‘This is not how I thought it would be'
Most people would probably agree, becoming a parent is not exactly as we thought it would be. Our expectations and the reality of the experience can be anything from a little misaligned to completely poles apart from what we thought it would be. Your feeding journey with your baby is one of these experiences that isn’t always the way we thought it would be. It can be harder, more challenging and not the ‘natural’ experience we may have assumed it should be. Sometimes before we start on this path, we have no idea of the gravity of emotions it brings with it. When asked, ‘how are you going to feed your baby’?, many often reply,
‘Of course, I’ll try to breastfeed but if it doesn’t work out, never mind, I’ll have tried and ensuring my baby is fed is what is most important’.
When breastfeeding doesn't work out
Then along comes our baby and the decision to breastfeed, or stop breastfeeding isn’t as easy as we thought! For some of us it suddenly feels like the most important thing in the world, that there is this primal instinct we didn’t know existed and when its not going to plan, it just isn’t as straightforward as, ‘never mind I tried’. Feelings of guilt and disappointment are often lurking around the corner when you become a parent, the journey of how we feed our baby is awash with many complex emotions.
I have supported many women with infant feeding, be it breast or bottle, and it’s never just about the feeding, it’s about empowering informed choice and helping them to find their confidence as a mother. It’s a very privileged role to have. When it doesn’t work out, no one can take away those feelings of guilt, disappointment or resentment from you, but knowing that you aren’t alone, that it wasn’t your fault and trying to find the positives in your situation may help a little towards being able to accept where you are right now.
The journey of exclusively expressing breastmilk for your baby can be one of those deviations from the feeding experience we expected to have. Hannah has written a lovely blog post all about her and her family’s experience of exclusive pumping, when a breastfeeding journey doesn’t go to plan.
Thank you Hannah for sharing with us.
Our daughter Lyra Beau was born in April 2021.
Our feeding journey started in the delivery suite, with support from the midwives Lyra Beau latched but only fed for a short while.
The beautiful moment when baby is meant to latch straight away, and that special bonding moment occurs, did not happen for us.
Lyra Beau is our second baby together and I had successfully breastfed Grayson for two years without any major complications.
Grayson was initially tube fed in NICU for the first few weeks and I pumped around the clock until he was able to latch and maintain a feed at around 6 weeks.
Maybe I naively thought our journey with Lyra Beau would be the same, but every baby is so different, and Lyra Beau really was not interested in latching, instead happily taking expressed milk via a syringe.
The start of pumping
So there became our new normal. I was hand expressing every 2/3 hours. I had lots of support within the hospital to attempt breastfeeding but Lyra had other ideas.
I continued to hand express every 2/3 hours around the clock to ensure Lyra Beau received colostrum.
Day 3 when my milk came in, I started expressing with a hospital double pump and that’s really where our pumping journey starts….
We tried different feeding positions, different rooms & sounds, nipple shields, day & night feeding but Lyra Beau just couldn’t sustain a successful latch, which resulted in a very unsettled and distraught baby at times.
Slowly becoming quite despondent after four weeks of literally trying everything, we contacted a lactation specialist who was so valuable in knowledge & calmness and quickly realised, that Lyra Beau had a tongue tie; this sadly was missed by our health visiting team, very frustrating when you put faith into professionals for their knowledge.
We contacted the hospital where Lyra Beau was born, luckily they ran a tongue tie clinic and the team on maternity were able to assess her within a week of the referral.
They found that Lyra Beau had an anterior tongue tie and we agreed it would be the best thing for her to have the tongue tie corrected. Although slightly traumatic to observe, it was over within seconds and her tears soon changed to calmness and she latched successfully straight after and managed to feed.
I felt like a failure
Our happiness was sadly short lived as Lyra Beau wouldn’t latch again once home, despite the best efforts throughout the night; the worry that she’d become dehydrated spurred an absolutely exhausted middle of the night decision to express for her – thankfully she fed which resulted in one happy, contented and most importantly fed baby.
Although my heart was breaking inside and the feeling of failing crept up repeatedly, I knew that she was still being fed, albeit not the way I had hoped and planned for.
Not wanting to completely give up just yet, and as one final last resort to get the calm latch and contented breastfeeding, we opted for cranial osteopathic sessions, it was magical! The session was so calming and relaxing, that my fractious baby when trying to latch and feed, latched without any effort, and fed for 40 mins, the longest feed that we had achieved for 6 weeks.
It is a moment I’ll always cherish, and that breastfeeding bond made me feel complete – like I’d achieved my purpose as her mummy.
I managed to capture those magical moments in photographs, a reminder that above everything, I tried everything.
Fast forward to April 2022 Lyra Beau is about to turn 1 year old, a full 12 months of pumping has taken my every effort, grit & determination, unconditional support from my wife who played a huge part in my support, whether it was snacks in the night, someone to chat to at 3 am, supporting & empowering my decisions, she was there and we got there together – the three of us.
My breastfeeding journey had turned into our exclusively pumping journey and Lyra Beau was my little pumpling
I have pumped around the clock every 3/4 hours for the last year and even managed to build up a supply in our freezer. I have power pumped to increase supply when needed, I have tried lactations cookies & drank litres of water. I have cried mummy guilt tears & I have cried happy tears.
Pumping is hard work
I would love to sit here and say it has been a breeze but it has been hard work.
Trying to find the time to pump, trying to stay awake through the early hours and not make ridiculous purchases off eBay or Amazon has been hard.
There have been times where I’ve felt like giving up and there have been times that I felt immensely proud of our journey and how far we’ve come.
The commitment to exclusive pumping is full time and planning for pumping sessions when out and about can be tricky, but I’ve even managed to squeeze in some public pumping sessions.
Lyra Beau is thriving & she is continuing to gain weight.
Find others on this journey
I found a lot of support online through pumping support groups; they have lots of ideas but sadly there were not any actual face to face groups within our area; this would have been of huge benefit if you are exclusively pumping, I found other mums breast or bottle feeding, sadly couldn’t relate to what we were experiencing and it was a journey we were making alone with Lyra Beau.
We have made it to 1 year, something I didn’t think was even possible at the start.
I had set realistic goals of 3 months then, 6 months, I didn’t even dare think it was possible to reach 12 months.
Most importantly, from the early days of hand expressing to full time pumping it’s been a rewarding journey, and one that has allowed me to feed my baby my milk.
We’ve absolutely smashed baby-led weaning and as I reach my goal of 12 months, I can honestly say I now cannot wait to retire my pumps.
To anyone starting this journey, be gentle with yourself, you are not a failure. Your baby is fed and that is the most important thing.
Take each pumping session at a time and allow yourself to be proud of your journey and what you are achieving.
Pumping is a full-time commitment but a commitment that is full of rewards.