Wednesday, December 28, 2005
When Aveline was born, I was prepared to breastfeed. I had read all of the books. I had researched technique on the internet. I interviewed other mothers who had breastfed to learn the secrets of success. I had no questions in my mind: we would breastfeed. The benefits were clear. Your breastmilk is the most complete food for your baby. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop ear infections and respiratory troubles. They are also fewer cases of diabetes, high blood pressure and leukemia. Breastfed babies are smarter and less likely to become obese. (Let's face it, in the obese department, with our genetic baggage, she is going to need all of the help she can get.) Most importantly to us, my milk may give her some protection from eventually developing multiple sclerosis, a disease her father has.
Breastfeeding even had benefits for me-accelerated weight loss, prevention from some cancers and stress relief just to name a few. We would also save money. Over the course of a year, parents exclusively feeding formula to their tot would conservatively expect to spend just over $700. That is using the cheapest formula and the minimum average fluid intake of the child. The average expenditure is closer to $2000, considering averages for formula and intake. We spent $40 on extra bottles and close to $90 for bags to freeze the extra.
Considering all of the benefits I discovered while researching breastfeeding, the choice was simple. We would breastfeed. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Case closed. Cerrada. I went to the hospital, my lanolin goo and breast pads packed. I knew that Aveline would need to feed in the first hour. I knew that I would need to offer her my breast repeatedly over the course of the next few days. I instructed the nurse to bring a lactation consultant in on the first day, to help ensure our success. I was prepared. I intended to breastfeed.
She was born. I brought her to my breast. I reviewed positional holds and latch techniques in my head. Nothing. She was stubborn. She suckled for a few minutes. My large breasts made the whole process laborious and akward. I was determined to feed my daughter breastmilk exclusively for the first year, so we tried again and again. The lactation consultant aided me. At one point, my husband, a nurse and Athena, the super lactation consultant, all were groping me as we struggled to get Aveline to latch. I cried. If eight hands weren't able to get my daughter in the correct position to feed, how was I going to manage with just two?
Once we were home, Dan and I continued to try. She refused. She screamed from hunger. I felt like a failure. Somewhere around 3am our first night home, Dan stumbled downstairs, weaving between boxes as he found the kitchen. He opened the sample cannister one of the formula companies had sent us. He prepared a bottle and returned to our bed. She ate it. ALL. I cried more. I couldn't feed my child. I was unable to understand what went wrong. We prepared. I read. I practiced. Why couldn't we do this supposedly natural act?
I did not want to give up easily. My child would have my milk. We continued to struggle until Sunday, the day my milk came. My husband suggested that we use the pumping machine that his sister had loaned to us. It was state of the art. I was very familiar with milking, having been raised on a dairy farm. The concept was simple. My husband and I locked ourselves in our spare room and went to work. Little did I know that this would be the first of many pumping sessions. We only got 3 ounces at that session, but she greedily drank those.
I pumped again a few hours later, and again a few hours after that. I continued to pump and wondered if this was a viable alternative to breastfeeding. I hadn't heard of anyone else doing this, so I turned to the internet. I began to do more research on pumping exclusively, but found very little information. It seemed that the exclusive pumpers, or ep'ers as they liked to be called, were the crazy uncle locked in the attic of the breastfeeding family. My doctors thought I was crazy when I told them my plan. Gauging their reaction, I decided give breastfeeding a few more tries.
The home nurse worked with me for nearly an hour on proper positioning and latch technique. Aveline screamed for most of the session. I still wanted to breastfeed. I continued to pump and feed her from the breast. Most of our nursing sessions ended with both of us in tears, hungry and tired. I dreaded feeding her, because of her reaction to my breasts and the entire act. It wore on me emotionally. A week after she was born, I made another appointment with Athena, the lactation consultant at the hospital. Athena stripped her to her diaper and weighed her. We then struggled for the next 35 minutes to get her to latch. She did. She ate for about five minutes then pulled off. Athena, convinced she had eaten five or six ounces, weighed her again. She only had consumed an ounce. Forty minutes of screaming and pain for an ounce. I think it was then I knew what I had to do.
For the next 8 months, I spent anywhere from 4-5 hours a day hooked up to a milking machine. During the early weeks, I got little sleep. Once I would get Aveline to sleep, I would spend 30-40 minutes pumping and then cleaning bottles and equipment. After that was done, I could nap for about an hour before she would wake again wanting fed. The first 10 weeks of her existence are a complete blur to me. All on which I could focus was feeding Aveline my milk, no matter how it got to her.
It has been a good run. For almost 8 months I have spent 3+ hours a day hooked up to a milking machine. I have washed thousands of bottles. I have bagged and frozen over 140 pounds of milk. I have fed over 367 pounds of milk to my daughter. That is over 500 pounds of milk I have made since she was born. That is a quarter of a ton! I have found a way around an obstacle and was able to do the best I could for my daughter. I have enough milk in my freezer to get her to her first birthday, which was my original goal. Dan suggested this last week that I should quit pumping. I have already begun to dry myself up, cutting pumping sessions slowly out of my daily routine. Slowly I am getting my life back. I am now down to pumping twice a day, a mere 80 minutes of time. The extra time is wonderful, yet, I am sad to let it go.