My Journey as an Exclusive Pumper

My journey as an exclusive pumper began before Jovie was born. I never wanted to breastfeed. It wasn’t a part of my birth plan or something I dreamed about as I was preparing for baby. In the months leading up to Jovie’s birth I started questioning my plan to formula feed, but decided I would “just know” when she was born what I really wanted to do. As if I could just decide and that’s what would work for us.

Here is my journey as an exclusive pumper and the events that led up to my decision to pump.

On January 31st of this year Jovie was born and I immediately knew I wanted to try breastfeeding. It was such a strong pull within me and I was excited to start. She didn’t latch the first time we tried, but I was reassured by the nurses in the hospital that this was normal. We would try again later.

Soon, a lactation consultant came to our room to meet with us and provide us with some tricks of the trade. She showed me all the ways to cup my breast, different positions to try, and how to use a nipple shield if necessary. Jovie still wouldn’t latch, so I pumped colostrum and fed it to her with a syringe.

Later, the lactation consultant did an oral exam on Jovie and determined she had a severe tongue tie. They snipped this in the hospital, but left us with no way to keep it from reattaching. As first time parents, my husband and I had no idea that there were oral stretches we should be performing or that it could/would reattach if we didn’t perform them regularly.

We were released from the hospital two days after her birth. She still hadn’t latched. The lactation consultant reminded us that most babies have to learn how to breastfeed and with practice she would learn and thrive. I believed this to be true. We left and I kept offering the breast at every feed, still giving her colostrum with a syringe.

Things went south quickly.

At Jovie’s first doctor appointment the doctor was concerned about how quickly she was losing weight. Although it is normal for babies to drop weight after birth, they should quickly begin regaining it. She was still losing. We were encouraged to continue trying to breastfeed, but were offered little support or answers as to why she still wouldn’t latch.

We were now going to doctor’s appointments every other day to check on Jovie’s weight. Unfortunately, it was creeping downward. She still refused to latch and we had started feeding her from a bottle to help her gain weight. I continued to offer the breast at every feed, but she wouldn’t even try to latch and would just scream and scream until we gave her the bottle. I was concerned because even when we gave her a bottle it would take her nearly an hour to finish it.

We met with another lactation consultant. She encouraged me to quit trying and become an exclusive pumper. She explained her journey with her first baby and I felt like she was projecting her story onto my situation. I left this appointment feeling very disheartened.

Hospitalization soon followed.

After two weeks at home, Jovie was readmitted to the hospital. She had continued to struggle to feed even from her bottle and her weight had continued to decrease.

In the hospital we met with another lactation consultant and a physical therapist that worked exclusively with NICU babies. She looked at Jovie’s latch on her bottle and did an oral assessment. She determined that Jovie not only had a tongue tie, but a severe lip tie as well. Her advice was to switch to a fast flow nipple on Jovie’s bottle. She believed that her latch looked great and we didn’t need to release the ties to have a successful breastfeeding journey.

The struggle continued.

Jovie gained weight over the course of a couple days and was released from the hospital. I was determined to breastfeed, but felt like the advice the PT gave us wasn’t helpful. I started researching other options around town for support. Additionally, I began looking into options for releasing her ties. I felt like despite what the PT said, the ties were causing her trouble while feeding.

I soon found a local pediatric chiropractor that offered feeding evaluations. We decided to take Jovie in when she was around 6 weeks old. They determined that she indeed had severe tongue and lip ties and it was affecting her alignment, feeding, and overall wellbeing.

I finally felt validated.

My feelings were finally heard and confirmed. We booked Jovie an appointment to have her ties released and began the grueling process of performing mouth/lip/tongue exercises with her at every feed.

I felt like this was a step in the right direction and she would be breastfeeding in no time.

We kept trying for two and half months.

Until Jovie was 4.5 months old I continued to offer the breast at every feed. Total, I think she latched 5-6 times and when I say I tried EVERYTHING, I mean it. We were constantly doing skin-to-skin, taking baths together, using nipple shields. I did anything and everything to encourage and support her in breastfeeding.

Eventually, I had to give up. My mental health couldn’t take the screaming at the beginning of each feeding only to have to feed her from a bottle and then pump immediately after. This was happening every 3 hours, so I decided to begin my journey as an exclusive pumper.

It was a long 9 months, but it was worth it.

My journey as an exclusive pumper lasted for 9 months (really 9.5 until all was said and done, but who is counting??).

It wasn’t easy. I felt like I was pumping ALL the time. I had to juggle feeding her, taking care of her, running to appointments, etc., all while pumping 6 times a day. Before I quit my job, I also had to figure out how to pump as a high school English teacher and not lose my supply when it wasn’t easy to fit pumps in.

In the beginning, I was using a portable pump, but soon found that wasn’t getting the job done and switched to a wall pump. I also dealt with frequent clogged ducts, mood swings, and the guilt of having to pump while Jovie cried and I couldn’t hold her for comfort. I hated having to go out and pump on the go, or in the car, or hiding in someone else’s bedroom or basement for 20-30 minutes while everyone else went about their normal lives.

It was draining.

My journey as an exclusive pumper–my breastfeeding journey–was one of the most difficult things I have done. It was also one of the most beautiful things I have done, but I am glad it’s over. November 12th was my final day expressing any sort of milk. I am lucky enough to have a very large freezer stash that will get Jovie to her 1st birthday.

Do I wish our breastfeeding journey would have gone differently? Yes. But, I know that next time I won’t wait to release any ties. If it doesn’t work out, I also know that formula is a wonderful option.

What was your breastfeeding journey like? Do you have any questions about exclusively pumping?

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