Learn the love-hate relationship with using a breast pump and the totally normal frustration of wondering whether I’ll ever express more than three drops of colostrum.
A competitive, over-achieving girl who has completely dropped her modesty over the course of three days in order to do whatever I can to meet my daughter’s eating needs.
Well, as a Rookie Mom blogger, you had to know this post was coming. please just skip this one and stay tuned for tomorrow’s post if you don’t want to hear about it.
I never intended on writing about my experience with breastfeeding because I feel like that’s TMI.
When I put “meet with a lactation consultant” on my “Fourth Trimester” adventure list, I sort of always though, “I’ll swap that one out for something else” or that I wouldn’t get into the major details behind my experience, but because this was such an emotionally-charged experience for me, I feel compelled to tell my story so that other women will know all of their feelings are totally normal.
Not Being able to nurse Dagny was my biggest worry about her arrival after my fear of having a C-section - check both of those off my list.
I've had many friends who haven’t been able to nurse their children and I always believed, if that happened to me, I would feel like I was missing out on a crucial experience with my daughter.
By Day three of her life, though, I realized a completely new fear that I hadn’t even considered: What if I couldn’t even provide her with enough food when I was pumping?
If you’ve never breastfed before, you might think that this trait would come completely naturally: as my husband reminded me, it’s what makes us mammals after all.
Baby is hungry.
Stick her to your chest.
Baby gets what she needs.
It’s not that easy and it’s even harder if you have a NICU baby who needs to pack on the ounces as soon as possible.
Because Dagny was born at such a low weight, her medical team wanted her drinking from a bottle so they could measure how much she drank and so she didn’t expend any unnecessary energy on a tap that wouldn’t provide her with much.
While I totally understood and agreed with their plan, Talk about making a new Mom feel like the one job only she can do is not important.
Here are the three stages of pumping that I experienced and that I believe most Rookie Moms experience:
The Excited “I just became a Mom!” stage- In this stage I felt completely high on baby love and overwhelmed that this chapter of my life had finally arrived. I officially was one of those Moms with 75 pictures of their new baby on their phone and who couldn’t have a conversation that didn’t revolve around the baby.
This phase lasted for Day 1 and Day 2 of Dagny’s life and Nurse Elizabeth was my lactation consultant through these initial days.
During this phase, I became a pro at putting my pump together and would diligently pump every three hours on the nose, for the full fifteen minutes.
For me, this phase also coincided with the colostrum phase and I found myself thrilled that I could produce a total seven drops of milk in my fifteen-minute pump and amazed at my body’s ability to start feeding my baby.
During this phase, Nurse Elizabeth also helped me with Dagny’s first nursing session. I’m gonna say it now, my kid is an Over-Achiever and an A+ latcher, proving to me that, once my supply came in, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.
The Frustrated “I resent Q-Tips” Stage - In this stage I felt totaL, sob-inducing frustration and failure because I was still only producing enough milk to be soaked up on Q-tips and swabbed on the inside of Dagny’s mouth. On this day, my husband woke up to me, attached to my milk machine, bawling uncontrollably on my hospital bed. It was also on this day that I walked over to the NICU to drop off my “supply” and immediately started crying when dagny’s night nurse, Wanda, greeted me at her crib.
This phase, the shortest of the three, lasted for the better part of Day 3 of Dagny’s life. I didn’t have a lactation consultant come to me during this time, but I can tell you, if I had, it would have been a full on therapy session.
During this phase, I became a pro at getting every last drop of milk soaked up on one or two q-tips and with every pumping session I became more resentful of my results and would dread the next session before the current one was even done.
Sometimes I would catch a break and gather enough transitional milk with a pump that I could use sterile water and a syringe to suck up my product. During those sessions I was extraordinarily careful in transferring my supply to syringes because I knew I would definitely cry over spilled milk.
During this phase, I was too scared to try nursing Dagny because i knew she needed to get as many calories in as she could without too many calories going out. I felt my ability to feed my own daughter slipping through my fingers and the guilt of not being there for every feeding session of donor milk became all-consuming.
The Leaking “I need to go pump” stage - In this stage, I felt like a super hero because I graduated Q-tips to syringes to bottles within about a twelve hour period. I felt like a ladyboss and my husband and I were checking with each pump to see if I hit a new Personal record.
This phase followed up about twelve hours after phase 2 and just. Doesn’t. Quit. During this phase I had Nurse Anna as a lactation consultant and she is a Fairy Godmother of encouragement and “real talk”. She cheered right along with us when I would bring in bottles with 10, 20, and 30 mL of milk followed quickly by my 60, 70, and 90 mL filled bottles.
During this phase, I became a pro at mastering the cheapest trick to get to pump hands-free: cut slits in an old sports bra and voila! You can pump and eat an Impossible Burger and write blog posts all at the same time.
This was also the phase where any modesty I had remaining went completely out the window. Talking about pumping and actively opening up the Mommy Dairy in front of pretty much anyone who didn’t feel weird about it. And if they did feel weird about it, I saw it more as a “Them” problem instead of a “Me” problem. As David Allen said “My opinion is that anyone who gets offended by breastfeeding is staring too hard”. I decided these people (or any other future people) could get off of their judgy wudgy horses about what I was or wasn’t doing and mind their own.
I did have serious consideration to go vegan during the beginning of this phase - suddenly feeling a strong connection to dairy cows who only have to do this twice a day while I’m doing it 8-12 times.
I had officially “Let down” during this phase and I couldn’t have been more thrilled at my ability to catch up to, keep pace with, and then surpass my daughter’s feeding demands. Waking up with sudden rock hard boulder boobs after a lifetime of being an A-cup was a seriously fascinating occurrence. And the leaking. Oh, the leaking. Bra pads became a new wardrobe staple and, when I leaked through my entire supply and waited for my doting mother to wash them and bring them back to the hospital, I stuffed cloth diapers in my bra.
Nurse Anna helped me with multiple nursing sessions to make sure Dagny and I were working well as a team. Nurse Anna agreed that she’s a champion latcher and told me to start nursing her twice a day before giving her a bottle: advocating that I was now at the point where she would not be wasting any calories in trying.
If I could give advice to any new moms out there, it would be to be patient during this process. It will happen, but it will take a rollercoaster of emotions and a healthy amount of patience to get there: both of which are hard to tolerate when you are sleep-deprived and in a hospital (or home with your newborn).
I read a million books, blog posts, and pamphlets that explained this process. I knew it would take three or four days for my supply to come in, but all of that went out the window when I was in the thick of it and felt like I wasn’t living up to my end of the bargain that Dagny and I made.
In a matter of twelve hours I went from feeling like a complete failure to feeling like a total baller; so remind yourselves, when you feel like giving up, that you are so close to the finish line.
And if it doesn’t happen that way for you, you are still a rockstar mom. Please talk with your doctor, lactation specialist, and support system if you are feeling any feelings on the matter. No two bodies are the same, no two mothers are the same. It doesn’t make you any less of a mother if you cannot breastfeed or are choosing not to. You have to do what is best for you, your body, your mind, and your baby.
Moms, what other tips do you have for Rookie Moms who are going through this experience?