Sunday, October 21, 2012

Exclusively Pumping for Rhett

Disclaimer: This is a personal post and might fall into some TMI territory. Sorry about that. It also got a bit longer than I expected.

I will post the six month update soon, but six months is somewhat of a milestone for me as well and I wanted to write about that first.

When I first heard about Rhett's IUGR, one of my biggest concerns was that breastfeeding would be difficult. During my pregnancy, I had wanted to exclusively breastfeed my baby, and was hoping to be able to nurse for one full year. When he was born, one of my first thoughts upon seeing how little he was was "there's no way that baby is going to be able to nurse".

In hindsight, I think I kind of set myself up to fail. I didn't give nursing a real chance. I  didn't want to try and fail, so I didn't really try at all. I was way too emotionally unstable when Rhett was born to add the stress of trying to nurse him when I was pretty sure it wasn't going to work.

So I did what I thought would be the next best thing for Rhett. I started pumping breast milk for him to take from a bottle. The days in the hospital were the worst. I didn't have a double pump, refrigerator or dishwasher at my disposal. So I would pump on each side for 15 minutes, take the pumped milk to the nursery, wash all of the pump parts by hand and then go back to the nursery to feed Rhett his bottle. I did this every three hours around the clock, usually getting about 40 minutes of sleep in between at night.

Early on, one of the nurses asked me what brand of formula we wanted to use if I wasn't producing enough milk. Somehow, she got it into my head that I probably wouldn't produce enough, so I was very diligent with my pumping. Pumping is kind of terrible. It's all of the worst parts of breastfeeding, with none of the benefits (for the mother). I was happy to be able to provide for Rhett, but miserable with the amount of time it took me to feed him. It was taking me away from him for hours a day. And it was very stressful.

One of my most vivid memories in the hospital was the day I was so engorged, I couldn't even get out of bed to go give Rhett his bottle. The nurses were always so impressed with my pain tolerance--after my C-section, I never rated my pain as more than a 4 on the 1-10 scale. But oh, man. One day I was engorged so badly that I was whimpering to Josh that I was at a 9. I sat up in bed as best I could and pumped for about an hour trying to relieve the pain.

Things got better when we got home and I could pump while Josh fed him a bottle next to me. Night time sessions were still the worst. Instead of getting to cuddle up to my baby and nurse, I would get to hook up to a pump while Josh fed him. Some nights of this were actually kind of nice. Josh and I each had an important role in feeding him and we got to do it together, each and every time. Once Rhett started sleeping through the night, I cut out the middle of the night pumping as well, and then things started to get a lot easier. I made a goal for myself--I would make it to six months exclusively pumping. It was hard work and I remember thinking that six months would never, ever come and I would surely give up before then.

But here we are. Six months. And I did it. I hated (almost) every minute of it but I did do it. He's six months old, and he has been fed breast milk exclusively. And he's thriving. He's growing so much and it's so encouraging for me to watch it happening. I am proud of myself this week. For doing my very best to give him the best, even though it has taken it's toll on me.

Josh and I have decided that it is time to start supplementing my milk with formula. Upon returning to work, I have had to cut down on pumping sessions and with Fall allergies and colds hitting me constantly, my supply is no longer enough to satisfy my growing boy. My freezer stash has been slowly dwindling over the last month and I don't expect it to last for the rest of the week. I made the very difficult decision this week to not try to add another pumping session in to up my milk supply. It just takes too much of a toll on my emotional well-being and I truly believe that Rhett would rather I spend that time with him. Our plan is to give him 8 oz of formula each day, which should be a little more that what we need to bridge the gap. As the months go on and Rhett eats more and more solids, I am hoping that his demand for milk will go down to the point that we won't need to supplement anymore. But I am feeling very comfortable with where we're and what I've done. I made it to six months. And I am going to continue to do the best I can.

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