Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breast milk

If you're at all squeamish or uncomfortable reading about breastfeeding, pumping, or breast milk, this post is not for you! Please keep in mind as you read that I am keenly aware that breastfeeding is a very sensitive and emotional topic for many women, and I will try my hardest not to offend or make anyone feel badly. Everyone is different, has different opinions and different experiences. I simply wish to share my experience in hopes that it might encourage or uplift others in similar situations.

After Elsie was born, and the nurse came into my recovery room with the breast pump for the first time, I was still kinda in shock with the whole situation but I followed her orders dutifully and started pumping. When I went to bed that night, she asked if I wanted her to come wake me up in the middle of the night so that I could pump. "Wake me up in the middle of the night to pump?? Is she crazy?" I thought to myself. "No no," I told the nurse, "I'll set an alarm on my phone. You don't need to come wake me." I chuckled to myself as she left, believing my lie, because who in their right mind would wake up in the middle of the night to pump? Certainly not me. I had just been through a nightmare of a premature delivery, and I wanted to sleep and forget the whole thing.

At least, that was what I tried to convince myself. But as I thought through it and faced reality, I realized that if I was going to be serious about pumping and trying to get my milk to come in to feed my baby, that I needed to be dedicated from this moment on. I would do what it takes, I would try my hardest.

So I woke up in the middle of the night, and I pumped. When the first little drops of colostrum appeared in the bottle, I was thrilled. I walked myself down the hall to the NICU and triumphantly handed the precious liquid to Elsie's nurse. This simple act of motherhood was sometimes the one and only thing that I could do for my baby. I couldn't hold her, I was nervous to touch her delicate skin, I was scared to even change her tiny diaper amid the tubes, cords, and monitors. But here was one very important thing that I, and only I could do for Elsie. It was empowering.

From that moment on, I was a full-time pumper of milk. Every three hours on the dot, I would hook up to my pump and milk away. It helped that Elsie was on a three-hour care schedule; that helped me remember and to focus on why I was doing what I was doing. Whether I was at home or at the hospital, Elsie received her feedings and I pumped at the same time: 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm, 2am, and 5am. After the first few days, I ditched the 2am pump because I can't function on three hour periods of sleep. I also scooted the 11pm pump a little closer to 10pm, so that I could go to bed a bit earlier.

I got pretty handy at multi-tasking while pumping. Evje got used to me walking around the house with the breast pump attached. Good thing she's so young and hopefully won't remember all of this, or else the poor thing might be scarred for life. I made breakfast while pumping, read bedtime stories while pumping, watched Evs take a bath while pumping. Watched lots of movies and read lots of books and surfed the internet lots and lots while pumping. Clayton gave me a Nook tablet on my 30th birthday, and that handy internet device provided hours of entertainment while pumping. Pumping milk became part of my routine, part of my life. I was happy and proud to deliver bags full of the plastic 2.5oz bottles to the NICU freezer.

But. Keep in mind what was going on with Elsie during the first few weeks of her life. She was so tiny and could only take a few milliliters of milk every three hours. Then she wasn't pooping, and they didn't know why, and feeding milk was suspended for a time until they figured out what was wrong. Once she was cleared to start milk again, they fed her very small amounts very slowly and cautiously until they were sure that her underdeveloped digestive system could handle it. In the meantime, I was pumping like crazy and milk was starting to pile up. Our shelf in the NICU freezer was full. Our freezer at home was full. Our deep freeze in the garage was starting to get full. And so, a tiny bit of depression crept into my mind. "Elsie is so small and so fragile," I thought to myself, "There's no way she's ever going to use up all of this milk. IF she even survives, that is. Why am I even still doing this? I could stop pumping right now and she'd have enough milk to last her for months and months, if she lives." I continued to pump, but did so resentfully.

Luckily, the resentment didn't last for very long. Elsie turned a corner and started to thrive. She was still small but was growing. She was still only being fed very small amounts, but it was increasing. I remember distinctly the first time that the NICU nurse practitioner called to let me know that they needed me to bring in more breast milk to put in their freezer. I couldn't have been more thrilled. Elsie needed my milk, and was growing stronger and bigger because of it. So I continued pumping.

Around April, I was starting to feel the same depression and hopelessness again. Several of my friends, cousins, and a sister-in-law were expecting babies at this time. I was supposed to be due at the end of April/beginning of May. My baby wasn't supposed to be born yet, but she was. I was supposed to be enjoying the last few weeks of an easy pregnancy, complaining in camaraderie with my fellow pregnant buddies, but I wasn't. Their babies started coming, and I felt small twinges of sadness.

Then my dear sister-in-law gave birth to her sweet baby girl, and I suddenly felt no anger or jealousy, only happiness that baby Annabeth had arrived safely, and that both she and my sis-in-law were healthy and well. I was so thankful that they hadn't had to go through a terrifying NICU experience. I was glad that if anyone had to go through the NICU, that I had to do it instead of them. It's not something that you would wish on anybody, and I was so happy that their little baby was full-term and healthy. The depression was gone.

Fast forward to a week or two after baby Annabeth was born. Due to some extenuating circumstances, Annabeth's mama was unable to produce enough milk for her hungry baby. She wasn't gaining weight. Of course they knew about my overflowing freezer problem, and thus began a very happy arrangement of sharing the frozen milk with my sweet new baby niece. I was thrilled to have a new reason to pump with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. It seems kinda silly that my own baby wasn't reason enough for me to want to pump, but I'm serious, the frozen milk would have lasted until her 8th birthday by the rate we were going through it. I know that it was a very hard and probably very humbling thing for Annabeth's mama to admit that she couldn't feed her baby enough and to ask for help. I'm so very glad that she did. Annabeth is a strong, active, and healthy baby now, and reminds us so much of when Evje was a baby that we joke about what I put into her milk. Yes, Annabeth would probably be just as healthy and happy if she were only fed formula, but I can't but feel happy when I see her and know that I have helped her grow in a small way. I like to call her "my little milk baby."

As Elsie grew and it got closer to her due date, I was anticipating being able to teach her how to breast feed so that I could stop pumping. How much easier it would be to simply put my child to my breast to feed, instead of having to pump, wash bottles and equipment and so forth. I couldn't wait. We had one or two successful attempts, but she never got very good at it. She had a lot of anxiety with feeding by mouth, and despite all of the help of the lactation consultants, we tried and tried with very little success. At last, four weeks after her due date, we decided to have the g tube placed. Everyone told me that Elsie would get the hang of feedings as soon as we got her home and she got used to me being her full-time feeder and caretaker. She would get over her anxieties and would pick up breastfeeding. The g tube would be a very temporary solution.

Aaand here we are, nearly four months after Elsie's discharge. If you've been following our blog, you know that Elsie developed a severe gagging problem and stopped all feeds by mouth shortly after she came home. The g tube was her only source of nutrition. Now, we are still working with our awesome feeding therapist Helene, and making progress towards Elsie someday being able to have her g tube removed. But in the meantime, I'm still pumping. I dropped the 5am pump after Elsie came home, and adjusted my pumping schedule to her new eating schedule, which is every four hours during the day. I pump at 8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm. Sometimes if my supply is dropping, I'll add an additional pumping session at 10pm.

I have been blessed to have enough milk for Elsie as she grows and her feedings increase, and still be able to freeze milk for Annabeth. Elsie receives milk through her feeding tube from 10pm to 6am, in addition to her four daytime feedings, which requires a large amount of milk. I never thought in a million years that I'd be pumping for nearly 9 months and still going strong. But it's second nature to me now, and I don't resent doing it. It is recommended that Elsie receive breast milk or formula until she reaches the corrected age of 1 year, which will be the beginning of May 2014. That is my ultimate goal, being able to pump until then, but you never know, I might keep going after that. I have been blessed with sufficient milk for my own baby and to supplement another baby, and I say that it is a blessing because there are so many women who struggle with their milk supply, especially when exclusively pumping. Especially when your baby is born early, and your body is tired and traumatized and stressed out. I consider it a huge blessing that I have been able to be so successful producing milk. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, or brag about my accomplishments, but simply want to share my pumping experience with you. Like I said in the beginning of this verrry long post, I am writing about this experience to provide encouragement for others. If there is something difficult in your life, you can do it. You can get through your trials and hard times if you find the determination and a good reason to keep on trying. I am proud to say that I pump breast milk for my baby and I know that it is giving her the best possible nutrition for her growing body to grow and to heal.

My two little milk babies


  1. Those sure are some cute babies! And I'm pretty sure there IS something in your milk Ruthie, because we have a mini-Evje crawling around on our hands ;)

  2. Sweet post, my sweet daughter. You have no idea how proud I am of you!

  3. You're a wet nurse! Way to go Poopie, you're a rock star.

  4. I think I admire you more now then ever, YOU ARE MY HERO RUTH SAGERS!!!