EXCLUSIVELY PUMPING – MY BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY

7th January 2019

After 6 months of pumping and a 7th month for reflection, I thought that it was time to write about the trials and tribulations of my feeding journey. I wanted to write this to share both the positives and negatives of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding as I essentially did both for the first 6 months of Evangeline’s life. I’m going to start this post off by addressing all of the Mums who may be reading this. In no way is this post supposed to be one-sided. In fact, I want it to be the complete opposite of that. I hope that it can help any Mother feel more positive about the choices they have made and continue to make for the wellbeing of themselves and their babies.

To the breastfeeding Mum: Whether it was for one feed, one week or one year, any amount of your milk in your babies system is incredible. I remember trying feed Evangeline in the hospital and I genuinely felt like I needed to morph into an Octopus and sprout a few extra arms for help. The positioning, the latching, knowing if your baby is feeding enough? It’s a lot to take in. Being able to directly feed your baby is such a special gift and can be amazing for bonding too so enjoy those precious moments. Remember that you are giving your baby exactly what they need and also doing what works best for you, you are doing so well.

To the formula feeding Mum: Whether you just didn’t want to breastfeed or you had to problems trying, you are doing amazing. Formula feeding is an added expense (of many) that you could definitely do without and finding a formula that suits your baby can be a long and difficult process. Cleaning and sterilizing bottles is the biggest pain when you’re feeling exhausted and there is nothing worse than being late for a feed and waiting for a bottle to cool whilst your baby is screaming in your arms. Remember that you are giving your baby exactly what they need and also doing what works best for you, you are doing so well.

To the pumping Mum: Keep battling through, keep going, you can do this. Feeding your baby may not have been the way you expected but you’re carrying on. For whatever reason you have chosen to pump please know that it was by far the easiest option. You can go from having zero energy to feeling yourself leaking and running to your breast pump desperate to get every drop you can for your baby. Crying over spilt milk is a real thing and waking up for your middle of the night pumps is hell. Remember that you are giving your baby exactly what they need and also doing what works best for you, you are doing so well.

When I was 8 weeks pregnant I had my first appointment with my Midwife. At this point in my pregnancy I had already had 3 emergency scans at the Early Pregnancy Unit and had 4 separate experiences when I thought I was miscarrying. One of the questions she asked was “How are you planning to feed the baby?” at this point my baby wasn’t even much of anything, I was still getting over the initial shock that I was still managing to carry this little thing. She recommended that breastfeeding was by far the best option and in her words: it was better for the baby, better for me as a Mum and it would help me lose the baby weight. I went away from my appointment overwhelmed that it even needed to be thought about so early on. Fortunately for me, I knew that breastfeeding wasn’t something that every Mum or baby could do but I was shocked at the intense pressure put on newly pregnant women to make a decision before they’ve even felt their baby kick or held them in their arms.

Evangeline was born via an assisted instrumental delivery in emergency theatre, I’ve spoken in more detail about it in this post if you’re interested. I had a traumatic labour that included being diagnosed with Group A Strep and a theatre delivery was definitely not how I expected her to come into the world. The environment that she was born into was very overwhelming and I had built up my pregnancy to this magical moment where you meet your child and they’re placed straight onto your chest. Skin-to-Skin contact is the most important moment that all new Mums are told to prepare for as soon as their baby has been delivered. Unfortunately when Evangeline was born I hardly got to see her before she was taken away, it wasn’t until we were wheeled through to recovery that I finally got that first contact with her which was about 45 minutes after her delivery. I tried to feed her but didn’t even know how to hold her properly, I was exhausted and she was so tiny and fragile to hold. When I initially tried to feed her nothing really seemed to happen, she was just falling to sleep so I held her close to me and treasured our first moments together as Mother and Daughter.

When we finally got up to the ward I started asking for help with breastfeeding but due to cuts in funding there was hardly any help avaliable in hospital. All I could do was ring my bell for a Midwife and ask for help which is what I did 4/5 times a day. After 2 days in the hospital Eve was diagnosed with Jaundice and had to be kept under a UV light. The Doctors and Midwives on the ward stressed how important that it was for her to have some of my milk but when I was attempting to feed her nothing was happening. One Midwife came to speak to me about hand expressing – a concept I had no knowledge of whatsoever. She must have sat with me for an hour telling and showing me how to do it, she was so helpful and gave me the confidence that I needed to try. When I did attempt hand expressing I really struggled but I was desperate for Eve to have some of my milk so I asked the Midwife if she would do it for me. There I sat in a hospital bed with a complete stranger who was milking me like a cow. At this point, I had endured 37 hours of labour and not slept for 4 days so my pride had pretty much disappeared and I was beyond the point of caring. As I attempted to breastfeed in the hospital I had no choice but to try Eve with formula, it really didn’t agree with her and she was pretty much projectile vomiting everything back out after each feed. The formula was making her unwell and she still wasn’t managing to latch, I was stuck in the hospital with a poorly baby desperate for an answer so I sent my Mum out and buy a breast pump. I’d not even looked into pumps my entire pregnancy so neither of us knew what to go for but I purchased an electric pump. When I finally got home from the hospital I tried pumping for the first time and was amazed at how easy it was and how much milk I had produced. That was when my journey with the pump began, I had no idea how far we would have come. Alongside pumping I still attempted direct breastfeeding for the first 3 weeks but Eve just could not do it and was screaming and wriggling in frustration whenever we tried.

Breastfed or bottle-fed is such a vague question. To be more technical people should really be asking if your baby is drinking breast milk or formula milk. Or maybe people should be more understanding altogether and simply ask Mums how their baby is getting on with feeding and if they are coping with it all. When I tried to explain to people how I was feeding Evangeline I found it so difficult, no one seemed to understand and I was still figuring it all out myself. Both my Mum and Sister successfully breastfed two children, I had just presumed that I would be able to do the same and even though I was struggling I refused to accept that she just couldn’t do it. Now I’m looking back over the last few months I wish someone had shaken me and told me to stop being so hard on myself, I was constantly beating myself up for not being good enough. I know now that the most important thing about feeding your baby is that your baby is feeding, regardless of how you’re doing it.

Unfortunately, shaming of Mums is everywhere. If you breastfeed a child in public you know that there will be people looking and judging you. “I can’t believe she didn’t cram both her and her baby into a toilet cubicle to do that in private.” It’s exactly the same when you pull out a bottle for a feed too. “That Mum must be lazy, I bet she didn’t even try to breastfeed.” Whenever I fed Evangeline in public I wanted to wear a large sign saying HER BOTTLE IS FULL OF BREAST MILK – then at least I could have been judged for both. If being shamed by strangers isn’t hard enough then try explaining your feeding options to people you know. Everyone has an opinion and 99% of the time you haven’t even asked for one. All babies are completely different and however much you plan for certain scenarios sometimes it just does not pan out that way. Motherhood is the biggest learning curve because you cannot prepare yourself for anything until your baby is actually safe in your arms.

Throughout my time of pumping my experiences with medical professionals have probably been the hardest to swallow. I took Evangeline for her first lot of injections and the appointment was running late so I had to start feeding her a bottle in the waiting room. When we entered the room with the GP the first thing she said was “Oh so she’s bottlefed.”, well yes she is bottlefed but the milk is my breastmilk. She gave me the most disapproving look, it was like she didn’t believe what I had just told her. The worst experience I had was at a baby weigh in session where I was interrogated by a Health Visitor because my baby hadn’t gained a certain amount of ounces in a week. This was actually due to the fact that she had been poorly after her first lot of vaccinations. When I told her how she was being fed she told me that I should have tried harder to breastfeed and it seemed like a complete waste of my time. I was so upset and had to hold everything in and by the time I got home I had a massive anxiety attack. I felt like I was failing her and didn’t know what my next steps were.

I started to feel frustrated, I was questioning my choices but felt like there was no way out. Although my baby weight was disappearing, I was still giving a part of me to her every single day. I pumped even though I was starving, I pumped even though I was dehydrated, I pumped even though I was exhausted. My pump became my second priority after Evangeline. Where was it? Was it sterilised? Have I got batteries just in case? Did I bring it up to bed with me? Shit shit shit I’ve not packed it, we need to get home. It took over my life, I’d gotten to the point where I panicked that I wasn’t doing enough for my baby. It felt like I needed to make more milk for her or something awful was going to happen and I was going to let her down. I felt like an animal, it’s an instinct that you can’t explain. If I was away from her for too long I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Paul’s Mum and Dad even referred to me as “The Milk Machine” and that’s literally what I had become. It had taken over my life, I would constantly be watching the clock to try and get her settled so that I could sit down to pump.

For 2 hours a day I was attached to my pump. Every night I would go to sleep knowing that I would be waking up at 3am for my “middle of the night pump” – the most important one of them all. If I ever slept through an alarm I would wake up in the most horrific pain, my boobs would literally feel like rocks. I cannot even explain the pain of a blocked duct but just know that it takes every single part of you to carry on through the day when you’re in that much agony, especially looking after a wriggly baby. It had gotten to the point where i would look at my pump and feel depressed, it took so much out of me and was starting to make me hate everything that I was doing. I had set a goal for 6 months as I needed to start introducing formula before going back to work but the nearer I got to the mark the harder it was for me to carry on. I kept going and persevered. For 20 weeks I supplied every drop of Evangeline’s milk but after having my Mirena Coil fitted I suffered from a drop in my supply. It was so small that I didn’t even notice but over a few weeks the extra milk that I had built up in my fridge and freezer had dwindled into nothing.

One morning I went to get her milk ready and realised that it was all gone, I started to panic. I had no idea what to do and I was home alone with my baby screaming for her next feed with not enough milk to give her. I rang my GP surgery to try and get an emergency appointment hoping they could prescribe me medication to increase my supply but I had no luck. I called my Health Visitor as I needed advice as soon as possible, I had no idea about formula and what to try her with. She wasn’t much help either and told me that they “weren’t allowed to recommend formulas”, bare in mind I was the Mum of a 5-month-old and not a newborn and it was a genuine cry for help. After going out and purchasing formula Eve luckily took to it incredibly well, this started the journey of weaning her from my milk onto formula. We started with just one bottle of formula a day and every 2 weeks we introduced another bottle of formula and swapped it instead of my breast milk. The extra milk we weren’t giving her was then stored in our freezer for us to keep if she was poorly. The panic and pressure that I had felt started to disappear and I was feeling confident, I had only a few weeks left of pumping and knew that I could do it and that a few months from that point I would look back and be so proud of myself.

I did it, 6 whole months. 185 days of pumping. 15 whole days spent pumping and not spent with my baby. 15 months of my body being owned by my child. I loved growing Evangeline and being everything she depended on, my body went through hell for months for this tiny baby and I gave her every single part of me. Now I’ve finally taken my body back for myself and I do not feel guilty. I am so proud and can now celebrate an incredible 6-month journey, I did everything that I could have done for her. She is an absolute credit to me as my Daughter and I am as her Mother, I am so proud to be just that.

1 comments so far.

One response to “EXCLUSIVELY PUMPING – MY BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY”

  1. Leah says:

    This is a beautiful post. I wish I got the chance to breastfeed/pump x

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