Exclusive Pumping (And How I Lasted 3 Weeks)
Exclusive pumping (EP for short), wasn’t a term I had even heard of until after my daughter was born.
No one ever even gave me a name for the third option to the question “are you breastfeeding your baby?”
From the very beginning of my pregnancy, I was hesitant to say that I was going to breastfeed.
A long history of depression had left me very nervous about the possibilities of Postpartum Depression (PPD). I wondered how I would cope at all, never mind while trying to negotiate being the sole provider of food to an infant.
I had also heard from a few people that breastfeeding had been challenging or impossible for them, something that they only came to terms with after a difficult road of trying and failing. So I thought to myself, who would want that pressure on top of all of the inevitable pressures of being a new parent? Statistically, there are also many women who can’t breastfeed, something I found comforting because I was apprehensive about it anyway.
Another reason for my hesitation was just a feeling. I felt that the idea of breastfeeding was strange and honestly, kind of gross. There were just too many red flags to me – I mean, does anyone like thinking about having their sensitive nipples chewed on like a stick of taffy? Um, no.
Yet despite all of my misgivings, I felt enormous societal pressure to give my baby breastmilk. Although formula is great now, I felt such judgement around having a bottle-fed baby. Besides, I reasoned with myself, the research on immunities and all that good stuff from milk for the first 6 months is hard to ignore.
When my doctor randomly mentioned a patient of hers who opted to only pump, it immediately attracted me to the idea of EP. I could have it both ways – no baby on the boob but no judgy people bitching about formula.
In the end, EP was so ridiculously hard for me, I lasted 3 weeks.
When my daughter was born, no one at the hospital seemed to know much about exclusive pumping and they simply gave her a bottle and ignored everything to do with pumping until 20 minutes before we left the hospital when one of the nurses showed me how to work the buttons on my pump and said there would be no point in pumping for the first few days.
I later read that pumping as often as possible starting ASAP after delivery was essential to starting off your milk supply – reading this a few weeks later, sobbing from nipple pain and the unfounded but crushing guilt of not being able to provide enough food for my child, was less than awesome.
I think the real problem was that I was so stressed. EP is unbelievable time-consuming and if you’ve never been there, let me break it down:
We were feeding our newborn (who was underweight at birth) every 1-2.5 hours, which meant that my husband would mix her a bottle of formula and warm it on the bottle warmer while I donned my pumping bra, carefully taking out my breast pads and chugging a bottle of water.
Then pumped for exactly 15 minutes until that glorious beep because that was all I could physically handle. Meanwhile, he would feed the baby her bottle, enduring all the burps and crying and so on.
Then we would take turns for who changed the baby and who washed then sterilized the bottle and pump paraphernalia. Each item had to be taken apart, washed with soap and water, sterilized (although we were lucky to have a microwave sterilizer) and then it would be time to dry it all off and put it back together.
This would leave about 30 minutes to breathe before we had to do it all over again.
Aside from this, there was also the liberal application of lanolin cream after every pump, the painful showers, the need to find any bras or tops that wouldn't absolutely kill me to have on and of course washing each disgusting, sticky breast pad afterwards. I started doing this in the shower to save time, which I guess in hindsight left me no time at all for a break.
Through all this, I would probably get enough milk to put it all together and feed her one bottle a day. One bottle a day. If I was lucky. It felt like so little and yet we were putting our whole selves into this goal of exclusive pumping. It was draining us and it didn't seem to be benefiting the baby one way or another, which had been the whole point in the first place.
After three weeks of doing this day in and day out, I just couldn't imagine how I could keep going. It was putting such a strain on my mental health, it was terrible for my self-esteem, I found it embarrassing to talk about and it was causing tension in our marriage.
I began having more trouble sleeping, crying a lot and found that even though I was reading a ridiculous number of articles on breastfeeding, there was simply not very much information out there about EP. This lack of information left me feeling so alone.
It took me 3 weeks, three unbelievably long weeks, two understand the EP was not for me. It was too hard in terms of time and effort and, despite how much time and effort I put in, it was simply not something that my body wanted to do. In the end, you are the one who knows your body best.
I finally understood I couldn't force something that my body just didn't want to do.
I decided that because I had put all of this physical effort into pumping and wrecking my boobs, not knowing what on earth to do with these ridiculous nursing bras that fuck it I would just give it a go. I figured I would put my baby up to the challenge and see if between the two of us we could figure out breastfeeding way late in the game and I happen to be lucky that that worked for me. It has not been easy, and I am still very much in the process of figuring it all out, but I have been breastfeeding since I decided to stop EP.
Don't get me wrong breastfeeding has left me crying on more than one occasion, but I think the difference is that there are so many people who do it and who talk about it all the time that you don't feel so shitty and isolated.
Unfortunately, there isn't really a moral to this story except for the fact that I have such immense respect for women who are exclusive pumpers. What you do is amazing and widely underappreciated. I think most people don't realize but this is such a hard undertaking, and there is this sense that breastfeeding is so much more difficult when really, if anything, exclusive pumping was a hell of a lot harder.