Here I am again, attached to the pump, a machine that I both love and hate.
It has been a very different experience this time around. It helps so much knowing what to expect and being able to prepare. I started expressing colostrum in January and freezing it, ready for SnuggleBub. I didn’t expect to get much milk (due to a breast reduction in my early twenties) and wanted to avoid starving our baby in her first week, as we unintentionally had with Monsieur.
I also knew that I had a short amount of time in which I could breastfeed. I have been in a holding pattern with the migraines, having tried the medications that were safe to use during pregnancy. There are more medications that I can try, however they cannot be recommended as safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so I have been waiting until I was no longer pregnant or breastfeeding before trying them. I wanted to breastfeed for 3-4 weeks, but knew that I would be stopping in order to get onto new medication after that.
Even if the time wasn’t limited by my desire to get onto new medication, it would have been very hard to maintain milk supply once I was doing the kinder run and getting back into full routine. I need to pump regularly to increase and maintain supply, which does not mix well with getting out and doing things, such as kinder runs. So far, I’ve just been at home so it has been easy to maintain a pumping schedule.
After the birth, SnuggleBub wasn’t able to breastfeed effectively, but we were able to express enough colostrum to fill her tummy for the first day. We always knew that she would be fed both breast milk and formula, so when the midwife offered that first night to take her to the night nursery, we asked that they feed her formula rather than bring her back for feeding during the night.
Our daughter’s start in life was very different from our son’s. She didn’t lose more than the recommended 10% of birth weight, she never had urate crystals in her nappies and most notably of all, she slept. She slept well and soundly, her stomach full.
I was also able to express good quantities of colostrum, thanks to all the expressing that I’d been doing in previous weeks. It made me wonder why it’s not recommended to express colostrum from 37 weeks. I am sure that it helped my milk come in, plus I had a store of colostrum to help feed SnuggleBub while we waited for my milk to come in. Surely this would make those first few days easier for a number of mums and bubs.
We started off breastfeeding for the first 10 days or so, but found that it wasn’t working well. She was having trouble latching properly. We sometimes, but not always, had success using a nipple shield – which contrary to what the name implies is not actually used for protecting the nipple; rather it is used to give the baby a decent nipple to latch on to, when a mum’s nipples are a bit flat and awkward for latching. I started to notice that she wouldn’t settle after a “good” breastfeeding session, and it took constant effort to keep reattaching her. However when she had EBM (expressed breast milk) via a bottle, she would settle easily and quickly.
Given that I was not going to be continuing with breastfeeding long-term anyway, I decided, with encouragement from my extremely supportive MCHN (Maternal and Child Health Nurse), to stop trying to breastfeed and instead just feed her EBM and formula via bottles.
The first 24 hours after deciding that, I hit my first big down over the whole breastfeeding-not-working thing, unable to stop crying and feeling like a failure. My supply dropped in that 24 hours and it just felt so cruel withholding the breast when she searched for it.
Fortunately that first down only lasted an evening, and shortly after that my supply increased again and has held reasonably steady at 250-300ml per day. I even had a small win (in my eyes) when she had a pooey nappy that was like the nappy of an exclusively breastfed baby. I felt so chuffed! Again, past experience made me so much more prepared. I asked my MIL to make lactation biscuits and stocked up on nuts and oat bars and porridge with coconut in it – all foods meant to increase milk supply. I’m sure that that has all helped too.
Last week I had my first experience of mastitis, which was awful. Last time I would get blocked ducts that would stay blocked for ages, due, I suspect, to scar tissue within my breasts. However, I never came down with mastitis. I assumed that it would be the same this time. No such luck. Developing mastitis meant that I couldn’t start weaning off the pump as I had planned. And now that I can start weaning, I find that I don’t want to. I want to keep giving SnuggleBub as much breastmilk as I can for this remaining week, but after that I don’t want to pump and dump.
Pumping for me is not as easy as just hooking up to the breast pump and letting it work its milking magic. I need to help the milk come out with fairly vigorous massage and hand expressing at the same time. This is what caused my wrist issues last time, and my wrists are none too happy with me right now. But it is for such a short time, I feel compelled to do the absolute best that I can.
So whilst I am still pumping, and semi encouraging milk supply to stay the same at the very least, I am also now looking into ways to deliberately halt milk supply. I never thought I would want to do that, but here we are. I want to give SnuggleBub as much breastmilk as I can, which means not starting to wean off the pump. I don’t want to pump and dump the breastmilk once I am on new medication, and I don’t want to get mastitis again. Drying up my milk supply seems like the best option.
I am not looking forward to the hormone dip once I stop pumping. It is brutal and harsh and tells my heart that I’ve failed when my head knows that isn’t true. I intend to self medicate with lots of chocolate until my hormones stabilise again! Most of all, I am not looking forward to the tears that just well up. I had so many tears last time, but I didn’t have a five year old around who was aware and concerned. Monsieur has seen enough of my tears with the migraines over the past few months; he doesn’t need to see more. At least this time I know that there is a massive hormone shift which just makes everything so blue, and, most importantly, I know that it will pass.
I wish it was different for me. I so wish that I could breastfeed. Bottles are a lot more hassle, as is pumping. It would be so nice to have my baby’s source of nourishment on hand at all times, no prep needed. This time though, we have a system in place; a system that took us several months to work out last time. When SnuggleBub and I arrived home from hospital, R had already set up the bottle station:
I shake my head thinking about last time; the mad rush to go and buy bottles and formula, sterilising everything in a big pot on the stove, always heating up the formula. This time we knew that an electric steriliser is worth the money (plus we had kept ours from last time) and babies are perfectly happy with room temperature formula. Past experience has made this time round a much better experience overall. I look back now and can’t believe that I managed to pump for 16 weeks. Making it to four weeks feels like a huge achievement this time.