I hadn’t fully decided whether I was going to formula feed or breast feed when I became pregnant. Because she was three and a half months early, I committed to breast feeding. My decision was based on such factors as the lower incidence of NEC among babies that received breast milk and shorter NICU stays on average for breast fed preemies. I was informed of all these things by one of Charlie’s doctors the first time I saw Charlie… Two days after her birth.
After the consult, I was deemed well enough to pump. So began my over zealous attempt at pumping. I was aware that it took a few days for the milk to come in. Like a well disciplined soldier, starting from two days after Charlie’s birth, I pumped every two hours as the lactation consultant instructed. The lactation consultants would visit twice a day and ask “anything yet?” Finally, after three days of pumping… COLOSTRUM! It was only a few drops. A tenth of a mL according to the syringe used to collect it. However, it was enough to encourage and further motivate me.
After a week of pumping, I was finally discharged with a hospital grade breast pump. On the way home, I bought a small cooler to transport the copious amounts of breast milk to the NICU that I was sure I was going to produce. I stocked up with Snappies and syringes in which to collect the milk. I was ready to be a dairy cow for my baby.
I followed the instructions from the lactation consultants flawlessly. I pumped every two hours with a rented hospital grade pump for at least fifteen minutes. The drops of colostrum had changed to drops of milk. However, it was never more than a couple mL each attempt.
Every morning, I turned in my carefully labeled syringes before scrubbing up to go visit my baby. There always seemed to be some other mom turning in what seemed like gallons of breast milk at the same time. They were the same moms that I would see with over flowing snappies in the pumping room. I hated those mothers. I envied those mothers.
The first two weeks, no one other than the lactation consultants paid attention that I was only making a few mL a day. It changed when Charlie was being taken off TPN. The doctors were going to try a transpyloric feed at .2 mL an hour. That is when things became stressful and out right crazy.
Every person I came in contact with wanted to know how the pumping was going. It was a question that became part of the greeting “Hello Rebecca, how is the pumping going?” There was only one answer that was acceptable: “Swell, I’m making exorbitant amounts of milk.” Any other answer resulted in a meeting with a lactation consultant.
At first, I tried to use these meetings as a resource. I attempted to trouble shoot why it would not work. I experimented with different ideas. I used a variety of sizes of flanges, brought home Charlie’s blanket so I could smell it while I pumped, and pumped immediately after the rare occasions I got to hold Charlie. Nothing seemed to work. These consultation sessions changed from helpful trouble shooting into accusations that I wasn’t trying or was not working hard enough at it. Each session concluded with a lecture on how breast was best.
A few days after Charlie began transpyloric feeds, a doctor approached me. They were running low on what little milk I supplied and requested I sign the permission forms for her to receive donor milk. I cried as I signed the forms. My body failed at having a healthy pregnancy, I have failed Charlie again at providing nourishment. I was 0 – 2 so far as a mother. I had never tried so hard nor wanted something so badly and yet failed miserably.
Despite this set back, I kept pumping and the lactation consultants had become pestering shadows. I felt like they had a sixth sense to know when I was in the hospital. If I was in the hospital, there was a lactation consultant trying to meet with me.
After desperately trying to pump for six weeks, I decided to stop one night. I was fatigued from NICU life, from the sadness and mourning of having a micropreemie, from the isolation and loneliness, from the fear of losing my baby, and from the lack of sleep that comes with pumping every two hours. I decided I had enough of the pumping experience. I was done. So what if my baby received donor milk?
I told my husband about my decision after he asked, “Aren’t you going to pump before bed?” He was a little bothered but he supported my decision. He saw first hand how miserable the whole experience had been for me. I slept all night for the first time since I was hospitalized for preeclampsia.
At the hospital, word spread quickly in the NICU that I stopped pumping. The nurses were very supportive. A few told me that many micro preemie moms can’t breast feed or pump. My OB/GYN said he didn’t think I was going to be able to produce milk because of the severity of preeclampsia, the BP meds, and my baby being in the NICU. The lactation consultants were not so understanding.
They kept insisting that I pump. At first, I made up some excuse so they would leave me alone. But, it didn’t work for long.
The final straw happened during a precious moment of kangaroo care. During Charlie’s first two months, kangaroo care opportunities were sparse and meager. The lactation consultant decided to discuss my milk shortage during one of those rare kangaroo sessions with Charlie. I became angry. How dare she encroach on such a sacred time?
I politely but firmly explained that I stopped pumping and my baby would receive donor milk. She responded that now the pressure is off that I should try pumping. She continued to say stress can make milk production low. She repeated the breast is best indoctrination which I had heard about one hundred times. I was so furious that I was crying. I just wanted her to go away. I barked, “Then why are you bitches riding my ass?!?!”
It wasn’t a moment of class nor grace on my part. Nevertheless, pumping was never mentioned to me again by anyone in the hospital.
I feel like I should conclude by expressing my gratitude for the selfless women who donate to milk banks. My baby was able to receive breast milk because of their generosity. As it turned out, milk banks (and later, formula) were what was best for me and my baby.
I support every mother in whatever choice they make to feed their baby.