My friend Kelly has been pumping since her son Landon was born in February. Her experience has been far from easy, but her tenacity and determination has brought her to a point she never imagined she’d reach. If you have experienced pumping obstacles and have felt discouraged… read her story. If anyone can inspire you to keep going, it’s her.
So, without further ado… Kelly Smith.
I have been asked by a fellow blogger and EPer, Nikki, to share my story and I’m happy to oblige because quite a bit has changed since I originally posted about my initial struggles with breastfeeding since my son was first born.
Let me first say that, while I hope others find this post encouraging, I am not outright suggesting people should choose this path. It’s not a path I ever would have chosen for myself and I definitely have hesitations about having to choose it again if I am blessed with more children. But nonetheless, this path is my own, and I am sharing my story in hopes that someone might find it helpful.
I initially began with a somewhat nonchalant approach to breastfeeding. My mom didn’t, and nobody in my family had much success with it (at least that I knew of) but it seemed like the cool thing to do, obviously proven healthy for baby, and the idea of not having to mess with formula or bottles seemed pretty cool, so when it came time, I took a breastfeeding class offered by my doctor’s office and got excited, and committed to giving it a try.
My son was born February 8th, 2013.
To make a very long story a little shorter, my decision to pump exclusively stemmed from what I now know was a poor latch. What I was told was “normal latch-on pain” was definitely not. And definitely didn’t go away in the suggested 3-ish weeks. In fact, it got much worse. I visited my share of lactation consultants and doctors and nurses in the first month of my son’s life, and even though my nipples looked like they had been through a meat grinder, I was told repeatedly to tough it out. So I just pumped because it hurt a little less than nursing, and I hoped pumping would give my poor nips a chance to heal as I worked through the pain and would keep up my milk supply in the process.
That actually started out okay. I gave up nursing after about ten days. Then, for another ten, I pumped. And things were going well. When my son was 3 weeks old, I topped out at 26 ounces, and was freezing a little each day and had about a day’s worth of milk in the freezer within a week and I was pretty pleased. But at that 3-week mark, things started going horribly wrong. My pain became unbearable. It hurt to pump, so I spread them out more, but then it hurt to be engorged, so I pumped, despite the pain. That was a Friday. First thing Monday morning, I got in to see my OB and it was confirmed that I had mastitis. And probably thrush too. So I was given antibiotics, cream for the thrush, and pain killers and sent home to rest. That night, things went from bad to worse. My fever topped out at 103 and I got chills and broke into a cold sweat and couldn’t stop trembling. We almost went to the ER, and in retrospect, we probably should have, but it was midnight, and all I wanted to do was rest. Luckily, the next day was better. My mom and husband took turns staying home with me that week, taking care of the baby so I could take care of myself. I went for a follow up visit with my doctor and was given more antibiotics because there were still signs the infection was still present.
That was week four. And my supply had tanked. I went from about 26 ounces per day to about 15 ounces per day. At week 6, I went to my regularly scheduled postpartum visit, and had the doctor take another look. The skin was healing, but the nipple was still in pretty bad shape. It was hard, red, and swollen along one side. My doctor said one swollen pocket “looked abscess-ey” and at that point I knew the nightmare wasn’t over. Sure enough, I had developed an abscess. Over the next few weeks, I finally started to feel better. It still hurt to pump on the one side, so I got very creative. I tried different size flanges on the sore side, I pumped at different suction levels on both sides (separately) and did the best I could to massage and work out the infection. The sore spot got less sore, and less red, but a little white dot started to form. Eventually the little white spot got thinner and thinner, and whiter and whiter, and on one random Tuesday morning, the abscess burst.
Okay, maybe “burst” is a bit dramatic, but I believe that’s the medical term. What really happened was, after my morning pump, I pulled off my flange as always, and basically the dam broke and the abscess drained onto my kitchen counter. Being a science geek myself, I have to say it was the most disgustingly cool thing I have ever seen happen to my body. After I cleaned myself up and drained nearly an ounce of pus from my breast (I know this because I happened to have an empty milk bottle nearby to help contain the mess) I called the doc and got what would be my third and fourth round of antibiotics, respectively. After another two weeks, the abscess finally finished draining and the skin healed, but not without its own troubles. At one point, I was worried I had formed a fistula, since what was coming out of the hole no longer looked like pus but milk! Thankfully, with much TLC and several texts, e-mails, and phone calls from a cousin who’s a nurse and a fellow EPer who’s a doctor, it healed nicely.
Once that all finally healed, I had the strength to address the issue of my dwindling supply. On my lowest day, I got a pathetic 13 oz. I didn’t let this bother me through the healing process. We were supplementing with formula since Landon was 2 days old and stopped when I got good at pumping, but started again once the mastitis hit, as I blew through my small freezer stash pretty quickly. And while the abscess was draining, I dumped all the milk from that side since I was rather sure there was pus in the milk and there was no way I was going to feed it to him.
I was pretty bummed about how low my supply had dipped. In the beginning, I was getting about 4 Oz per pump, and righty was the good side, usually giving me 2/3 of that. But righty was the side that had all the issues, and I barely got an Oz out of each side, essentially reducing my supply by half. I wanted to quit. Every day I wanted to quit. I didn’t see the point. But on the other hand, I was so desperate to see what my body could do if I just gave it a chance to heal. So I made the choice to fight for my supply. I tried a trick here and there, but ultimately, what made my supply increase was pulling out every trick in the book, and seriously made pumping my second job, after caring for Landon. (Luckily I wasn’t due back at work for another few weeks). I took Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle until I stunk like maple syrup, and then took more. I took Lecithin to help keep my ducts clear and prevent clogs. I drank water and Gatorade regularly. I ate oatmeal and started on a high fiber diet. I pumped in the middle of the night, even though Landon could sleep through the night already. I pumped on a pretty strict schedule and never skipped pumps. And sometimes that meant pumping in the car or in other random places that were pretty uncomfortable. I pumped until I was empty, plus an additional 5 minutes, and monitored my let-downs to make sure my timing was accurate. I massaged while pumping and hand expressed after pumping. I made it a point to use a heating pad or shower before as many pumps as I could. I pumped more frequently than my baby ate. And then I woke up and did it all again the next day. And slowly but surely, I saw results. Every few weeks I hit a new average. It took about three months, but I went from 15 ounces per day up to an average of 28 ounces per day! This was still not *quite* enough to feed my son, but we went from 3 bottles of formula a day to about one a week. Life was good.
Since then, we have started solids and my son eats food like a champ and has decreased his ounces, and I am hoping we are finally done with formula for good. And I actually freeze milk! And when that was going well, I actually dropped a pump and feel somewhat “normal” for the first time as a mom.
I hope you understand the gravity of the two extremes. I went from a pumping & supplementing mom to a freezer-stash mom. As I type this, I have approximately 225 Oz in my freezer, which is roughly a 10-day supply for my little squirt. I don’t tally the freezer stash too often, but when I did hit the 200-mark, I was beside myself when my hubby asked me about quitting early. I almost dared to utter the words…”If I have 6 weeks in the freezer by Christmas, I’ll quit by Christmas because that will last him until his first birthday.” Ha. Quitting early because I have enough. Who’d have thought?
Oh, and in case you like more numbers…
I nursed for a total of 29 hours and 22 minutes.
Landon has had 47.1 gallons of milk, whether it was formula or breast milk.
I have pumped 41.1 gallons. Meaning Landon has only had about 6 gallons of formula. Or about 13% of his total intake.
I have pumped for 780 hours and 27 minutes. That’s 32.5 days.
And Landon is 8 months old, so I’m 2/3 of the way to my goal. 130 days.
(Yeah, there’s an app for that.)
Looking back, I obviously faced a lot of adversity. How did I overcome it? I think there were a few things in my favor. And while I hope to have more children and have another chance to breastfeed successfully, there are some tips I would give to anyone hoping to breastfeed and/or pump.
Get Informed. When I was pregnant, I took a class on breastfeeding. It was pretty useful in understanding how supply and demand worked at building supply, and how to store breast milk, and tips on achieving a good latch. But I wish it could have been longer, and possibly had a follow up session devoted to “troubleshooting” so to speak.
Since I hope to have more children, I have done a lot of thinking about if and how I can prevent running in to the same problems in the future. And I’m rather sure the reason for my problems stemmed from two separate issues. First, I’m pretty sure I had a clog that got left untreated very early on. But in those early days, I was in a daze and in a general state of ache that I didn’t know up from down, much less, the difference between a clog, sore nipples, or engorgement pain. All I knew was that my boobs hurt and it terrified me to hug anyone. I have since gotten more familiar with how things should feel and am better able to determine what to do about what kind of pain I’m feeling. Now that I know what a clog feels like, you better believe I will do my best to not miss it ever again, and work on getting rid of them ASAP if it happens again.
Furthermore, I’m rather certain my son has a lip tie. Since it’s less common than tongue tie, it’s harder to treat and very few doctors have heard of it, even if they specialize in pediatrics, obstetrics, or otolaryngology. In fact, pretty much the only people that have heard of it are those who experienced it themselves or heard about it from someone else. Both my pediatrician and my OB said his mouth looked “normal” so we went to an ENT, but she agreed his mouth looked fine and was hesitant to say that this was why he didn’t latch well. The ENT said she would clip it if I wanted, but hubby was dead set against it after having two doctors say they didn’t recommend it. So I was stuck. You better believe shortly after the next baby is out and cleaned up, I will be having a look inside the little one’s mouth. And I won’t give up so easily if things hurt.
Get support. In my darkest days, the only thing that kept me going was having people who understood my pain. I had a friend who also had trouble nursing who decided to pump exclusively too. She found a group on Facebook for exclusive pumpers and I joined as well. It was incredible to have a place to go to ask all those weird questions you start thinking about during those 3am pumping sessions. If I do manage to breastfeed any future children, I won’t make the mistake of isolating myself and hope it gets better. I’ll be finding another Facebook group to join and ask a million more questions on the next round of 3am feedings.
The hospital I delivered at was very supportive of breastfeeding, and I had endless support during my hospital stay. But once I left, meetings and appointments were harder to come by. Meetings only happened once a month
I also needed support from my friends and family. This was harder at first, but I really had to step out of my comfort zone and advocate for myself. It took a while, but I finally trained my husband to at least make an effort to think like I do, planning all major events around the clock. When will the baby eat, and when and where will I pump? If you can figure that out, and I like your answers, then we can go. If not, you’re S.O.L. We definitely encountered some pretty interesting situations, and eventually I got more and more comfortable with pumping on the go, which was great because I finally got my life back a little bit.
Get the right tools. A good pump helps. A great pump is even better. I don’t know what I would do if I had chosen a pump other than my Freestyle. I go everywhere with that thing. I have vacuumed, cooked, done dishes, folded laundry, and even changed poopy diapers while pumping. It wasn’t easy, but if I didn’t learn to multi-task, I would never get anything done. I would either be sacrificing my life, my sleep, or my pumping schedule and I refused to give up either, so I learned to be pretty creative. Oh, and a backup manual pump is also not a bad idea.
Also, having the right arsenal of tips and tricks helps. When I finally found the “right nipple cream” (after trying several) and learned to lube your flanges or store parts in the fridge in between pumps to save on dishes, or to wash tubes with rubbing alcohol or to let the pump run a little bit to remove condensation, I really got my confidence back.
And I cannot speak enough about the Arden Bra. Yes, a hands-free pumping bra is a must. But one that you can wear all day? I literally have no words for how awesome it is to NOT have to get completely topless to change into a hands-free bra to pump on the go.
And finally, never forget what you’re fighting for. There’s a phrase that kept playing over and over again in my mind. It was something I saw on Pinterest and was actually meant to motivate people to work out and eat healthy. But for me, it dictates almost everything I do:
If it matters to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.
I don’t say that to judge anyone who opted out and chose formula. Believe me, I am the last person to judge anyone. But for those looking for the last bit of fight in them to keep going, I just hope you know you’re never alone in your struggles. We as women are amazingly strong and we can get through anything we choose to. I chose to pump because it meant something to me to give my son breast milk. Sure, he did okay with formula. But I hated paying for it when my own milk was there for free. And it was good for him. And it brought me joy to share that with him. So maybe I missed out on some super-special experience by not having my son nurse. Or maybe not. All I know is….that boy is always happy to see me (unless I’m cleaning his nose) and he smiles when I smile, and laughs when I laugh. He loves to snuggle with me and I am better at anyone at getting him to go to sleep or stop crying. All while giving him the good stuff. If anyone doubts that I’ve bonded with my child, I dare you to walk in my shoes for a day and then say otherwise. But to anyone already walking a similar path to mine, I hope you know it gets easier! After all, if I did it, so can you.