I always thought I would breastfeed my baby, that’s what good moms do! The thought never crossed my mind that I would have to pump to get breast milk for him, far less give him formula. The day after my traumatic birth, the nurse wheeled in an electronic machine and told me to get pumping. The doctors and nurses in the NICU also strongly emphasized the importance of breast milk in my son’s fragile state and encouraged me to pump, pump, pump!
I attached the apparatus to myself and began the desperate task of pumping. In this case I wasn’t only pumping to feed my baby, it felt like I was pumping to save his life. At that point he was only getting nutrition through various IVs. They were waiting for my breast milk to start feeding him. I pumped and I pumped and I pumped… but nothing came. I felt like such a failure. It was just one more thing going wrong in what was supposed to be a natural process.
I pumped every three hours for four days before I got one drop of milk! When that drop finally came I was so elated! I quickly labeled the collection container and sent my husband to deliver it to the NICU. He gave me a funny look, but knew better than to argue with me in my state. I was told in the NICU that every drop counted and I should bring anything I got right away!
Soon after my husband left the room I heard loud laughter from the nurses’ station. In a few seconds two nurses came into my room with big grins on their faces. They couldn’t resist telling me what they had just witnessed. When my husband left the room, he stepped into the hallway and held the container of breast milk up to the light. He squinted to see the lonely drop in the container, shook his head and then covered it in his hands. With an embarrassed look, he left for the NICU. I had to giggle myself as I pictured him delivering this one drop of breast milk to the nurse!
After that “productive” session, I continued to get more and more breast milk and was finally meeting my baby’s needs, but just barely. My nipples became bruised and cracked from the harsh hospital grade pump, but I had to keep pumping! After I left the hospital things became a bit tricky. I had to pump every 3 hours for 20 minutes. It seemed like there was no time in between pumping sessions. I also needed to eat, drink, clean the pump after every use and carefully label the bottles. Of course I also had to go back and forth to the hospital! It was difficult to explain this challenge to family and friends. They didn’t seem to understand that I was a constant pumping time bomb. Even my husband had difficulty understanding how critical this pumping timeline was. They still wanted to do normal things like eating at a restaurant for dinner, but my life at that point was far from normal. With my baby in an incubator, pumping was one of the only useful things I could do for him. Since I was barely making enough I couldn’t afford to miss a session as that would mean my baby would either get donated breast milk or formula. I felt like I was constantly running a race against time. Sometimes my husband even delivered breast milk to the NICU after midnight just to make sure that he would have enough through the night. I tried several remedies to increase my supply but nothing seemed to work. I felt defeated and depression seeped in. Although I was making all of this effort, I was still barely keeping up with my baby’s growing needs.
I kept pumping for 4 months until I was unable to physically and emotionally do it anymore. When my baby finally came home I tried to keep it going, but it was almost impossible to care for him by myself and pump every 3 hours as well. Sleep deprived and exhausted, my supply was dwindling. I knew that I was at the point where it would be better to switch to formula. Though I knew I had made the best decision for my family, I still felt some guilt. I just could not be the mom he needed if I continued pumping. I’m glad that I was at least able to provide him with breast milk through his time in ICU and for a few weeks after he came home.
While he has been formula fed from four months on, he has continued to grow and thrive at a steady pace. I know that breastfeeding is better and if it works out for moms that’s wonderful! However, I think that doctors, nurses and even family and friends should be cognizant of the emotional strain that the pressure to breast feed puts on mothers who have difficult and extenuating circumstances. I myself was only breast fed for three months as my mom had to go back to work. There were no portable electronic pumps for moms to carry to work at that time. This goes the same for many of my friends and we are all just fine. Moms have to make decisions that are best for their families individually. Remember baby needs an emotionally stable and happy mom too!
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