Friday, August 31, 2018

Exclusively Pumping is Hard

Breastfeeding is incredibly difficult. I had no idea how thoroughly challenging it is until I gave birth to my son last month.

When he was born, my son latched onto my breast within half an hour after his birth. His latch was great and there were no issues with his feedings. However, he wound up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) when he was just twenty hours old because he was having issues with regulating his blood sugar and body temperature. To stabilize his blood sugar issues (which would help his temperature problem), the NICU had to introduce formula and a dextrose IV drip.

The hospital encouraged me to use a breast pump since I intended to breastfeed the baby. I was shown how to use the pump by a lactation consultant. In the beginning, I only got a few drops out during a pumping session. However, these small drops of colostrum were liquid gold and important to the baby's health. The NICU nurses made sure to feed my son what I had pumped, regardless of how small of an amount, before giving him any formula.

The baby was born on Monday and, by Friday, my milk had came in and I became engorged. I asked the NICU nurse what she thought while visiting our son. She called another lactation consultant who came to the NICU meet with my husband and me. The lactation consultant assisted us in getting the baby to feed on my breast with the help of a contact nipple shield. Once the baby was done eating, she showed my husband and me how to relieve the engorgement in my breasts. I was amazed at the amount of milk I pumped during that session.

The biggest struggle with the baby being in the NICU was the nurses would only let me attempt to breastfeed for a short time. If he became frustrated and cried too much, they would say he couldn't be bottle fed and would, therefore, feed him with a feeding tube which was placed through his nose to his stomach. He would be frustrated often because breastfeeding is more work for a baby. He became used to the instant feeding a bottle would allow and didn't want to work for his milk.

When we brought him home, I decided not to fight him on breastfeeding. I wanted him to eat, gain weight, and be healthy. When he would cry inconsolably each time I breastfed, I decided to exclusively pump. I wished he would have drank directly from my breast instead of pumping and bottle feeding, but it wasn't working out at that time.

While my husband was home on parental leave the first four weeks of our baby's life, pumping wasn't an issue. He could watch and console the baby if he started fussing allowing me all the time I needed for each pumping session. However, my husband has been back at work for two full weeks now and I'm at my wits end with pumping exclusively.

After some trial and error, I discovered by son would latch on and nurse if I used a nipple shield since it resembles a bottle nipple more than the nipples on my breasts. The first time, he nursed a mere five minutes. The second, closer to ten. He's nursed up to fifteen minutes a couple of times. I have fed him solely from my breast overnight twice. We've only been working on the transition into breastfeeding for about a week and it's going pretty well.

During the day, I cannot breastfeed him. This is because my supply had started to struggle when my pumping schedule became irregular. The baby would be asleep when it was time for me to pump, but I would wait for him to wake to offer him by breast first. Sometimes he would take it and sometimes he wouldn't. If he wouldn't, I would have to wait to pump until after I had bottle fed him and gotten him to sleep. There were times when it would be four to five hours between pumping sessions when I am supposed to pump every three hours or so.

My husband and I worked out a plan to work through this yesterday. When he is home, I will try to breastfeed the baby first. Once the baby is done (whether he eats or not), my husband will take the baby and see if he wants any milk from a bottle while I pump. My lactation consultant recommended  continuing to pump after breastfeeding sessions until the baby is solely eating from the breast. When I'm home alone with the baby, in order to maintain my pumping schedule so my supply is not endangered, I will exclusively pump. This would be no different than if I was working full-time and pumping at work.

Nevertheless, pumping while home alone with the baby remains a struggle. I have searched online for tips for keeping my supply up. Some of the suggestions I have located are pumping at least seven to eight times a day, pumping for at least 15-20 minutes a session, and not paying attention to my output while I pump.

Many times, when I am attempting to maintain my pumping schedule, the baby will be fussy which makes pumping nearly impossible. Today I became incredibly frustrated and informed my husband I was done with pumping. Since then I have decided I am not actually done with it yet, but it's hard and emotionally taxing to attempt to be the sole source of sustenance for your child. I am hopeful we will be able to transition into exclusively breastfeeding instead of exclusively pumping because we are already on that journey. It is going to be extremely difficult, but it will be worth it in the end.

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