"When my son was three weeks old, I took him to the doctor for a weight check. I had been struggling with nursing him, and we’d been going to the doctor every few days because he still wasn’t back up to his birth weight.
I’d gone into this doctor’s appointment anxious and hopeful that his weight would finally have gone up a good amount. It had been four days since the last time that he’d been weighed, and I knew that he was supposed to gain about an ounce per day, so I was hoping to see a gain of at least three ounces. But when the nurse put him on the scale, he’d only gained an ounce.
I walked home, pushing my seven pounds, nine-ounce baby home in the stroller, and felt awful. He was the most important responsibility I’d ever had in my life, and I was sure I was screwing it up. I felt like my son wasn’t thriving because I wasn’t giving him what he needed.
I had been trying everything that I could think of to make breastfeeding work. I’d seen two lactation consultants – who were wonderful, but for some reason, I couldn’t seem to replicate the holds and the latch when I was by myself – and I’d called a La Leche League leader and gotten help over the phone.
In addition to struggling with latch and holds, one thing about nursing that I really had a hard time with was not having any idea how much my son was eating, especially given that he wasn’t gaining weight. It’s unfortunate for those of us that are a bit Type A that breasts don’t come with ounce markers on the outside. With no way to know for sure, I spent a lot of time worrying about how much he was eating and obsessively checking his diaper to see if he’d pooped. (Copious poops are a good sign that breastfeeding is going well.)
One of the things that I’d read about while doing endless internet searches about breastfeeding was exclusive pumping, where the baby is only fed breast milk via a bottle, not by nursing. On the way home from the doctor, I decided to try it. I just felt like I needed to know how much he was eating, that he was getting enough, and that he would be okay.
After I made this decision, I struggled with feelings of disappointment in myself for not making nursing work. I felt like I was letting my son down by not nursing him, by not giving him breast milk “straight from the tap” – I’d read that the protective antibodies may degrade over time - and I also felt like I was depriving him of the bonding experience of nursing. Most of what I’d read online suggested that exclusively pumping was difficult, if not impossible, to keep up over the long haul. And the reaction from my friends was supportive but cautionary – they said that nursing was much easier than pumping, and I should try to make it work if I could.
However, as I figured out how to exclusively pump, things got so much easier. I got on a schedule, and I had a system where I would bottle feed my son, hook myself up to pump hands-free, and then lay him down on my lap to fall asleep while I pumped. (I think the white noise from the pump was actually very helpful for getting him to sleep!) He did really well, drinking breast milk from a bottle and quickly got back up to his birth weight.
Some things were definitely challenging – for example, before I learned how to pump in public, I struggled a bit with feeling like I was trapped at home and could only leave the house in two-hour increments. Also, night feedings aren’t fun for anyone, but because I had to bottle feed my baby and then pump, I was often awake for at least an hour each time, which made getting any sleep really difficult.
In many ways, it took the birth of my second child to move past the feelings of guilt and inadequacy that I had around exclusive pumping. When my daughter was born, the nurse put her on my chest and she latched on immediately. Though I knew nothing more than I had with my first, we were able to nurse successfully. In retrospect, it was one of my first times as a mom when things didn’t work out the way I planned, but that didn’t mean I was a failure as a mother.
In looking back, with the benefit of hindsight and more experience as a mother, I know that I did my best. I exclusively pumped for my son for 14 months. He is now seven, and he is hilarious, smart, and a great kid (at least I think so)!"
Amanda Glenn has three children (7, 5, and 2) and has spent a total of 44 months of her life hooking herself up to a breast pump. She writes a blog about exclusive pumping and lives in Chicago with her family. You can find her on Facebook and Pinterest.