When I found out I was pregnant, I already knew that “breast is best” when it came to feeding your baby. Even if I didn’t, they would have let me know at my first birthing class. I was so excited to experience the “golden hour” after my child’s birth bonding and experiencing that magical first latch. Pumping was only something I was going to do when I had to go back to work. I knew there was a chance I may have to supplement due to a previous surgery, but I didn’t imagine it would be all that much. Maybe just a top off. Oh yes, I had all the plans.
And then my son was born 6 weeks early.
And then my milk didn’t come in right away.
We tried to nurse, we really did. During Samuel’s stint in the NICU, I was on a first-name basis with the lactation consultants. But my son would get tired out just from trying and fall asleep without eating. He needed to eat to grow and he needed to grow to go home. And so, I became a pumping mama. Every 2-3 hours I hooked myself up and pumped the milk out of my breasts and into bottles to feed Sam.
I realized quickly that I would be an “undersupplier.” Earlier in my life, I made the choice to have a breast reduction surgery. While it was and is the best thing I did for my overall well-being and quality of life, I knew there would be a risk in regards to breastfeeding my future child. Fast forward to now; the lactation consultants were amazed I was able to make milk at all. And even though it was a choice I made, it bothered me that I couldn’t feed my child. So we started supplementing with formula, and I began to search for ways to up my supply.
Soon, pumping and ways to increase the number of ounces I was pumping consumed my life. In order to make 14 ounces a day, just over half of what Samuel was eating, I had to hook up for two and a half hours, ideally every 3-4 hours. Of course, that wasn’t always realistic and some days I made less, which only made me feel worse. I tried all the tricks to up my supply: oatmeal, herbal supplements, malt Ovaltine, extra carbs, teas. All it did was up my body fat, which, once again, made me feel worse.
And then I got the flu. My 14-15 ounces a day dropped to eight in the blink of an eye. I was still hooked up for two and half hours a day, often with my baby sitting in front of me in his swing, looking at me like, “Mama, why aren’t you holding me?” It ate away at me, how insufficient I was at being my son’s mother. At least, that’s what I told myself.
Finally, when my son turned six months old, I made the decision to stop pumping. I cried every time I pumped and every time he ate a bottle of breastmilk. I saved some from my “bigger producing” days and said I would use them for when he needed extra love. As it turned out, quitting pumping allowed me to give him the extra love myself. I was able to snuggle for 30 minutes every 3-4 hours instead of putting him in his crib. I only had to get up in the middle of the night when he did. I was able to let go of the idea that I was inadequate, because I was finally completely present.
I can count on one hand the number of times my son nursed and they’re precious memories to me. But, maybe, there isn’t one single “best” way to feed baby and it’s okay to let go of the perfect plan you had and accept the plan that makes you your baby’s best mama now.