When my son arrived I became an ‘exclusively pumping mum’. That means that he didn’t nurse directly from my breast and he didn’t drink formula milk either. Instead, I used my double electric breast pump to express milk for him, which he drank from a bottle.
I didn’t know this way of feeding was a possibility before my little boy arrived and I’m telling my story in case it helps another mum out there, who is struggling to breastfeed in the typical way, because there are alternative solutions available. It doesn’t have to be a straight choice between breast milk and formula milk.
Feeding your baby
You’ve heard the phrase: ‘fed is best’, but I hate those words. Fed isn’t best. Fed is a basic requirement. What’s best is a mother being empowered to feed her baby how she wants. It doesn’t matter what feeding solution she goes for, but it does matter that the decision she makes is supported.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I’m not sure why. But I felt, within my core that this was something I wanted to do.
Some people didn’t understand why I was so adamant. But I don’t understand why some mums insist on only using renewable nappies. Cloth bums aren’t my thing. I know it’s an amazing thing to do for the environment, but it’s not my preference. However, I fully respect parents that do go for cloth bums. Just like I respect breastfeeding mothers, bottle feeding mothers, combination feeders, exclusive pumpers and everything in between. In my mind, if mother and baby are happy and healthy, then all is well in the world.
So there I was, wanting to breastfeed and reading books about it and attending antenatal courses before my baby’s arrival. But of course nothing can fully prepare you and nobody knows how their baby’s birth will play out.
Arthur’s grand entrance
I won’t go into the ins and outs of what happened during Arthur’s birth. But, I was induced and it failed, so he was born via caesarean section. However, due to some previous abdominal surgery, I was in a bit of a mess, inside, so the doctors set to work at putting me back together. This meant that I was in surgery for around three hours. During the bulk of that time, Arthur was having skin-on-skin time with his dad.
As soon as I was through the surgery, I was reunited with my darling baby boy. We had skin-on-skin time and I was able to feed him from the breast.
Back on the ward, the nurse explained that if I wanted to breastfeed Arthur, I’d have to do it every three hours, so that’s what I did. But he struggled to latch, so I was expressing milk, using the ward’s double electric breast pump. I would then syringe the milk to my son.
I spend another five days in hospital, mainly because I was trying to master feeding. It wasn’t easy. I got lots of help and support though. Help that continued when I came out of hospital, when Breastfeeding Together (a local group, stepped in to help).
I didn’t choose the double electric breast pump life…
As time went on, it became clear that breastfeeding wasn’t going to work for me and Arthur. But I really wanted to give him as much of my milk as I could. So I continued to express, trying a number of breast pump solutions. I wanted to find a double electric breast pump that would help me to express as much milk as possible. After asking other ‘pumping mums’ what model they used, I saw that the Spectra S1 Double Electric Breast Pump had lots of recommendations, so I decided to invest in one.
My pumping experience
I used my Spectra pump six times per day, for six months. Arthur only had my breast milk for the first twelve weeks of his life and at that stage, I introduced one bottle of formula per day.
Pumping was hard. Some days I felt like that machine dictated my life. But I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t forever and it was enabling me to give my son the gift I’d wanted to. Milk.
Arthur’s daddy had to pitch in too. Quite often he’d be feeding Arthur at 3am, whilst I was attached to the breast pump. In the day, play dates and family visits were arranged around pumping times and when I visited loved ones, I’d often escape to the spare room to express.
When Arthur got to six months, we started to wean him and at this stage I decided to pack the pump away. It was a decision that I virtually made overnight. But I felt that the pump had served its purpose and I was ready to leave it behind. I had a frozen stash of milk though, so Arthur got one breast-milk feed daily, between the ages of six and nine months.
When I look back on that period, if I’m being honest, I realise that I pushed myself pretty hard. I was hooked up to my breast pump a lot and I put a lot of pressure on myself to produce that milk. In retrospect I think I could have worked some extra formula feeds into our routine.
That said, I am glad that I found a way of feeding my son that worked for me and my family. Being able to feed Arthur my breast milk, despite not being able to breastfeed in the traditional sense, made me feel empowered and I’ll forever be grateful for the support that the midwives at my local hospital and the volunteers at Breastfeeding Together gave me. I was sent a certificate to congratulate me on giving my baby breast milk for six weeks. I remember that felt like such an achievement at the time and I still have it, tucked away in Arthur’s keepsake box.
Advice for others
So if you want to breastfeed, but it doesn’t quite work for you, then there are alternative solutions. Ask for help, speak to your local midwife and find out what resources are available in your local area.
But please be kind to yourself. Being able to feed your baby in the way that you want to is important, but so is your mental health.