We all know that fed is best but there is one method of feeding babies – exclusive pumping – that I don’t think gets nearly enough credit. I should know. I did it for my first and I’m currently doing it for my second.
In fact, even as I write this, I’m hooked up to a breast pump. The distinctive mechanical sound it makes has become the soundtrack of my life these past few months. I simultaneously love that I found a way to feed my newborn my breast milk and absolutely hate the process that it takes to do so.
And such is life for the exclusive pumper.
I never even knew exclusively pumping and bottle feeding was an option until a no-nonsense NICU nurse watched me struggle to breastfeed my newborn son, who was born at 34 weeks. She pulled me aside and said, “I know you want to breastfeed. I know you want your baby to get your milk. I also know that he has a weak latch but he can suck down a bottle with no problem. Have you considered pumping and feeding him bottles? You can also measure – to the ounce – how much he eats which might give you a little peace of mind as a premie mama.”
It seemed like a no-brainer but I honestly had no idea what I was truly in for.
In a way, that early decision that I made for my child, and letting go of the idyllic expectations I had set for feeding him (I had always pictured myself in a plush Pottery Barn glider, gently rocking and humming lullabies to a nursing baby) was the perfect metaphor for motherhood. It’s not even close to how you imagined it and you have to constantly adjust, make hard decisions, and ultimately let your baby guide the way. Goodbye control, hello chaos.
That’s essentially what exclusive pumping is – it’s organized chaos. It’s having a set plan: I’m going to run errands for the next two hours and get home in time to get the baby down for a nap and pump for 20 minutes. But the reality is that I hit construction on my way home, my boobs felt like they might explode, so I ended up pumping in the parking lot of a Walmart with a baby screaming bloody murder in the backseat.
I plan my entire day around a pumping schedule that is nearly impossible to stick to (because – newborns).
I spend more time hanging out with my pump than I do hanging out with my husband. I’m married to a piece of machinery that milks me like a freaking dairy cow. I basically don’t leave the house without my pump and pump parts. I pump at family functions; I excuse myself to pump in the bathroom on rare nights out with my girlfriends; I pump in the middle of the night when the rest of my house is quietly getting the rest I so desperately crave.
It’s exhausting. It’s annoying. It’s an insane commitment. Most days – it’s akin to an odd form of self-inflicted torture.
But being an exclusive pumper is also incredibly gratifying.
The other day as I was staring at my 10-week-old daughter, marveling at the rate she is growing, it dawned on me that all that growth and development and life was still coming from my body – and right back to hers. She grew inside of me for all that time but even on the outside, we are still deeply connected.
I pump, therefore I am. I pump, therefore she is too.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how I chose to feed my baby. What does matter is that exclusively pumping is just one small chapter in this selfless book we call motherhood.
So if you’re an exclusive pumper just like me, I want you to know that I see you. I think you’re amazing. And I promise – your nipples will recover.