up with pictures, but get comfortable!
Exclusively pumping is not for the faint of heart.

I've been exclusively pumping (or EP'ing) since Parker was less than a week old. He had major latching issues in the hospital (which we didn't realize until we were home), and he lost a pound in his first five days. (Babies typically lose a bit of weight at the beginning, but not that much). We hit the ground running to get weight back on him, which happened to coincide with the day my milk came in, and pretty much just learned as we went!

Most people assume (including me, before we had Parker), you breastfeed, or you bottle (formula) feed. There's not a lot of talk about exclusively pumping - it's breast feeding from a bottle so it's sort of a merging of the two. However, you kind of have to search for information and support for it, because while it's common, it's not often discussed.

With nursing, the baby cries when he or she is hungry, you feed them, and your body adjusts to how much they need and produces more or less milk based on that. But with EP'ing, you have to train your body to produce milk, using the pump as the baby.

For the first few weeks when we were worried about P needing to gain weight and I was trying to establish my supply, I pumped every two hours. That means TWELVE times a day I was pumping for 20 minutes at a time, feeding Parker (we wanted him to associate me with food), then trying to sleep before starting again. I was maaaybe getting 40 minutes of sleep at a time. (The first time I went three hours between pumpings it felt like a vacation). I didn't drop my middle of the night pump (usually 3 AM), until right before I went back to work when he was ten weeks old, so for ten weeks, the longest stretch of sleep I got was four hours.

Now, I spend three hours a day (broken up into six half-hour sessions), attached to my pump, and that's the least amount I've ever pumped. If you add in prep and clean up time, I easily spend 24 hours every week pumping. Whew!

Early on, my mother-in-law said I have all the pros of breastfeeding, but all the cons as well. I didn't really understand that at first, but wow, has it proven to be true.
Where it all happens!
You're not the only one who can feed him.
Why it's great: Ben is the one who gets up with him in the middle of the night to give him a bottle. A little more sleep for me, and some great bonding time for them. (I once woke up to a text from Ben saying he loves being able to feed him because he's so cute and he gets to really see him grow. Ahh, how I love that man).
How it's hard: For awhile, I mourned the loss of the nursing relationship. While pumping is still me providing milk for Parks, it's such a different process that I stopped associating my pumping with his growth and health. When I laugh at his thigh rolls or tickle his belly I have to remind myself I did that, even though we are not nursing.

When you pump you can take a little break.
Why it's great: When I'm at work, this is true. Sometimes I listen to a podcast and knit while I pump, other times I read a book. It's a little bit of "me" time.
How it's hard: At home, this is not the case. It's hard to not see the things to do while I'm sitting there pumping, even if I have a distraction like a book. If Parker is awake and Ben is home I talk to them and I play as I can (Ben will do "flying baby" to me so I can give P kisses, etc.), but it's hard being there and not really being able to do things with him.

The worst is when Ben's at work (he works afternoons and evenings), and I have a pump or two to do while he's gone. I have all kinds of tricks and things to do with Parks to keep him entertained while I pump, but when he's exhausted (or lately, teething), and just wants to be held,  I can only do so much for him. He's upset, I get stressed, and I usually end a pumping session with a screaming baby while I'm saying, "I know, I know, hang on, I'm almost done."

"You could always use formula."
Why it's great: This is something that's suggested more often then I would expect by people. Their intentions are great - they're trying to help me relieve some stress, and on a good day, it IS nice knowing there is an option in our back pocket that we can go to if needed - we'll still be able to feed our son.
How it's hard: On a rough day when someone says this, it makes me think of being in the middle of infertility hell and someone suggesting, "why don't you just adopt?" Yes, we're choosing breast milk instead of formula, but why does that mean our choice should be questioned when it's hard? (Plus, add in Parker's dairy intolerance and there are times when I don't know if we could afford the amount of non-dairy formula we would need). This also goes back to mourning that nursing relationship - the natural thought process is you breast feed or bottle feed with formula, and EP'ing is this weird middle ground. It can be such a sensitive thing, so when someone makes a suggestion, what I hear is "well you're obviously not doing it the 'normal' way, so why don't you just stop?" (Even though I know that's not what they mean!)

Sleep when the baby sleeps.
Why it's great: Honestly, this just makes me laugh. Parks only naps for about 40 minutes at a time, so if I do get to sleep it's not for long stretches. (And there are always bottles/pump parts to be washed, so nine times out of ten I'm doing that instead).
How it's hard: On the rare occasions where Parker has slept for really long stretches (six or seven hours at once), I'm still up at my regular times to pump. The only way my body knows to keep producing this amount of milk is if I'm really strict about maintaining my pumping schedule.

"Let's get coffee/grab lunch - you can totally bring the baby!"
Why it's great: I love love love how supportive our friends and families are - pretty much everyone assumes or makes it clear that Parks is always welcome when we do something/go somewhere these days. Not everyone has that and I do not take it for granted. Getting Parks (and his diaper bag) ready is pretty streamlined these days, as is packing my pumping bag; I'm even a pro at strapping all these bags to me and carrying him in his car seat.
How it's hard: Besides the sheer volume of stuff I have to take with me, there's a lot to factor in when I'm leaving the house for awhile. Will there be an outlet where I can pump? Is there a place I can warm up heat pads? (I have re-usuable flax seed ones to help with milk flow - not a big deal if I can't use them for one pumping but I try to use them very consistently). Will Parker be hungry before I pump again - do I need to take the bottle warmer, or can I just warm up a bottle now and take it with me? Will I be able to entertain him while I pump?

These are questions I ask myself every. single. time. I have to leave the house for awhile - so nine times out of ten if I'm going to be gone for a few hours, I take pumping stuff, or the baby, because both can be too much for me to handle on my own.

At its best, pumping is an incredible sacrifice I'm making for my son and I can see the results in his elbow dimples, thigh rolls, and how he's growing like a week. (He's over 16 pounds now!)

At its worst, pumping seems like the ultimate punishment - I never get enough sleep, all the time I'm pumping I am literally away from my son, and on days when he's in a foul mood, all I do is hold him and then pump, (because leaving the house is too overwhelming), I feel trapped.

However, Parks is awesome, and thriving, and I have been rocking this for five months. FIVE months! That's fantastic! My long-term goal is a year, but most days that seems overwhelming, so I have several mini-goals set for myself. For instance, right now my goal is to make it to six months and I'm only a month away from that - woo!

I have another post planned about what's been helpful, what I've found to be a waste of money, and what you absolutely need (support from those around you and a sense of humor!), because if I go inot that now, this post will never end.

As always, I appreciate this space for sharing when things are real - and hooray for you making it to the end! Happy Friday!


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Exclusively pumping sounds like so much work so I really commend you for sticking to it for as long as you have! And I hope that whenever you choose to stop, that you try not to feel guilty if it's less than the yea you are striving for... although I know that's probably an unrealistic wish as mom guilt seems so prevalent. Just remember that you are awesome and Parks and Ben are so lucky to have you!!!

Niki said...

I exclusively pumped with my first son for a year and swore I'd never do it again. Then my second baby was a preemie, born the size of a 29 weeker, spent a month in the nicu and wasn't allowed to breast feed- it burned too many calories. He had reflux and some stomach/intestinal issues and couldn't tolerate formula. So here I am, 11 months later, exclusively pumping again. It's SO hard keeping an 11 month old and 3 year ok busy while pumping. Plus, throw potty training in there and life is glorious! Going to work three days a week feels like a vacation sometimes!

Non Sequitur Chica said...

First of all, you are doing a great job!! I just want to throw this out there- when you are in the thick of things, you don't realize that there is a middle ground. Making it 5 months is awesome! I pumped while at work and I have nothing but awe for people that EP.

Anyway, what I was going to say is that there is a middle ground. You can drop a few pumping sessions and do a bm/formula combo if ep becomes too crazy. I think too often mothers think it has to be an all or nothing thing.

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

Honestly, just seeing the photo of your pump above gives me anxiety... and I only pumped at work and away from Max. YOU are seriously amazing. AMAZING. Making it to 5 months of this shit is amazing. A true, TRUE labor of love.

Amber @ A Little Pink in the Cornfields said...

Wow, 24 hours a week? That's so much, but I don't blame you at all. I know if I was in your shoes, I would do it too. The thigh rolls make it all worth it! Thank you for sharing! I can't wait to read more!

Lauren| said...

I loved reading your breastfeeding update! Good for you for finding what works for you and your family - you are a super-mom! I can't wait to read your other baby posts - baby must-haves sounds AHmazing since I'm starting to register now :)

Nora said...

Love the first picture- pumping certainly is a super power! I know we've talked about this before but I think you are a rockstar and I'm so proud of you for all that you do. Thanks for sharing this with us; honest and real is so appreciated these days when there is so much "everything is ok," type posts out there. Love you!

StephTheBookworm said...

You're doing great! I nursed for about two weeks then I stopped and just pumped for a couple of months. It was SO challenging and I felt like all I did was pump and wash pumping supplies and bottles. Lots and lots of kudos to you for sticking it out for so long!

Amber said...

I never really knew anything about pumping until all my friends started having babies and I am amazed at how much work it is! Even my other mom friends who only pump sometimes to have milk to freeze consider it a huge chore/task and overwhelming so I think you exclusively pumping for 5 months is AMAZING! And yes, you are growing Parker with milk your body makes -- so so cool. Very proud of you for sticking it out through what I know has not been an easy time. Here's to five months of pumping! xoxo

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