warning: this is a long read, but I wanted to make sure to get all thoughts and details of my experience (so far) out in the open, so I just kept writing. and it's probably all over the place too, so apologies for that. if you read it all, I will bake you cookies.
before Ronin was even conceived, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. it was, besides actually keeping him alive, my number one goal of motherhood. everyone says "breast is best" for a reason and I knew it was something that I would work hard at to ensure I was giving him my absolute best.
I read up on breastfeeding at KellyMom and I even took a breastfeeding class offered by our local hospital. I spoke with other moms about it, and I asked for advice from moms on Facebook. I wouldn't say it seemed easy, but I was much less frightened by the impending experience after doing as much research as I could. I knew that it would hurt, but I then learned that if it's painful past the initial latch, then there's something wrong. I learned about mastitis and clogged ducts and letdown and engorgement. I figured that if I needed help, I'd ask for it. I have no problem admitting when I need a little assistance, so I decided I would consult as many lactation consultants as needed to make it work.
prior to Ronin's arrival, I received a single electric pump as a gift. I knew I'd only pump every now and then when I wanted a break from feeding him, so I went with a single instead of the expensive double electric pumps. I also stocked up with soothing gel pads, nursing pads, Lanolin, and a Boppy. I was, as far as I was concerned, as ready as I could be to get the show on the road and have a meaningful, loving, and special-to-us nursing bond with Ronin.
about an hour after he was born, we (my nurse and I) tried to get Ronin to latch. he didn't seem too interested, so we decided we'd try again later when he was more awake and alert. when we finally got transferred to our family room, I tried again with my new nurse. he got a pretty good latch on the right side, but because my nipple wouldn't erect enough on the left side (it's inverted, which I knew would be an issue going into all this), we tried to use a shield to give him something more to latch onto. he finally picked it up, but then he would only latch with the shield, whether it was the right side or the left side. I had been producing colostrum for weeks before giving birth, so I knew it wouldn't be a problem to fill his teeny tiny stomach. I ended up mostly expressing by hand and feeding him with a little spoon, or just my fingertip, to make sure he had a full belly.
the next two days were honestly such a blur for me. long story short, I met with almost every single lactation consultant in the joint and we continued to have latching issues on one side. I was incredibly hormonal and so upset that we couldn't get him to latch properly (he had a shallow latch, so along with my inverted nipple, we were a doomed combination). after pumping for twenty minutes and producing nothing to give him, the lactation consultant suggested that we give him formula. insert complete postpartum meltdown. Sean couldn't understand why I was so upset... he just didn't get it. I didn't think formula was bad, but it just wasn't what I had planned, and I felt like a failure for resorting to formula so early. but I knew that he wasn't getting much, if anything, from me, so we fed him 2 ounces of formula in the hospital before we left, and took some home with us that day.
I thought that maybe it would be easier to nurse at home, where I was comfortable and in my own environment, but honestly? it was just more stressful because I had no idea what the fuck I was doing and no nurses to help me. Sean was always trying to help get Ronin into a good position and bringing me anything I need and all I was doing was snapping at him all the time. I felt resentment toward him because I felt like all the responsibility of feeding the baby was on me. those postpartum hormones are INSANE, y'all. so after a week of trying (unsuccessfully) to get Ronin to latch and consume milk, I started pumping. thankfully, Sean was home with us for two weeks, so while he fed Ronin (either previously pumped milk or formula), I pumped.
it was a complete shit show when Sean went back to work. I would wake up, feed the baby, pump (which took 40 minutes, thanks to only having a single pump... hindsight is 20/20, right?), and then wash all the pump parts. by the time I was finished, he was ready to eat again. and don't think I could just put him down to pump. oh no, this kid wanted to be held at ALL TIMES. I mean, I can't blame him... he was just a teeny babe who wanted his mama, but damn was it hard on me emotionally to listen to him cry while trying to pump. I decided to keep this routine up for as long as I could, since it seemed to be working fairly well for us. the good thing about pumping constantly, was that my supply was stellar. I was producing more than Ronin was consuming, so I was able to store away a decent stash in the freezer.
after about 6 weeks of that mess, I was over it. I was so tired of pumping every 3 hours, and getting up in the middle of the night to pump even though my newborn was sound asleep. I was doing double duty. instead of pumping and then feeding him, I wanted to just whip out a boob and feed him and be done with it. my entire day consisted of feeding and pumping and I was finally ready to seek the assistance I needed. I made an appointment with a lactation consultant and kept my fingers crossed that she could help us.
the day before our appointment, I got out the Boppy and the nipple shield and attempted to put Ronin at the breast... just to see how he'd do, since it had been a few weeks since I'd nursed him. and holy shit. he latched right on and ate continuously for about 8 minutes. and it didn't hurt AT ALL, which meant that his latch was good. I was so relieved! even though he was only latching on the right side, we had four more successful nursing sessions that day. I felt like super mom. I was finally going to have the breastfeeding relationship with him that I wanted from the beginning.
we met with the lactation consultant and she basically looked at me like, "uhhh, what are you doing here?" after seeing us. he latched perfectly on both sides, but we still had to use the shield. she sent us home and told me to follow up with her a few days later. things we going well at home - we were nursing at almost every feeding. he was still having trouble with the left side (I think he didn't like laying on his right side, but hated the football hold too), so we ended up just feeding from the right side and pumping the left side. so I was still performing double duty, but he was nursing, so I was happy.
... and then the head turning started. he would latch on, and with my nipple still clenched in his mouth, he would turn his head to look around. OUCH. I tried feeding him a quiet and dark space without distractions, but he was still too curious to concentrate on the task at hand. after dealing with painful nipples and head turning action for three weeks, I called it quits.
I knew I had a substantial supply, and I knew I could pump and feed him, so that's what we did, and that's what we're still doing now, at seven and a half months. at around five months, I contacted my insurance company to inquire about coverage for a hospital grade pump rental, and they sent me a great double electric pump for free. so instead of taking 40 minutes to pump, it now only takes me about 10.
does it suck (literally and figuratively)? yep, you're damn right it does. but do I think it's what's best for us? absolutely. it's extremely difficult to keep up with exclusively pumping. I dread waking up and having to pump in the morning. I have to plan my day around when I need to pump, which, as I'm sure you can imagine, is tons of fun. I can't tell you how many times I've pumped in the car (with Sean driving, of course) because we had errands to run right in the middle of the day. we also had a pretty scary meltdown when we last track of time at the mall one day and by the time we got back to the car, Ronin was hungry as shit and I hadn't pumped a new bottle for him.
however, it is incredibly rewarding to know that I can provide him with what I think is best for him, despite our breastfeeding woes. we're at the point now where I only have to pump 3 times a day and I am producing just a little bit more than what he consumes in a day. my supply recently started decreasing, so I supplemented with formula a few times and simply added in a Fenugreek supplement and a power pump session for a few days and we're back to normal again.
I have to say that a big reason why I'm able to keep up with pumping is because I'm at home with Ronin during the day. I really don't think I'd have the energy or motivation to continue had I gone back to work. I am most definitely counting down until Ronin's first birthday, as it's when I plan on weaning him off breast milk. I will probably miss the responsibility a little bit. I like that I am the one providing him with all the essential nutrients he needs to thrive, honestly. but on the other hand, I'm ready to have my body back and to be able to go out for an entire day without having to worry about dragging my pump out with me. I am so excited for the day when I don't have to wash those damn pump parts three times a day. I know that I could switch to formula at any point, but I feel like I've invested so much time into pumping, that I might as well just keep with it until he's a year old.
Ronin is my world, and I would go to the end of the Earth for him. as much as I hate pumping, I know that it's the best thing for us. all I want in life is to do what is best for him. as long as he is healthy and happy, I know that I'm doing a good job.
Jessica also wrote about her EP story. she also listed some great tips for fellow pumpers - I really enjoyed reading about another person's experience with exclusively pumping. it's so great to know that there are others out there who have similar journeys and can offer outstanding advice with a bit of wit thrown in as well.