Mother Sider Pearl is in one of the Facebook breastfeeding support groups that we are part of. Her posts when her son, William, was born were indicative of how frustrating and difficult breastfeeding can be, especially in those early days. Despite trying just about everything she could think of to safeguard their breastfeeding journey, nothing seemed to help. For the first six months of his life, however, Pearl exclusively pumped for William; something that we are in total awe of – expressing is exhausting and time consuming!
Exclusive pumping is much more commonplace in the US, where mamas want to breastfeed but are often forced back to work after just six weeks (!), due to a shocking lack of maternity rights. However, there is support out there for exclusive pumpers in the UK, as detailed at the end of Pearl’s post.
The difference between Pearl’s first letter and the second and third below is incredible. They sum up perfectly the rollercoaster of motherhood and the positivity exuding from Letters Two and Three is wonderful to see.
Thank you, Pearl, for sharing these private and candid letters with us. William is a lucky chap indeed!
My darling William,
You are now eight weeks old, and are sleeping next to me contentedly. I, meanwhile, am crying – again. About breastfeeding – again. You have never been able to grasp it: you don’t open your mouth wide enough and you just suck on my nipple which is excruciating. We have tried everything – I had help from midwives at the hospital when you were born and on our home visit at 5 days old. I visited breastfeeding specialists at the Health Visitor’s office and at the Breastfeeding Café. I attended a La Leche League meeting and had a home visit from their leader, bought and read their book on breastfeeding. I sought advice from the Facebook groups for breastfeeding mums, and watched every YouTube video about latching and positioning; read every forum, blog and article about how to get you to open your mouth wider. We visited a cranial osteopath twice – she released some tension in your head and advised me to give up dairy because of the congestion in your face, which could be affecting your jaw. We later found out that your high palate causes your raspiness. Which was good because the dairy-free chocolate cookies I bought did not taste good.
We visited a specialist breastfeeding consultant who performs frenectomies – we saw her once to help with our positioning, and returned three weeks later to have your tongue cut to see if it helped with the high palate. It didn’t help because you still didn’t open your mouth wide enough. We moved to using nipple shields some, and then all of the time. It worked at first, but then you began to cry more, and I cried more, and you never settled. At six weeks old it was taking me between 6 and 8 hours to get you to sleep. I later found out it was because you were hungry. Your nappies became green, and you dropped 20 percentiles on the weight chart, although you were still a super healthy weight; my gorgeous bonny baby. But you still cried and cried. So we bought some bottles and moved to exclusive expressing – and you began to settle!! Suddenly this happy gorgeous little boy emerged. I was pumping round the clock – for two days while I waited for a hospital grade double pump to arrive it took me six hours of pumping a day to keep you fed. I missed cuddles with you because I had to pump all the time. Once the new pump arrived, I carried on trying you on the breast for two nights for some cluster feeds, but the pain was so much I cried and had to do my birth breathing just to get through ten minutes. I cut holes in my bra so I could go hands free while pumping, but I still couldn’t cuddle you because of the pump and funnels. I pumped and pumped and pumped – I was forever looking at the clock, worrying about when you would wake up and whether I had enough food for you, timing my pumps so I could at least get some sleep, scrutinising every squirt of milk that came out and how many millilitres I was getting. We gave you three or four formula feeds when I couldn’t keep up with your two-hourly feeds, and I cried because of the guilt. I bought Fenugreek tablets and ate porridge to try and increase my milk supply. We were awake so much during the night – feeding and winding you and pumping, that some days I couldn’t face leaving my bed until lunchtime. We booked swimming lessons for you once you reached four months old, but I worried about how we would go out and do activities when I had to pump all the time.
The last two days you have begun to cry more after feeding – we winded you and winded you, plied you with Infacol and gripe water, bought anti colic bottles and a special valve teat. Nothing seemed to work. And then I thought – could you possibly, still, be hungry? And lo and behold, you were. We gave you extra milk, and bingo. I was happy for two minutes as you finally slept peacefully beside me, and then I cried, because I knew then that I couldn’t possibly keep up with your demand just on breast milk. And I can’t go on feeling such a failure. You are the most gorgeous, wonderful little boy and your Daddy (who is the greatest, by the way – you are so lucky to have him as your Daddy!!) and I absolutely adore you. When you smile it warms our hearts, and we are already making exciting plans about your future. Your Daddy has been wonderfully supportive, my absolute rock and I love him more than ever. But I am not sure that we can do much more to make breastfeeding work for us, and so although I will try to give you as much expressed breast milk as I can, I will eventually have to call time on that part of your early life and move forward with formula.
I’m telling you this because I want you to understand just how hard I’ve tried, and how much I wanted it to work. I am so excited for our future and I want to enjoy our time together and end this sadness. Hopefully one day you will forgive me and know that I really did do my best. I will carry on trying to be the best mother I can be.
Love, Mummy xxx
You are now four months old, and I have just read back on my first letter to you. How things have changed. We are still expressing, managing 36 ounces a day which means five out of your six feeds are breastmilk. We’ve got into our own little pumping schedule, five times a day, with some time during the day to get out of the house and see our new mummy and baby friends. I cannot believe we’ve got this far. We had that first swimming lesson today; and it went brilliantly. You loved the water and didn’t even cry when we dunked you under! And you had some yummy mummy’s milk afterwards.
Looking back on my first letter, I can see how stressed I had let myself become. As soon as I accepted that breastfeeding wasn’t going to work for us, and that even with expressing you may need the odd formula, I relaxed – and produced more milk! My favourite pump of the day is in the morning. I have this moment where the dishwasher, washing machine, and steriliser are all on, churning, steaming and whirring away. You’re having your morning nap in your pram and I’ve managed to have a shower. The house is peaceful and I look forward to whatever class or outing we have planned that day. And I sit down with a cup of tea and pump away. Of course by the end of the day things are much more manic and I’m normally found with a crusty muslin over my shoulder manically rocking the pram and panicking about finding time to cook dinner. But we get through each day and the weeks slip by. You get bigger and giggle more, learning something new every day.
Your Daddy and I spend lots of time thinking about your future – our family holidays, your school days, who you’ll end up looking like. I’ve decided not to set a date to finish pumping. I’ve had many days of blocked ducts where I declare that I can’t do it anymore. But those are always the wrong days to quit on.
Most importantly I’ve learnt to let go a little bit. I love to plan and be organised, and to get things right. But being a mum is so far away from that, and I’m slowly learning a new way of thinking. Success for me means something so different to before. It’s those little daily achievements and seeing your beautiful smile in the morning.
Lots of love, Mummy xxx
My darling William
You are nearly six months! And we are only just winding down the pumping. It has gotten exhausting. I am missing spending time with you, we move house soon and have our first holiday with you in a few months’ time. I was poorly two weeks ago with tonsillitis – my throat was on fire and I could hardly move with the pain. I wasn’t eating or pumping much and so my milk supply plummeted. So I felt it was a good time to begin weaning from the pump, especially as we are about to start some solid foods.
We are down to just two pumps a day now, although I have kept up the Fenegreek and although it drops every day, at the minute I am still making you one or two bottles of breastmilk a day. The others are formula.
I am so proud we have got this far. What a journey!! I finally feel at peace with our breastfeeding relationship. Pumping was never my plan but to think you have had 80%-90% breastmilk for these six months even when you wouldn’t latch has given me such pleasure. Thank you for being an angel child, so calm and contented, sleeping well and being a good boy while I have pumped.
We are starting some solids in two weeks and I can’t wait! Smashed bananas and avocados I think we will start with. And I’ve frozen some breastmilk into ice cube trays to mix with some baby porridge. I am getting some breastmilk jewellery to celebrate our journey, and then the pump is getting packed up and sent back to Medela. The next stage begins!
Love you Poppet xxx
PEARL’S TOP TIPS FOR EXCLUSIVE PUMPERS
- GET THE RIGHT KIT – If you’re going to frequently express, you will need a hospital grade double electric pump, and a pumping bustier that you can wrap around your clothes. The double pump will maximise your output in the shortest time possible and the bustier will let you eat dinner, do your make up or rock the pram at the same time.
- FREQUENCY AND DURATION – Pump as much as you can in the early days, ideally every two hours, and for at least 20 minutes, ideally 30 minutes at a time. This is especially important if you have struggled with breastfeeding as your supply may have taken a hit. It can be difficult to up your supply after 12 weeks postpartum and so bear this in mind if you start to decrease your pumps before then.
- REFRIDGERATE YOUR PUMP PARTS – One of the greatest pieces of advice to save yourself time! As breastmilk is fine in the fridge for several days, it follows that you can refrigerate your pump parts and not
have to wash them each time. Get two sets of pump parts, use each for two or three pumps before a good hot soapy wash, and refrigerate in-between.
- GET A MINI FRIDGE AND COMMIT TO THE NIGHT PUMP – Prolactin levels are highest between 2am and 5am, so you must get a good pump in during that time. If baby isn’t waking for a feed then it can be tough, but it’s the most important pump of the day in terms of supply. We bought a mini fridge for our bedroom to store all the pump parts and expressed milk during the night. It saved my sanity as I wasn’t having to traipse down to the kitchen at 3am.
- SET SMALL, REALISTIC GOALS – Exclusively pumping is seriously hard work; emotionally and physically. It is really, really exhausting and frustrating at times. So setting small, realistic goals is important. Once I accepted that William may need one formula a day so I could leave the house I relaxed immediately and everything became a lot easier. I knew if I reached three months expressing I would be happy, and once we got into our routine, it flew by.
- SEEK SUPPORT – See above: it’s an emotional rollercoaster! There are some great Facebook groups for exclusive expressers with all the tips imaginable about different pumps, increasing supply and weaning, storing and freezing milk, and pumping while out and about. There are thousands of women across the world expressing milk for their babies and there is a whole community out there ready to help you on your way. I absolutely would not have got as far as I did without them.
There are some great support groups on Facebook for Exclusive Pumpers. These sites are also very useful:
Pearl, writing for The Mother Side xx