As many new mothers can attest, breastfeeding is difficult.
We are targeted throughout our pregnancy and after birth with messages that “breast is best” and we will be looked down on for choosing to feed our children formula (or having to, as is sometimes the case) and therefore trapped in the guilt of how we are able to provide for our baby.
As natural as breastfeeding may be it does not change the fact that it is not an easy art form to learn and perfect. Many women are faced with challenges of soreness, improper latch, engorgement and even infections. If we choose to throw in the towel after the following experiences maim our impression of breastfeeding we are looked down on by various healthcare professionals and constantly reminded (like we didn’t already know) that “breast is best” which only continues to escalate our feelings of failure and guilt.
When faced with the decision of breast milk over formula what’s a mother to do? When you look up information on feeding there seem to be only two options, breastfeed or formula feed. There is the option of supplementing if you choose to continue your breastfeeding struggle and also offer your baby formula but are those really your only options? As I recently found out, no, they are not. It is quite possible that you can exclusively feed your baby breast milk without breastfeeding by choosing to exclusively pump. It’s not easier and it takes dedication and perseverance but you get the comfort in knowing that your baby is getting everything he needs from you and you save a good chunk of change in not purchasing formula. After my most recent experience with trying to breastfeed lead to overcoming two cases of mastitis I had enough; living out of town with a preschooler in tow I was not prepared to drive an hour every time I needed help or support with feeding my son and so I made the decision to stop breastfeeding.
I had been so determined this time that I would succeed that it was not an easy choice to make, I felt defeated and guilty that I couldn’t “properly feed my son” like we are told we should be able to. Thankfully though, I had found another way to do so that prevented me from using formula (I would just like to make note that I am in no way knocking formula feeding as this was how I fed my first son due to breastfeeding issues) which made me feel better, but it came as a shock to me how much I missed breastfeeding – and no I don’t mean the pain or infections but the connection I felt to my son while feeding him was inexplainable and I missed it, feeding him from a bottle felt so desolate and seperate compared to before and the first week of this new method was daunting and involved a lot of crying before I finally realized that I had to stop beating myself up because I was doing my best and that’s all that’s expected from my son.
In the beginning I pumped using a manual handheld pump by Avent, it worked great after I got used to it and learned how to properly use it (take my advice and read the instructions and tips on use before trying it out or you will regret it!) which was fine but after a week of spending almost 40 minutes at a time pumping AFTER feeding my son from the bottle was getting to be too much, especially those late night/early morning sessions!
I decided it was time to invest in an electric pump and purchased a Lansinoh Affinity double pump which let me do both sides at once saving me 20 minutes of precious time to get some sleep. Most people are unfamiliar with exclusive pumping as we are told we can choose to pump and supplement formula or we can pump if we are going to be away from baby for awhile to keep on schedule with feedings and avoid painful engorgement, there is little to no information out there for Mom’s who choose to pump exclusively.
It’s understandable that this is not the most convenient route, I recently spoke with a public health nurse who compared exclusive pumping to feeding twins. As I said above it is not easy and it takes dedication but I am proof that it can be done, I currently pump an average of 40oz a day (almost 10oz above what I require to feed my son) which allows me to stock my freezer with the excess. I intend on quitting pumping by the time my son is between 6 and 8 months as I expect to have enough frozen breast milk to last my son until he is ready to drink regular milk.
If you choose to pump here are some tips that I found helped me out:
Stay hydrated: pumping is akin to breastfeeding and you still need to make sure you are drinking enough fluids every day as fluid IN equals fluid OUT. You will notice an increase in your supply if you ensure you are drinking plenty of water.
Pump frequently: as you would feed your baby throughout the day. I pump every 3 hours which matches up with how often my son feeds, I make sure I have at least 7 sessions a day but aim for 8.
Pump at night: if you choose to skip out on night feedings you will notice a decrease in your supply as going 6 or more hours without emptying your breasts is telling your body you don’t need as much milk so lift those heavy eyelids and pump, pump, pump!
Massage: just as it’s advised to do a gentle massage before breastfeeding it can be beneficial to do so before a pumping session to help with let down and to empty the breasts efficiently. You can also try a warm compress before each session and if you experience sore/dry nipples use ice packs afterwards and a lanolin based cream to moisturize and soothe.
Empty each time: always pump until your flow stops completely, this signals to your body how much milk you need to produce and if you do not empty each breast your body will think you don’t need as much milk and decrease your supply and/or it could lead to engorgement and infection if you are not properly draining the milk ducts. It should take on average 15-20 minutes on each side to empty the milk, if you are using a single pump this means each session will last up to 40 minutes which is why I highly recommend an electric double pump.
For information on storage guidelines for breast milk visit the HealthLink website.
Another tip to make pumping easier is to go hands free, I came across a great product that I recently bought and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! It is the PumpEase hands free pumping support (pictured below) you simply hook the band around your chest and insert the pump horns into the holes and voila! Now your hands are free to tend to baby, go online or even just to scratch your nose (you may scoff at that last one but anyone who has ever pumped will understand).
Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed or pump check out Best for Babes for more information and support as well as to join the wonderful cause of beating the “Booby Traps” of breastfeeding (which you can read more about on the site).