While I was pregnant, I googled everything I could about breastfeeding and increasing/maintaining supply and pumping to build a stash for when I go back to work. I had a secret pinterest board (so I didn’t bombard anyone’s feed) dedicated to all things breastfeeding related. I asked questions and watched tons of YouTube videos. I thought I had it under control. I was ready.
When Whitlee was born unexpectedly at 34 weeks and we were facing a NICU stay, I never even flinched. I had my friend Kaitlin bring me my breast pump from home (she and her husband came all the way to the hospital to get our house key, went 45 minutes back to our house and back to the hospital again, on her husband’s birthday no less… so blessed to have good friends!) and I started pumping the night she was born. I pumped almost an ounce of colostrum instantly, which was amazing and the nurses told me not to get my hopes up, that an ounce that early was highly unusual. They were right though, the next couple of days I pumped round the clock, every 2 hours and would get anywhere from 10 to 30 ml. On Day 3, my milk came in with force. I was suddenly pumping several ounces every couple of hours. But I was thrilled because while I couldn’t be with my baby all day, every day, and I couldn’t even hold her until she was 6 days old, my body was doing what it could to feed her. I was proud! The more my supply increased and our freezer began to fill up, the more proud I was. We figured out later that an average supply is about 25-30 ounces per day – I was pumping nearly 60!
When she got a little bigger in the NICU, they finally allowed me to try breastfeeding her. She latched the very first try but was a little lazy. She’d fall asleep after not eating very much. But she eventually got the hang of it and she was breastfeeding twice a day when they’d let me and getting pumped breast milk the rest of her feedings. At discharge, they told me I could continue to breastfeed every other feeding but that the rest needed to be breast milk bottles fortified with Similac Neosure to bump it up to 24 calories. (Most breast milk is about 20 calories.) At home, she fought the type of bottles we were using (Avent Naturals) but was still nursing well. Unfortunately, she wasn’t eating enough to empty me because I apparently am part dairy cow. So I was feeding her every 2-3 hours, either by breastfeeding or bottle (that she fought), plus pumping after each breastfeeding session to empty and prevent pain, plus pumping on schedule to keep up my supply. I felt like I was feeding three babies!
At Whitlee’s first pediatrician appt, 2 days post NICU, she hadn’t gained any weight since her discharge. I was working so hard, had an abundant supply, but still no weight gain at a time when it was extremely important. I was so upset.. and exhausted. So the pediatrician and I talked about it and decided I’d stop breastfeeding, but continue pumping and giving her breast milk bottles so that I could take one thing off my plate and also be able to measure everything she was eating. I also visited the NICU and got some of the bottles and nipples she was used to. (A week later, she thankfully had gained more than the appropriate amount of weight. So weight gaining is under control now.)
The same day of that pediatrician appt, I also had a postpartum appt with my OB. I planned the appts so that they were back to back, and Whitlee would only need to eat once while we were out, and I could breastfeed her, meaning I wouldn’t have to pump while we were gone. I have pumped in the car, but it’s a pain to do and keeping milk cold and whatnot is additionally annoying. Well, my OB got called out for a delivery and they rescheduled me for later in the day. I didnt have enough time to go all the way home and pump, so I decided I’d breastfeed her twice while we were out and hope for the best. Keep in mind, I was used to pumping every 2-3 hours with the occasional stretch to 4 hours, but it was nearly 7 hours before I got back to my pump that day. One nightmarish word came of that – Mastitis.
If you’ve ever experienced it, you know the hell I was feeling. If you haven’t, I pray that you don’t. It basically feels like you have the flu with body aches, chills, fever, and nausea plus it felt like I had huge sharp rocks in my boobs where the clogs were, due to not pumping. I was miserable for about 24 hours and it finally eased up. I’d put it on the same hellacious level of being on magnesium sulfate, and you all know I hated that.
Then, for some unfortunate reason, I ended up getting mastitis 3 more times and began battling constant clogs. There have been times when I can feel the knot and can’t work it out. There have been times when holding Whitlee physically hurts because of a clogged duct where she’s laying. Hugging people hurt, laying on anything but my back hurt, sometimes even raising my arms above my head to change shirts hurt. Each round of mastitis came with fever, chills, body aches, and straight misery. I decided to take the advice of all the pregnancy/parenting forums, and go with “happy momma = happy baby” over forcing myself to continue down a painful road. I had an awesome stash built up and due to my oversupply and being prone to mastitis I knew I’d have to wean slowly from pumping and it would probably gain me another month of feeding exclusive breast milk plus the stash would get us another month or more.
So after a roller-coaster of breastfeeding, breast pumping, fortifying bottles, mastitis and exhaustion, I threw in the towel. I feel like all gave it a lot of effort, especially when it mattered most. But Whitlee is growing and gaining weight like crazy (7 lbs 9 oz now!) and our lives are much better with a happy and healthy momma to match her happy and healthy baby girl.
It took me about 2 full weeks start to finish to wean completely but I haven’t pumped in almost a week now. I’m still leaking occasionally, usually when she cries, but I’ve finally put my pump away and started venturing into the freezer stash. We’ve gotten the approval from the pediatrician to make the switch when we run out of breastmilk and we’ll be starting on Enfamil Gentlease. We’ll probably do half breastmilk, half formula at the end to help make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. We’ll still be bumping the calories up to 24 every other bottle. The pediatrician wants us to continue that until 9 months.
So it was a rough road for a little while but I’m happy that I was able to provide breastmilk while she was in the NICU when it mattered most. I’m also happy I was able to stockpile such a good stash to get us another month or so. She should end up getting 3 months of breastmilk before we run out. And I’m mostly happy that she’s growing, she’s healthy, and I’m no longer in pain and can snuggle with her anytime I want without hurting.