There's a lot of pressure on new moms to breastfeed, and this pressure comes from everyone: doctors, celebrities, family, friends. When I was pregnant, I felt that pressure fall on me like a ton of bricks. I knew all the benefits of breast milk and I knew I wanted to breastfeed, so I took classes and read books. From everything I read about breastfeeding online, it seemed natural and simple. But I soon found out that I was wrong.
When my daughter was born, she had low blood sugar levels, so we had to feed her formula for a few days, which led to her having difficulties latching. After a few cursory attempts shortly after her birth, she never latched again. I was devastated, but I was determined to feed her breast milk. So I started pumping, which led to me becoming an exclusively pumping mom.
Before I gave birth, I had no idea that exclusive pumping was even a thing. Little did I know how difficult, painful, and crazy my pumping journey would be. It came with a lot more stress and work than I expected. It took a lot of time, patience, and money to be successful. Every single day, I thought I would quit. But somehow, I managed to make it to a year of exclusively pumping, and here's how I did it.
Like most moms who start out breastfeeding, I assumed that I would save a ton of money by not having to buy formula. I had already received a pump as a gift at my baby shower, so I figured that I'd barely have to spend a cent on pumping breast milk for her. But I had to buy so many accessories like hands-free pumping bras, freezer packs, storage bags, nipple creams, nursing pads, and extra bottles. Also, since I was pumping so frequently, I had to buy extra pumping parts, so I could rotate them instead of washing them after every use.
On top of that, I tried various teas, cookies, and smoothies to increase my supply, which were not cheap. Over time, the unexpected costs started adding up. Sometimes, it seemed like I needed more things for pumping than I did for my baby.
I felt like taking care of my breasts was almost like having to care for another baby.
Aside from the cost of pumping accessories, there was a lot of maintenance required. In the beginning, I pumped about 7-8 times a day, which meant I needed bottles for each session. So I spent most of my time cleaning my pump parts. I barely had time to take care of other household tasks, so my dishes were always overflowing in my sink.
My pump wasn't the only thing that needed maintenance. My breasts seemed to need just as much attention as my daughter did. I was always reapplying nipple cream, changing nursing pads, applying heat to get milk flowing, applying ice for pain, and changing my clothes because I somehow got milk on them. I felt like taking care of my breasts was almost like having to care for another baby.
Most new moms don't get much sleep, but exclusively pumping meant that I got less sleep than I ever imagined. Since I wasn't breastfeeding, most people assumed that I could miss a few feedings at night, or that I could sleep while my husband or a family member fed our daughter. But the truth is, in order to successfully pump, I had to mimic breastfeeding, which meant I had to pump as often as my daughter was feeding in order to keep up my supply. So at night, my husband did most of the feedings, but I couldn't rest at all. I had to pump, even when she was sleeping. Worse, on the rare occasions when she would actually sleep through the night, I still had to wake up and pump.
People thought I was crazy.
People thought I was crazy for working so hard to pump for my daughter, which meant I got a lot of unsolicited advice. Whenever I excused myself to pump, or wasn't able to make it to an event because of my strict pumping schedule, people would say, "Why don't you just pump later?," or "Just give her formula." When I told people I was still pumping, they usually told me to just give up. I was told formula was just as good as breast milk, and that all the problems I was having — the lack of sleep, the constant maintenance of my breast pump — just weren't worth it.
I was conflicted. In some ways, they were right. I had no social life, because my life revolved around my pumping schedule. Whenever someone asked me to go somewhere or invited me to something, I had to pause for a moment and think about my pumping schedule. But I also felt like I received a great deal of unfair judgment. While there's a ton of support for breastfeeding moms in our society, there's not a ton of support for pumping moms or even information on exclusive pumping, so I felt like people didn't understand what I was going through.
The first 6 months were the most difficult. I was trying to establish and maintain my supply, so I was pumping every two to three hours. Later, I was able to pump every four to five hours, which I thought would be a lot easier. But even though I was pumping less frequently, I had to pump for twice the amount of time. It felt like I just couldn't win.
I was often tempted to throw in the towel and just give my daughter formula. I had nothing against formula: in fact, in the beginning, I gave my daughter one bottle of formula a night until my supply increased. But as I later found out, not all formulas are created equal. We had to try several kids, and my daughter seemed fussy and gassy with each one. Because we couldn't find any that agreed with her, eventually we just gave up and continued giving her breast milk.
I cried a lot. I cried when I didn't produce enough. I cried when I was in pain because I produced too much. And I cried because I felt guilty for wanting to give up.
Overall, exclusively pumping was the hardest thing I ever did. Every single day, I wanted to quit. I just wanted to be able to sleep when she did. I wanted to have the freedom to go anywhere at any time. I cried a lot. I cried when I didn't produce enough. I cried when I was in pain because I produced too much. I cried when I had to pump instead of being able to play with my daughter. I cried when I had to find a place to pump at a party, instead of being able to hang out and enjoy it. And I cried because I felt guilty for wanting to give up.
Sometimes, I do wonder if I missed out on the first year of my daughter's life because I was exclusively pumping. I wonder if I was wrong for taking it so seriously, and if I would've been happier if I gave myself a break. But even though I was going crazy, my daughter seemed content and happy.
I don't think my daughter is any healthier than formula-fed babies, and I don't judge moms who don't want to pump or breastfeed. But I have to say, I am proud of myself for sticking to it. I never imagined exclusively pumping would have taken so much discipline and so much sacrifice. It was by far the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but I believe that if I had more support, my pumping journey would've been a little easier. I wish there were more people supporting exclusive pumping because for some of us, it's our only option.