14 June 2019

My Breastfeeding Journey & Why I Chose To Exclusively Pump

My breastfeeding journey was rather short lived and definitely not at all what I expected. My son was born almost a month early and as a result his ability to nurse wasn't that great. Obviously, the nurses we're concerned. After trying to nurse him and failing miserably, I started to freak out. He was already so tiny! I just remember the feeling of utter defeat when one of the nurses mentioned formula. I was devastated. I knew my son needed to eat, but formula wasn't something I had planned for. I wanted me time to try but everything I was doing didn't seem to work. I called my midwife in tears and told her the situation. The next thing I knew she was up in my hospital room, speaking to the nurses about donor milk. I cried so many tears of joy.
Once we got the donor milk, Alex & I had to learn how to syringe feed our son the milk until I was able to provide him with my own milk. Alex worked on massaging his cheeks and opening his little mouth to help familiarize him with suckling. In order to kick start my supply I spent a lot of time hooked up to the hospital's breast pump. Before the hospital was able to discharge us, the lactation consultant wanted to make sure that our baby boy was able to nurse. And with the help of a nipple shield he was able to - even if it was a little touch and go. Once we got home from the hospital, he didn't always cooperate with our nursing sessions. When that happened Alex would syringe feed him while I sat next to them in tears, pumping and in. This wasn't what I was promised at all.

Let me tell you something though, that nipple shield was an absolute nightmare but I persevered. Baby boy didn't cooperate that well either. He was so sleepy he'd sleep through his feeding times so I'd have to rouse him. I remember waking him up and trying to get an extremely upset baby to latch. I don’t use “extremely” lightly either. He would get so upset that he would do what Alex & I referred to as “angry baby tai chi”. He would turn red and repeatedly hit himself in the face and knock the nipple shield off. It was sad and incredibly frustrating.

During my whole pregnancy I envisioned a beautiful breastfeeding journey but that wasn't what I got. It was a nightmare but I did it anyway - I managed to breastfeed him. Even if there wasn't anything beautiful about it. I would nurse him and then pump, religiously. He was eating like crazy and I felt like I couldn't keep up physically. I still had to somehow manage to calm him down to nurse. Sometimes it was easy to nurse him and it was beautiful and sweet. But most of the time I struggled to calm him down. Those moments were the absolute worst. Between feeding him every two hours and pumping right after, and the lack of sleep - I was quickly becoming an emotional wreck.
Then at our son's one month visit the pediatrician told me that he was indeed gaining, but just not as quickly as she had hoped. That’s when my anxiety kicked in. He was already so small - and a late term premie - so I started to worry. So I paid for a visit with a lactation consultant. She watched him nurse and did a weighted feed to determine what was going on. Surprisingly he was able to pull 2 1/2oz from one breast but only 1oz from the other. But since he was having to work so hard at the breast, he was burning more calories than what he was taking in. The result? I’d have to feed him every hour and a half AND pump. This was definitely not what I wanted to hear - especially when I was already running on fumes and physically and mentally drained.


I just knew there was no way I could breastfeed every hour and a half and pump afterwards. There was no way! I was already an emotional wreck due to lack of sleep and the postpartum hormones left me feeling quick to anger. I was snapping at Alex and I felt as though I couldn’t even connect with our little one. I knew I couldn’t subject myself to even less sleep, even if it left me feeling like a failure. My baby needed an emotionally sound mama and I also needed to make sure he gained enough weight before his tenotomy surgery (you can read about his clubfoot journey here). Then I remembered one of the girls at the midwifery talk about how she exclusively pumped for her son and thought I could do that too. Besides, what was there to loose?

So instead of switching to formula I decided that the best way to make sure he got what he needed was to start exclusively pumping. The upside was that I would be able to feed him my milk and know exactly how much he was getting. Yes, I was sad about not being able to breastfeed (I actually thought it would kill the bonding experience) and I cried a lot about this decision. But pumping worked and it was so much better for all of us. Plus, no more angry baby! He took to the bottle like a champ.

But then my supply tanked a little, less than a week before our son's surgery - surely due to stress. I had a stash of frozen breast milk, but I knew it wouldn't be enough and I was so worried about him getting the food he so desperately needed. I panicked and realized I had to make a very difficult decision. I weighed my options and decided to supplement with formula. It was really hard to come to that decision. It hurt and I felt awful when I headed to the store with my mother in law. But deep down I knew that fed is best, no matter what my mom-quilt wanted me to believe.

Once we had formula on board I was able to alternate between giving our little one bottles of my expressed milk and bottles of formula. I continued this for almost two weeks until I noticed that my supply was magically coming back. That first day that I was able to give him expressed milk for all of his feedings felt SO GOOD. And thankfully it's something that I've been able to continue. It still shocks me that I am able to feed him and still add to my freezer stash at the same time.

It's been over three months and I'm still exclusively pumping milk for my son and he is thriving. This journey isn't what I thought it would be (at all) but it's definitely what works best for us. Sure, it didn't come anywhere close as to what I had planned for but it's still something beautiful because I am able to give my son what he needs. And honestly, I feel like I've been able to bond with him a lot more because of it. Perhaps it's because I'm no longer a zombie due to the lack of sleep that comes from being a new mom or maybe it's because I'm no longer fighting with a crying baby, forcing him to nurse.

Sometimes I feel like my breastfeeding story was doomed from the start. And I’m sure some people might think I failed somehow or that I didn’t want it bad enough to keep trying. But screw that. I didn’t quit without trying - my nipples bled and sometimes breastfeeding hurt so bad that I wanted to scream and run away. It wasn't beautiful to me, it wasn't serving me or my family, so I found something better that worked for all of us. All I did was seek out the best way to feed my son.

But here's the other thing: even if our only option was formula, I would still view it as a victory. Pregnancy and childbirth and feeding is something that we don't really have any control over. It's incredibly personal and what works for one person won't always work for another. What makes us good mothers is the ability to see what is best for our babies and our family and to do whatever we can to reach that ultimate goal. Breastfeeding, exclusively pumping or formula feeding - it doesn't matter. As long as your baby gets what they need, it is still something magical.

Now I don’t know how long I’ll exclusively pump for. At first, my goal was to exclusively pump for three months, now it's morphed into six months. But who knows how I'll feel come six months, maybe I'll go the full year! What I do know is that I have given myself room to be open minded and to give myself grace if I ever decide that this path of exclusively pumping is no longer serving me. And thanks to science, I have a backup plan by the name of formula.

If you're reading this and you have questions about exclusively pumping, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm not an expert by any means but the sites I've listed below are fantastic resources.
Exclusive Pumping
Kelly Mom


  1. Thanks for sharing this journey with us. I'm sure there are readers who need to read this and know that you are right... As long as your baby gets what they need, it is still something magical. xoxox

  2. You are such a good mommy. And Cooper is such a little champ! He showed up an entire month early, finished growing, AND learned how to be alive. He got more accomplished in a few months than most of my coworkers combined.

    I wasn’t that emotionally invested in breastfeeding and I still had a few guilt pangs when I stopped even though intellectually I was perfectly confident about stopping; thank you, Outside Pressure on Deeply Personal Things. For me, I needed to regain a sliver of autonomy in order to be a good mom (and in order to not kill Diego in an exhaustion-induced rage.) Taking my nipples out of the equation didn’t magically make everything perfect but it did help A LOT.

    Also that is such a great picture of you two – your face is so perfect for this blog post haha!

    1. Thanks, Elle. It's always nice to hear I'm a good mom.

      You're right - Cooper's my superhero.

      That outside pressure can be incredibly heavy. I completely understand and can relate to needing some autonomy. Thank you for your comment. <3