Sometimes at night when the house is quiet, I can still hear the hum of a breast pump in the distance. As soon as you get pregnant (or think about getting pregnant or if you happen to have boobs) you start hearing and reading the phrase “Breast is Best.” I am sure my husband would agree with that statement for different reasons.
When I got pregnant, I knew I was going to give breastfeeding a chance. Sure it freaked me out. As most things with pregnancy did. I know people say “it is the most natural thing in the world” but is it? Is it really? It did not feel natural to me. Nothing about pregnancy felt natural to me. It all felt weird, out of my control and freaky. Plus, growing a human is a huge responsibility. It seems everywhere you turn there are rules to pregnancy. Eat this. Don’t eat this. Exercise, but not too hard. Sleep, but not on your back. Gain weight, but not too much. Get a big belly because it is cute, but lose that big belly as soon as your baby is born. I swear if one more person told me not to lift something I was going to lose it. For me the real gem was all the (unsolicited) advice on my boobs. I did some reading and research on breastfeeding. But let’s be honest, nothing can really prepare you.
I had to be induced a little over 3 weeks early due to being diagnosed with preeclampsia (do not google that…trust me). While I was in labor, a nurse made a comment that my boobs looked like they would produce a lot of milk because they were big. Haha! That was a first in my life as a small chested woman. When Blair was born (it is important here to know she weighed 5lbs5oz when she was born. She was so tiny.), the nurse was helping me breastfeed for the first time. The nurse and Robby hovered over my right boob. I was trying to hold Blair in the proper position while the nurse and Robby helped get things flowing. I am not sure who was squeezing what to make it happened. But besides the fact that it took three people, it seemed to go ok.
About an hour later the nurse asked if I wanted to hold Blair and try breastfeeding again. I wanted to, but I felt sick. I told her to not give her to me because I felt like I was going to throw up. I did. Then I promptly blacked out. Then puked again. Almost passed out again. It was scary. I was so tired. I had been up for over 24 hours straight. I hadn’t been able to eat much because once you are at the hospital no solid food. When I got past the throwing up and passing out, I finally fell asleep. I was pretty out of it thanks to some meds I was on due to the preeclampsia.
I slept and was in and out of it for the next several hours. Needless to say, Blair had to eat in those hours, and I was not physically capable of nursing her. So she was fed formula (gasp). I remember briefly waking up several times over the next few hours to see Robby holding Blair and feeding her. The next time I could briefly open my eyes, the nurses were teaching him how to bathe her. He didn’t miss a beat. I don’t think I could have loved him anymore than I did in those fleeting seconds when I could muster enough strength to open my eyes.
After several hours of sleep, I was semi alert again. We tried breastfeeding during our whole hospital stay. The nurses and lactation consultant helped a lot, but Blair was deemed a lazy eater (lol, she is not a lazy eater anymore). She would immediately fall asleep when we would start nursing. (I say “we” here on purpose because it always took at least 2 of us to make it work) It was recommended I pump for five minutes to get everything flowing, then try to get Blair to latch on. So I did. Every time she fell asleep. We would undress her so she would be a little cold and maybe stay awake, but it didn’t work. It was pretty miserable for all of us.
We continued to try when we got home. Blair was so small. She was under 5 lbs when we brought her home. Babies lose a little weight after birth, and well when they only start at 5lbs 5oz… It was stressful. So in the middle of one of those first nights, I just pumped. My milk hadn’t fully come in, so it wasn’t much. Robby would suck up whatever came out into a syringe because at that point Blair was only eating like 5mL at a time (If you aren’t sure how much that is, it is less than a spoonful. That is how little she was!). He would feed her via syringe. It worked. She was eating better and seemed more content. At that time, Robby and I decided maybe exclusively pumping would be best for us.
There were definitely pros and cons to only pumping. We always knew how much Blair was eating, and it was nice to be able to track it since she was so small. It eased both our minds knowing that she was getting something. It gave Robby a chance to feed her too, and he loved feeding her. It was hard though. It was also time consuming. I can’t tell you how many hours I logged hooked up to that machine. In the beginning I had to pump every 2-3 hours to establish my milk. It was a lonely existence sometimes. Robby might be upstairs feeding Blair at 2 am, and I was in the living room by myself pumping. Eventually, I trained my boobs (it is real) to pump 4 times a day and produce enough milk for Blair.
It was intense. I kept track of my output. It became almost like a game (hello competitive nature) to produce more than the previous day. At my peak, I produced over 1000ml of milk a day. That is at least one Nalgene bottle everyday. From my boobs. Let that sink in. It was crazy. I faced my fair share of guilt that exclusively pumping was somehow not as good as nursing. I wasn’t honest with people who asked if I was breastfeeding. When I was asked, I would say yes because in my mind it was breastfeeding. But I knew other people would disagree with our choice. When what I should have said is “None of your effing business.” Why do people even ask that? It is no one’s business what a mom does with her boobs. There were times I felt like I was missing out on some special connection with Blair. That she would somehow not love me as much. Looking back on it, I know better. However, in the moment, those feelings were very real.
New moms have so much to adjust to whether it is their first, second or fifth. The last thing we need is to be told what is best. You know what is best: babies being fed.
Breast is Best. Baby Eating is Best. Let’s make that a thing. Because you know what? We don’t know what other moms are going through (even if you are a mom yourself). I think a good life rule is to not ask what moms are doing with their boobs. I think a better approach is to buy them a hamburger or something. Most moms are hungry. Maybe high five a mom…better yet, low five because she is probably too tired to lift her arm.