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World Breastfeeding Week 2017 Series: Part II

MY NURSING STORY

Motherhood is one of those things that give you an overwhelming feeling you can hardly explain. We had waited for some time to have our baby and when she finally came I was full of ideas of how our journey was going to be……..Especially the breastfeeding journey.

Being a breastfeeding advocate and a practicing nutritionist, I had supported many mothers to breastfeed their children and educated communities on the importance of breastfeeding. When it came to my feeding method, the choice was certain. I had to breastfeed and do it for as long as the baby loved it. For my first baby, I envisioned three years.

My baby was not immediately put on my breast after birth, I am not certain of the actual time between delivery and when I actually started to breastfeed. All I recall is that when I was leaving the labour ward, the nurse told me to buy Cow and Gate for prematures and low birth weights since my little one was born with 2.4kg. In my mind I was like, “you’re joking!!!, when I settle in my room well, I will initiate breastfeeding. I ain’t buying any formula!!!!!!”. I knew what to do; how to position and attach my baby and that was exactly what I was going to happen.

I was so eager to breastfeed. That was the first order on biz when I settled into the hospital room. The fight begun as soon as I supported the baby to latch. The baby turned away from the breast, cried so hard and didn’t even try to latch. I persisted till it became a sweating, crying and frustrating fight for me and baby. I was urged to give her time and try later. Maybe she needed some rest, maybe she wasn’t hungry. The story was not any different when I tried again in the night and the following morning.

By the following morning, I was panicking and frustrated. I was worried for my little one. I asked hubby to buy a pump and a tin of formula. I would start by pumping and if the milk wasn’t enough, I would then grudgingly give the baby some formula. By the time both pump and formula arrived; baby was too hungry, wailing and completely rejecting my breast. I needed her to keep quiet, I needed her to feed because I was imagining one million bad things that can happen to a starving underweight neonate!

By afternoon, I was at full production capacity and was sure I had milk enough for the baby, so feeding her wouldn’t be hard. We tried attaching her on the breast while in the car and that didn’t also work out so well since she was sleeping all the time. At this point, I just wanted her to breastfeed, to give me some hope that she will latch.

I am not sure I recall how the first few days at home were, but I know breastfeeding was not an easy part of it. I pumped as much milk as I could so that she would have breast milk and not formula. So for most of her feeds, she would take breast milk. My supply was good and milk wasn’t a problem. My only worry was emptying the breast completely and she fails to get milk when she tries to breastfeed. I was still sure she would latch.

Then the routine feeds begun. Our feeding cycle was: breast- cup and spoon-breast; put her on the breast, she wails, turns pink, sweats, turns away from the breast and pushes herself as hard as she can, while I watch on in frustration. Then I would remove the cup and spoon, give her some pumped breast milk to comfort and relive the hunger pangs, she would take that, relax a little and we repeat the frustrating latching part. We did that for as long as I can remember. All the confidence I had while leaving the labour ward had completely vanished. I begun calling all the breastfeeding gurus I knew at the time. They gave me as many tips as they could on attaching and positioning (some even asked me if I didn’t know these things), trying hard, being patient with the baby and reassurance that she would eventually breastfeed.

Exclusive pumping

By the second week, I began doing research on pumping breast milk. Most of the information was for mothers that combine breastfeeding with pumping. There was little on exclusive pumping because I didn’t even know the term existed. Then on one of those afternoons I landed on an article about EXCLUSIVE PUMPING. I obtained a lot of information about it and it was a ray of hope for me because; I had heard lots of negative information about pumping: how ineffective it is, how the supply will eventually go down and lots more. I was more worried of failure to give my little one breastmilk. My breastfeeding goals shifted from five years to six months within just two weeks of motherhood!!!!!!!

By the third week, we were still in the same cycle and truthfully, I was running mad at this point. My baby was no longer feeding well. She was always so hungry at every feed that she would hold onto the spoon with every sip. The milk would literally be cold for the baby by the last drop. I was getting depressed and the joy of motherhood was fading. This was the point in reintroduced the bottle. I figured, if she was going to take breastmilk, she was better off taking it in a manner that made her satisfied. I booted the cup and spoon- just temporarily though. There were moments she tried to latch (five throughout the first two months). During that time, I would disregard the bottle, move back to cup and spoon and leverage with trying to breastfeed.

When did I make the decision to exclusively pump?

One of those night feeds (when she was about to make a month), she had finished her breast milk and still showed more interest in feeding. I prepared a portion of formula while pumping more breast milk. She rejected the formula.  I had room to compare the two types of milk. Breast milk looked yellow while the formula was white. Looked at the manufacturing and expiry dates; my turn off was the length of period this product was designed to stay safe on the shelf. At the point, I made up my mind to exclusively pump for my baby. But even when I made this decision, I hadn’t lost hope. I would still try to breastfeed only this time I would do it when the baby was not so hungry.

My exclusive pumping journey

Exclusive pumping is one of those things I would call an issue for the “generals”. It is hard and cumbersome. You have to get the breast milk from the breast, keep it in a safe place, warm it at just the right temperature so you don’t destroy the antibodies and feed the baby as and when needed. Those are lots of variables to control.

I had saved a lot of reading material on excusive pumping (EP), read extensively, mastered how to increase and maintain my milk supply, store breast milk and its shelf life. I still researched more on breastfeeding because I needed to learn a lot more about my situation and baby. In the due course, I landed on a blogger- Amanda Glenn http://exclusivepumping.com/my-exclusive-pumping-story/ who had written extensively on exclusive pumping and was part of a community of mothers that had or were exclusively pumping. That is what I needed at that point. I needed emotional support to make it through this unknown territory, I needed to know that I wasn’t actually just dreaming when I resolved to exclusively pump for my child, I needed tips from mothers that had made EP work for them. I got all this and more, I visited the site every day for the next two weeks to read a story, encourage a mother, appreciate one for sharing a story and continue learning. Throughout my EP journey, that blog was my encyclopaedia.

By the end of the first EP week, I was in position to pump about 960mls per day and my baby only consumed half of that. I had lots of reserves in the fridge to even last her a week.  I gave her fresh breast milk for as long as I could, kept the extra in the fridge and stuck to my pumping sessions.

In the first month, I had 6 pumping sessions that could produce averagely 960mls. I later reduced them and stabilized at 5 to produce about 880mls which was slightly above my baby’s consumption per day (between 770mls and 900 during a growth spurt).

I pumped exclusively for 11 months. At six months, I started complementary feeding. We actually had a launch party for this.  I continued pumping and later introduced cow’s milk. The baby was intolerant for the first two months so her source of milk remained by breast. Towards her eight month, we re- introduced cow milk and she was more tolerant to it this time. Slowly I reduced on my pumping sessions and increased the amount of cow’s milk she took.

I stopped pumping at 11 months. Although I had wanted to continue to a year and half, the prevailing circumstances did not allow for that. I weaned myself off the pump with a lot of guilt.

The guilt was not going to stop me from appreciating the good work I had done. I let myself enjoy the effort and sacrifice. It was worth it; My baby was healthy; had realized all her milestones in a timely manner and despite her not being a huge baby, she was steady with her growth curve every time I weighed her.

Tips that made it work for me.

Accept your situation; if I had a choice or given one wish, I would choose to breastfeed. I would do it with a passion and commitment. But sometimes things don’t just happen the way we want them. Embrace the situation, make the best of it and make peace with it.

Avoid ambitious goals; Exclusive Pumping is journey you take one pump at a time. Don’t set yourself very ambitious goals because it will become a bad job you will dread.

A support network; my sister, mum, husband, best friend, nanny and few workmates knew that I was pumping and mastered the routines, dos and don’ts of pumping and expressed breast milk. This helped a lot in instances when I was away or needed rest or was attending to something else. During those times, I would be certain the baby would feed. The baby nanny mastered how to keep the bottle warm, feed the baby on demand and give me a call when in the field to notify me about the dwindling liquid gold; my employer created a conducive environment to support breastfeeding mothers; a baby room and one hour a day for breastfeeding till the child makes a year. This came in handy for my pumping sessions; my husband granted me all the rest I needed throughout many nights as he took over feeding the baby and only woke me up to pump milk. The online community was incredible in offering knowledge and emotional support. I still don’t know if I would have made it without them. It took a whole village to feed my child and this was a privilege I never took for granted.

Discipline is paramount; your supply is entirely dependent on your adherence to the pumping sessions. Breast milk production is a demand driven activity.  A pumping mother doesn’t have the luxury of placing her little one on the breast to stimulate production. You have to do this manually. Establish a pumping routine, stick to it. There are moments when you feel so tired, or you are too busy with certain tasks, maybe you want to relax because you have some extra stash in the fridge. Please don’t!!! You will affect your supply and may have to work twice as much to make up for the slack.

Appreciate your efforts; there are moments when I felt like a failure, or when people would say very mean things that made me judge myself as a mother, the mean judgmental looks and stares when you pull out a bottle…..hooooo.  I hurt just for a while and refused to let these put me down. I looked on the bright side and carried on. It was rewarding to see: my baby feed on my breast milk (I remember the smirk whenever she was done feeding), them grow and thrive into healthy human beings, continuing to pump for one extra session, day, month etc.

Appreciate the pleasures; Anyone else can feed the baby which means; you can sleep through the night if hubby is supportive, you can take a trip to the salon and you don’t have to worry about carrying your child to such a congested and busy place. You can finish up and catch up with those work deadlines and be sure that baby is well taken care of, if you aren’t the faint hearted, you can go out for an evening with friends.

Exclusive pumping is hard work on all levels, but if you choose to then make it work. If you wanted to breastfeed your baby and the situation around you doesn’t give room for that, don’t lose hope. Just learn how to EP amidst your circumstances. EP remains an option for mothers that would have loved to nurse.

 written by Nakiwala Rose