Breastfeeding, pumping, and work

One of the things that was very important to me from the get go was that our baby be breastfed as much as possible. I'm not planning on extended breastfeeding (past one year), but I wanted to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months. I knew that these things don't always work out exactly as we want and I tried to make it so that I would be okay if we had to do formula or supplementing, but part of me knew I would be heartbroken. Because this is a long text heavy post, I'm inserting several unrelated images of Annabelle sporadically to keep it interesting.
This is Annabelle on a bison robe with said bison's skull beside her. For what it's worth that bison was humanely hunted and fed my extended family for two years.

This is Annabelle on a bison robe with said bison's skull beside her. For what it's worth that bison was humanely hunted and fed my extended family for two years.

We didn't get off to the strongest start with breastfeeding, but not the worst ever. My milk took four days to come in and Annabelle kept falling asleep on the breast so she wasn't getting enough of the colostrum. She lost too much weight. I resisted the doctor's suggestions of formula. Then my milk came in, I got better at encouraging her to eat, she gained weight and we did well. Throughout my maternity leave I was able to do some pumping to build up a small stash. I never was extremely consistent about it, but toward the end I tried to pump at the same time most days. I knew I needed a stash as back up for work and I needed to get my body used to the pump. Before returning to work, I did a lot of reading about pumping. The basic set up is simple, what I pump on Monday is fed to my daughter on Tuesday and so forth. It's a neat system that hopefully evens out. However it doesn't work for a lot of women. I knew that. I also knew that if anyone could make it work, I could. I have a fairly ideal situation: a private office with window blinds and a door that locks, a really supportive boss (who used to be a nursing and pumping mom herself), and a decent amount of control over my schedule to fit in pumping breaks. With all that going for myself, I feel guilty when it doesn't work. So many women struggle through so much more to make it work. This entry has a lot of me talking about emotions, particularly guilt, around breastfeeding. The culture, dialogue, and mommy-wars are so charged around these issues that it becomes a maelstrom of emotions for an already hormonal time in your life. Guilt and pressure are leveraged for a mother to breastfeed because anything less is inferior, but don't do it in public, or do it in public and be proud. The hits come from all sides and it can be hard to deal with all the conflicting messages. Any way you feed your baby is the right choice for you, your family. No one else knows your circumstances or your life, make the best decision for you and your family.
Genetics ed? Sex ed? Good thing she can't read yet!

Genetics ed? Sex ed? Good thing she can't read yet!

We had given Annabelle a bottle of pumped breast milk at five weeks with no issues. I had several brands of bottles to try since I knew some babies were fussy about that, but she liked them all. She takes bottles very well and usually goes back to the breast with no fuss. She's a good baby like that. (Occasionally in the evenings if she is really tired she won't take the breast because it's more work than a bottle and we have to use a pumped bottle while I pump more.) For the first month or so, it worked really well. In fact I even made an excess to add to, stash or to use for a date night. And then about three weeks ago, it stopped working as well. I upped the amount I put in each bottle since she didn't seem satisfied. I was gauging how much to give to her based off articles from Kellymom. I don't want my child to starve, but I don't want her overfed to the point of vomiting either. It's surprisingly hard to tell with an infant. There are no ounce markings on the side of my boob so I don't really know how much she drinks from me. As my supply started to not being able to meet what I knew she would need for the next day, I grew desperate. I unfroze from stash and tried every trick in the book to up my stash. I drink milkmaid tea daily (which is hard for me as a tea snob; it tastes slightly better than it looks is the best I can say about it), ate oatmeal, got lots of water, added a pumping at work, etc.
Someone commented on how Annabelle smiles in all her photos. So I took a photo of her crying.

Someone commented on how Annabelle smiles in all her photos. So I took a photo of her crying.

A few things really worked for me: watching videos of Annabelle during my pumping, really trying to make pumping sessions go 20 minutes to get the second let down, trying to still pump at least once a day on the weekends too, and massaging breasts while pumping. Also I learned that instant oatmeal doesn't have the same supply building effect that old fashioned oatmeal does, but cookies made with old-fashioned oatmeal totally work. And if you don't have a video of your child, listening to a different baby have a meltdown in the library outside your office is surprisingly effective. And yet none of it was working consistently. I was so stressed which wasn't helping production. I had an in case of emergency formula stash. When I tried to give Annabelle a bottle of it, she wouldn't take it. Freaked me out. Later I gave her a bottle that was mixed breast milk and formula, she took that. By gradually doing mixed bottles, she will now take a bottle that is just formula. However I didn't know at first if I could mix formula and breast milk. As I googled around, all I could find was articles about how important it was to breastfeed. Even consumer reports, on their guide to formula, spends the first half of the article telling you why you should breast feed. What I wanted was practical, helpful advice about supplementing, mixing bottles of formula and breastmilk, that sort of thing. What I got was a huge heaping of mommy-guilt that only served to make me feel like more of a failure. If I couldn't do it with my private office and supportive environment, what type of lazy failure of a mother was I? Every day was a struggle and I would look with dread at the bottles I pumped. I hated going home and prepping the bottles for the next day, especially if I added frozen milk or formula. More than once I had to hide tears as I did it so I wouldn't freak out my husband or mother (who was live-in child care at the time).

Once I cried over spilled milk, literally.  Despite my OCD levels of safeguards, a bottle spilled at work. It wasn't much because I caught it quickly, only a couple of tablespoons, but it was a day when I was having trouble pumping enough. And the level of my reaction would have been more appropriate to being told a beloved pet was gravely ill. That was the moment I knew I had to do something. The googling started again in earnest.

Batman called  he said i didn't have to take a nap today.

Batman called he said i didn't have to take a nap today.

Finally I read this article, while pumping in my office, and I burst into tears. I texted it to my mom and David who knew my struggles. What the author described is so exactly my situation, it was such a relief to see someone else write about it.

I am giving Annabelle everything I can. When she nurses in the morning, at night, on the weekend, she gets nutrition and to reinforce our bond. When she takes a bottle of pumped breast milk, she gets that best nutrition/antibodies/etc and to bond with someone else. When she takes a bottle of part or all formula, she gets that bond and she still gets great nutrition designed for young babies. Always her needs emotional and physical are being met.

Pumping is a mixed bag for me. It's hard on my body and leaves me extremely sore. I admire women who pump exclusively, I couldn't do that to my breasts. However pumping forces me to take breaks when I tend to be a very single-minded focused workaholic in the library. Even though I have a hands-free pumping bra (in which I feel like a cow hooked up to a milking machine) and I do keep working often during pump sessions, I also force myself to take a break. With each pumping session, I stop, look at a photo or video of my baby, read an article I want to read, and take a moment to breathe. That is helping my overall stress level and making me a better librarian and a better mom.

As I type this, I've done really well pumping in the last few days/week. I haven't had to thaw breast milk at all this week and no bottles since Tuesday needed topped off with formula. It's Sunday afternoon, the sun is streaming in, my four-month old daughter is napping on me, and there is enough breast milk in the fridge for tomorrow when I go to work. It's an ideal situation and yet I still have tears in my eyes thinking about it all.

Some days everything my daughter has was made by me without a problem, some days I'm pulling from the from the freezer to make that true. (I'm trying to be better about pulling from the freezer. That's what a stash is for and I need to stop thinking about it as a do-not-touch-emergency-fund.)  Some days she gets bottles that are partially or all formula.

So far the most she has had of formula in a single day is 1.5 bottles out of the four that she drinks when I'm at work. I refuse to set a minimum level of breast milk that I want her to have in those four bottles because it would be an arbitrary number and I would live and die by it. It's my type-A mentality. In fact it's a struggle to not make a line like that, even in my head.  But someday if I couldn't make that, it would be another way I failed. Another time I broke down in tears at my desk or at night while pumping milk.

I'm done with tears over milk, spilled or otherwise. I'm giving my family everything I can. Her current mix of mostly breast milk, occasional formula is fine. If in the future I can't pump at all at work to produce milk and she has formula during the day and nurses at night, that will also be fine. If my milk dries up entirely, plenty of babies (including myself and my siblings) were formula fed, it will be fine. It will be more than fine because we love her and will always give all we can to make sure she has what she needs to grow and thrive.

Mommy I have a secret to tell you: you're doing okay.

Mommy I have a secret to tell you: you're doing okay.

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding, pumping, and work

  1. I had a lot of the same breastfeeding hardships as you did, so you aren’t alone. I have also found it to be a guilt-fest, as it never really worked well for me. Still, I gave Ella breast milk for as long as I could, which turned in to 6 months. I had to supplement almost from the start, and it took me quite a while to come to terms with that.

    I also cried over spilled milk, except it was more like a meltdown because of all the guilt I felt about my supply dropping.

    So you aren’t alone. I’m beginning to think that it’s only easy for those that are extremely lucky. I just don’t think most people are comfortable talking about it. I know I wasn’t for a long time, and I probably wouldn’t write about it now except for seeing your bravery in tackling the topic.

    You are doing awesome so far, and Annabelle looks great! If you ever need to talk, or vent about it, I’m around.

  2. Wonderful article, Beth. You should send it to some of the women’s magazines. I am sure lots of women are having the same feelings. I am glad you are finding peace with your situation, and realizing that all situations are different….and you are happy with yours..

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