Leaving the Pump Behind

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

Recently I ran into an old friend who shared with me the story of her pleasant breastfeeding journey. I was so excited to hear about her success and congratulated her for making it past 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. I was so proud of her and was even a bit jealous that she was able to skip pumping and bottle feeding. Her story was a breastfeeding mother’s ultimate fantasy!

A few days passed by and that same friend sent me a message. She thanked me for being the first person not to roll my eyes at her when she told me her baby will not take a bottle. She explained that I was the only person to tell her all the things she and her baby had achieved together and praise her for the choices she had made as a mother. I was the only one to tell her it’s okay to take a step back from her career while she focuses on mothering through breastfeeding. She told me I was the first one to make her feel like she was doing something right, which we all know doesn’t come easy as a new parent.

I was heartbroken and was so disappointed to hear that mothers continue to be shamed for choosing to breastfeed without using bottles.

It is important to be surrounded by people who simply support our choices rather than giving suggestions about how they mothered their own children along with their opinions about what they think we should do with ours. Pumping is such a heavy chore and is both physically and emotionally draining. No mother should ever feel pressured to pump and should only do so if there is a reason to or if she simply wants to have the option to bottle-feed her child. It is so important to normalize breastfeeding and demonstrate that not all babies drink from bottles.

Pumping alongside my husband as he was also recovering from surgery

My story was very different from my friend’s. A breast pump was my closest companion during my first three months as a mother. I certainly did not imagine postpartum life this way because I thought I would be spending much more of my time holding and kissing my newborn baby. I hated pumping and I still have flashbacks of sitting at my kitchen table, looking like a disheveled zombie, being hooked up to the pump all hours of the night, chomping on granola bars or string cheese and chugging glasses of water while my two little dogs stared at me like I was completely out of my mind.

My baby had to be exclusively bottle-fed for his first three months of life. I had attempted to breastfeed him before every single bottle offering, but had to stop after he began signaling he wasn’t getting enough milk directly from my breast. For a while I thought my dream of breastfeeding my baby would never come true. Sometimes he would latch for only a few seconds, but those brief moments felt so good and gave me so much hope. Those happy days kept me motivated and that is how I stayed determined to reach my goal.

Some of my best cheerleaders were definitely the NICU nurses. They saw my tired and discouraged face every day, but kept telling me that I could do it.

Each NICU nurse was consistent with her advice and told me I didn’t need nipple shields or to supplement and that I would one day successfully breastfeed my baby. However, after months of failing, I knew I could not possibly keep up with pumping this way. I clearly needed more help, so I called another certified lactation consultant to come to my home and offer more advice. She introduced me to the life-changing nipple shield. I believe that glorious shield is the reason for my continued breastfeeding success. I used it for several weeks as it helped my baby transition from the bottle to the shield, then eventually from the shield to the bare breast. The excitement I felt on the random days he latched without the shield is indescribable and proved that we would reach our goal, even if it took us months to learn.

So, I really hated pumping. I knew from day 1 that I would only pump as long as I had to. The pain during my first weeks was intense because I was so sleep deprived and I was constantly attached to the pump. The worst part of being hooked up to a breast pump was that it took away from our special bonding time together. It was very depressing to watch someone else bottle-feed my son while I had cold, plastic flanges up against my body. I also blame my oversupply and stress from pumping for contributing to mastitis as well.

My husband feeding our newborn baby in the NICU

Once my baby could latch and I didn’t need to pump any more, I was so relieved. I was hesitant in the beginning and I had my fears about not being able to rely on bottles, but I knew being able to breastfeed exclusively and eliminating bottle-feeding was my goal. I was finally spending more time cuddling and kissing my baby, and it felt so good.

Quitting pumping had to be done slowly and carefully in order to avoid painful engorgement or mastitis. I had experienced such discomfort enough times to know that I could not to let it happen again. I took the advice from my lactation consultant and started to eliminate one pumping session a day from my routine. I was thrilled to be free from pumping every 2-4 hours. The silicone breast pump also made life a little easier but I had to watch a YouTube video in order to learn how to properly attach it after many episodes of spilled breast milk.

My trusty manual silicone breast pump

After a while my pumping sessions were cut in half, and eventually I was barely getting any milk out when I pumped since my son was emptying my breasts. I was scared to stop pumping overnight because my body was so used to it, but this only caused one or two mornings of engorgement that was easily treated by nursing my baby as soon as he woke up. Soon after that, our bodies synced and I was producing the exact amount of milk baby needed. Continuing breastfeeding on demand throughout the night also helped me to avoid engorgement.

One of the best parts of leaving the pump behind was not having to wear breast pads every day! My breasts finally stopped leaking soon after I began exclusively breastfeeding without pumping. This was a miracle because I had previously assumed I suffered from some sort of problematic leaky boob syndrome. There were times I woke up with a soaking wet t-shirt full of breast milk or dripped all over the bathroom floor after a shower. My doctor couldn’t even give me an explanation about my leakage issue because, well why would he know anything about breastfeeding?

My collection of pumping accessories and bottle parts

As I look back on my breastfeeding journey, I am so glad to have left all four of my breast pumps behind. I am especially grateful for never having to listen to the sound of a breast pump ever again. I no longer have to waste hours washing bottles and pumping accessories, and I am always free to hold my baby as often as I want to. I was finally able to always hold my son instead of looking at him from afar with plastic flanges pressed up against my body.

My husband has also confirmed that he definitely does not miss the bottles either, so that helps to reassure me that we have made the best decision for our family. We both feel so liberated! I do not and will not ever miss my breast pumps, but I will be thankful for their existence as they allowed me to nourish my newborn baby the best way I could.

I send love and strength to all those who continue to pump breast milk for their babies. You are amazing and your hard work is certainly paying off.
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