My sister had her first baby two months before I did, so I guess you could say I got a front row seat to really understand how this whole “breastfeeding” thing worked. She could literally do her taxes, pluck her eyebrows, and make a fabulous meal all while my niece would maintain the perfect latch and nurse all day long. She made it look effortless, as many mothers do. So as a first time mom I thought I would literally birth a baby (as if that wasn’t enough) and pop him on my breast and we would call it a day. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, for some blessed breasts this totally works, but for me…not so much.
My firstborn, Tommy, was born and well, Houston, we had a BIG problem…he wouldn’t latch. I tried and he tried and we both just ended up getting frustrated. I was grateful for the hospital lactation consultants and of course, my sister, for standing by me and keeping my spirits up. It was so much more complicated for me than I would have ever imagined. I ended up using a nipple shield because apparently my nipples are inverted? I mean, I thought my nipples were great, but apparently not so for my little man; and thus began my relationship with the infamous nipple shield.
I’m sure there are several new moms who may have experienced this thing, but if you’re unfamiliar allow me to paint a picture for you. Ok, so imagine you’ve just labored several hours, birthed a baby, have been sent home with this thing you know absolutely nothing about and who’s life depends on you (no pressure), and you haven’t slept for more than an hour at a time in the past four days. OH, and it’s dark and your husband is snoring next to you. And you have to nurse but FIRST you have to find this nipple shield that is CLEAR COLORED, people…it’s CLEAR, so good luck with that. So you find it in your dog’s mouth, you wash it, and then you place your ever-so inverted nipple into the shield and the breastfeeding Gods sing their mighty song as a beam of light shines down upon you and your baby. Magically, even if just for a brief while, it works. Well, sometimes.
All kidding aside, the nipple shield allowed me to nurse my baby for six months. For that, I am eternally grateful. I went back to work full-time and I deeply treasured the moments when I could sneak home and nurse. In addition to the formula I eventually used to feed him, I used the little breast milk I managed to pump and frankly did the best I could with the cards I had been dealt. It wasn’t the vision I had in my head before I gave birth; but as all new moms soon learn, everything, every vision, every decision you’ve had your heart set on for nine months goes out the window the minute your first baby is placed in your arms. Your world is rocked in the most perfectly beautiful way, and you learn to simply do whatever is best for your baby and your sanity!
Fast-forward to my second baby…ahh the second child. I won’t lie; I had hoped that maybe my baby girl would dig my inverted nipples. Maybe I could totally nurse this second go around? Well, I’m gonna have to do something about these nipples. She wasn’t having ANY of it. Sister cried and totally had a dramatic break up with the nipple shield immediately. I was exhausted, frustrated, and trying to reassure my son that all the screaming in my house would end eventually. It didn’t. I grabbed formula at the store and by the grace of God she took the bottle and, SHOCKER, stopped crying because she was finally full. Mom of the year, huh?
I watched as my daughter guzzled the entire bottle of formula, fell into a deep sleep, and proceeded to sleep for three hours. I knew right then that I had two choices: I could quit breastfeeding and go with straight formula, or I could pump.
I knew in this season in my life I had no real reason not to pump. I knew I could do it, and I told myself I would try it for a couple of weeks and if it didn’t work, I’d go with formula all the way. Well, I’m still pumping nine months later and my daughter and I couldn’t be happier.
Pumping, as with anything, takes time to truly master. It took me several weeks of very consistent pumping to increase my supply. Remember, the key is to set yourself up for success and anything you can do to make that possible will make your new job of “perpetual pumper” less of a chore. Here are a few tips that worked for me:
Build your pumping arsenal ASAP!
1. Run, do not walk, run and buy a hands-free pumping bra. I have three of them that I rotate throughout the week, and I believe this is one of the main reasons why I don’t mind pumping. I am able to do so much (including writing this post) all because my hands are free. You won’t regret this purchase, I promise!
2. Purchase or rent a good quality pump. I’m partial to Medela, but I have friends with several other brands that have been equally pleased. DO check with your insurance provider because you may be eligible for a FREE breast pump! I did a little digging and found out I was eligible, and although I was skeptical, it was (surprisingly) a very easy process. If you are not looking to buy, you can rent a great pump from your hospital lactation center for a small monthly fee. This is a great option and the pumps that are available are usually hospital grade, which are very efficient at pumping.
3. If possible, invest in several sets of pumping accessories (breast shields, connectors, valves, etc.). The last thing you will want to do is clean one or two sets of pump accessories every time you pump. In the early weeks and months after baby arrives, you will be pumping constantly and may not have the energy or time to clean these while keeping up with all of your other mommy duties.
Commit 100% and be PATIENT.
If you are going to pump exclusively, commit to it and allow yourself several weeks to build your supply to the point where you will always have enough milk for your baby. This does not happen over night. I repeat, this does not happen over night, so in the mean time, allow yourself to supplement with formula or someone else’s breast milk. Be patient, know that you will build your supply soon enough, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
If you can, pay it forward.
This tip is especially near and dear to my heart. I wanted nothing more than for my son to have breast milk as long as possible, and I know there are millions of moms out there who feel the same way. I had several friends who had more frozen breast milk than they could store, and I always thought in the back of my head that I would have given anything to have been so lucky. Four months after Claire was born, I found myself with tons of breast milk tucked away in my freezer and space was quickly dwindling. I happened to be at a bible study as a mom was describing how she drove to Houston multiple times a month to get breast milk from her best friend. Her son couldn’t digest anything else and she was desperate for it. I ran up to her after the bible study and arranged for her to pick up all of my frozen milk and we’ve been dear friends ever since. We immediately connected and I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to pay it forward. I would highly encourage anyone who has a large supply and is willing to donate it, do it! Send an email out to friends and let them know you have frozen breast milk and I guarantee you’ll be shocked at the amount of moms who would give anything for it! Pay it forward, you’ll never regret it, and you may even meet a dear friend along the way.
Most importantly, do what’s best for you and your precious babies. Happy mommy, happy pumping, happy life!