Liquid Gold: My Breast Pumping Experience

Every motherhood journey is unique and beautiful. No matter how many children you have, no pregnancy is ever the same.

One part of motherhood I was most looking forward to was – breastfeeding. Despite all of the mixed views and crazy things you hear on the subject, I am 100% for breastfeeding (BF). It had always been my plan to at least give it my best shot with Scarlett. Obviously, nothing about my pregnancy went as I had hoped for or planned; and many things had to be altered to fit our situation – breastfeeding included. After a few hours of rest on the day Scarlett was born, a lactation consultant from the hospital came into my room and began to teach me how to use a breast pump.

Just like that, my breastfeeding journey quickly turned into my pumping journey.

Let me first start off by stating that, whether you decide to breastfeed and/or exclusively pump, it is NOT for the faint of heart. I commend every Mama out there who chooses that path in motherhood. It takes serious commitment and dedication, and you learn things about your body that you never thought you would. Prior to having Scarlett I had done a lot of research on the subject. Being a first-time mom, I had no clue how BF/pumping worked. Thankfully, I found a woman on YouTube (Momma Alia) who has a ton of videos full of helpful tips & tricks for the BF Mom. Her videos are amazing and so informative, I highly recommend any new mom watch her videos if they are needing help with their own BF journey. It was because of her videos, advice I from my MIL, and a few other close friends who breastfed/pumped, that my journey went as well as it did. (By that I mean, I took their advice into account and did what worked for me.)

In the beginning, I had to work really hard to help my milk supply come in. I think because Scarlett was born so early, my body needed time to adjust and realize that she was out in the world and it was time to get those gears a’workin’ and start making milk! My MILK FACTORY was officially opening for business!

As with every BF/pumping mama, my colostrum was the very first thing to come. This was a good sign & really important because Scarlett needed all of the help I could offer her. With colostrum being full of antibodies to help make her stronger we didn’t hesitate to give her every bit I could produce. At the time, she couldn’t exactly “drink” it though. Due to being on a High-Frequency ventilator, and her body recovering from the shock of having tubes and foreign objects coming out of her every which way, my colostrum instead had to be given to her during “oral care”. We did oral care during touch times, by using a small q-tip that had been dipped in my colostrum and we swirled it around in her mouth. (I remember her tongue being so tiny that the end of the q-tip was about the same size.)

It took about a week or so for my body to finally adjust and slowly begin producing milk. I remember once, during a pumping session, a nurse of Scarlett’s told me that holding something with her scent on it could help increase my production. I’ll never forget my sister holding Scarlett’s small crochet hat to my nose in hopes of helping me produce more milk. (She really is the best Tia and just wanted what was best for her niece.) During each pumping session, I was given small syringes to hold and freeze my milk in. I’ll never forget how proud I was to have multiple 10mL syringes of milk to store in one session.

(Picture here)

Micro- Preemies GI tracts are very sensitive and not always mature enough to handle the work it takes to break down and absorb the nutrients in milk, as most full-term babies can. Instead, they are given TPN, which is a liquid full of supplemental vitamins and nutrients that can be modified to meet patients exact needs and balance out their levels. You could think of it as their very own “protein shake” only instead of a delicious strawberry one, it’s a weird yellow/green color and is never actually processed through the GI tract (and I bet it taste awful). Scarlett was no exception to this, in fact, she was on a TPN diet for quite a while. Until her body was strong and mature enough to handle my milk, what I produced was frozen in small amounts to be used for oral care.

Some people think that just because Scarlett was born prematurely, I didn’t get the full “newborn” experience. But if you ask me, I’ll tell you not only did I get that experience, but SO MUCH MORE. I was an exclusively pumping mama. I didn’t have a baby with me to feed when my breasts were full & aching. My baby wasn’t with me 24/7 to help set a feeding schedule and help my body regulate how much milk it needed to produce. (Which by the way, amazes me that our bodies have the ability to do that.) I pumped EVERY 3 hours, around the clock. I might not have had a crying baby waking me up and pulling me from my sleep every night/day, but I had a very strict pumping schedule which I followed religiously. Although Scarlett wasn’t with me, and even though she was unable to have my milk right away, I knew that someday she was going to. I couldn’t do very much for her, but making milk – that I could do.

One thing you should know (if you don’t already) is that pumping is basically like a FULL-TIME JOB. Literally. From the early hours before the sun is up, to the wee hours of the night when the moon is shining and the world is sleeping. Women spend 20% of their day pumping or feeding their children. (That was my average anyway.)

Little Miss was having a difficult time bottle feeding and to add to her problems she could no longer have my breastmilk, instead, she had to be given a hypoallergenic formula.

This broke my heart. After all this time, countless hours spent pumping every ounce of breastmilk I could for Scarlett. She couldn’t have it anymore. I felt defeated. It felt like everything I had done to try to help her did the exact opposite. I was devastated. People tried to comfort me; told me not to beat myself up about it. They’d say things like “look on the bright side – your milk has gotten her this far.” Or, “Look at how much she has grown – you did that.”  They were right…they were 100% right. I had helped get her this far and all of that milk I had been saving had given her the nutrients she needed to grow each day. Which is exactly why it was so heartbreaking to know that I could no longer do that for her. My natural, God-given ability to feed her wasn’t something that could help her anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that there are mothers out there who can’t or have problems with breastfeeding. Every journey has its own highs and lows; its own set of difficulties and triumphs.

This was our low. Our loss.

I felt cheated yet AGAIN. I had already missed out on not being able to carry her to full term. I had already missed the chance of ACTUALLY breastfeeding her. Creating and sharing that special bond that breastfeeding moms talk about was something Scarlett and I were never going to be able to take part in. And now, I wasn’t even going to be able to FEED her the milk that MY BODY made for her. It sucked.

I know where your thoughts are going next. Why not donate?

Well, I couldn’t. I have an autoimmune disorder called Grave’s disease & hyperthyroidism. Because of that – well more importantly because of the medication I take for that – is the reason I was not able to donate my breast milk. A lot of things transfer through breastmilk and that medication is one of them. With Scarlett, it was fine because I was taking it while pregnant with her. Which, here’s a fact I hadn’t shared about her yet, caused her to have low thyroid problems aka hypothyroidism for the first few days of her life. She also had to take medication for THAT for a few days before it corrected itself. So. Yep. Donation was out of the question for me.

The only options I had left were to either pump and dump. Which if you have EVER had children and tried/have pumped – dumping is something you DO NOT want to do. That stuff is liquid gold. Or, I could continue pumping and build up my storage in hopes that she would outgrow her protein allergy, which could happen. At that point, however, my stock was really good because she had only been taking a little amount at a time and I was very consistent about pumping. (An upside to the NICU life, I had a lot of time on my hands). Unfortunately, I ended up throwing out most of it because I had run out of places to store it. (Seriously! I’m pretty sure I still have milk stored at a couple of friend’s houses. Even now. To. This. Day!)

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