The Milk Maid

The Milk Maid September 25, 2008

We have had a lot of questions in the comments and via email about why I pump instead of nurse my children. I’ve tried to respond to them all, but it is probably easiest just to explain it all here. So, after this, if you were to see the current state of the floor of my car, there will be no secrets between us!

After Dash was born, I found nursing to be excruciatingly painful from the very first moment. I was sobbing every time I tried to nurse, and still in pain even when not nursing. When I say painful, I mean pain that makes you look fondly on natural childbirth, because at least it is finite. My husband, who has encouraged me through several natural childbirths, begged me to stop nursing because he could not stand to see me in such pain all the time. To be sure, a lot of mothers experience some pain when they start nursing and there are usually treatable reasons for such pain. Seeing a lactation consultant as quickly as possible is my best advice. Nursing around the clock for years seemed like a form of torture, rather than the snugly, loving bond I had imagined.

I was (mis)diagnosed with thrush after my first 2 babies, trying all the typical thrush remedies. Nystatin, gentian violet, a crazy diet that makes Atkins look like a feast, vinegar, air, antibiotics for the kids, etc. Thrush is a very common infection for nursing mothers and is correctly diagnosed the vast majority of the time. It is also quite painful, so taking steps to thwart it as quickly as possible is so important.

However, nothing worked for me. I saw no fewer than 5 lactation consultants. I was advised to try pumping to let the thrush infection clear up. Pumping was still very painful, but just bearable to do 5 times a day. The pain never went away in over a year of pumping.

Before our newest Incredibaby was born, I decided to take further action. I met with a lactation consultant when I was 8 months pregnant, went on a crazy elimination diet that left me eating almost nothing other than nuts and plain yougart. She also gave me some things to read over.

I read about something I didn’t know was possible…that Raynaud’s Disease can have serious repercussions for breastfeeding mothers. Raynaud’s is a circulation disorder in which your body overreacts to temperature changes and contracts the blood vessels, which constricts the flow of blood to your extremities. I have been diagnosed with severe Raynaud’s for years. I loathe getting even a carton of milk out of the fridge, because I usually have an attack and my hands turn white.

Raynaud’s can also cause the flow of blood in the breast to be cut off because of a constriction in the blood vessels called a vasospasm. It is often misdiagnosed as thrush, because the symptoms are similar…extreme, searing pain all the time. So now I know why breastfeeding causes me unbearable pain and why the months of treatments for thrush did not help. There is no “cure” for Raynaud’s. In my skiing days, I had taken a blood thinning medication to help keep the blood flowing to my extremities, but it doesn’t really help. Pumping is just bearable for me. I still grit my teeth and my eyes water almost everytime. I have a list of intentions to offer my pumping pain for taped right to the pump.

So, given that I can’t nurse, why do I pump instead of use formula?

For me, it is very important to me to feed my babies breastmilk. I firmly believe in its superior health benefits for my baby and myself. It is the baby food that God designed. My husband is very supportive. I intended to pump for a year with my boys, but lost my milk supply literally overnight when I became pregnant again. When that happened, I switched to formula. Other mothers in their individual situations might make a different choice for their baby and their family, which I completely respect and would not pass judgement on!
Many moms do choose to pump for their babies for a variety of reasons. There are moms who work or have to be away from their babies for other reasons, and babies who need hospitalization.

There are some unique benefits to pumping.

Milk Banking. I have to pump 5 times a day to keep my milk supply (I know this from my personal experience). I pump about 50 ounces. Incredibaby eats about 32. So I am able to freeze and donate my extra milk to a milk bank. Several blog readers have asked questions about this. There are strict protocols to ensure the milk is safe for the most fragile infants. The milk is pasteurized. You must submit to bloodwork. If you and your baby are healthy and take no medication, then you are probably eligible eligible. Pump parts must be sterilized daily. The milk bank provides sterile containers for milk that must be labeled and dated. There are limits on caffeine and waiting periods after alcohol, tylenol and other OTC medicines. For a healthy woman, it is really not that hard! You would probably only need to make a few changes in your daily routine. I strongly encourage anyone with a freezer full of milk to contact a milk bank. They probably won’t be able to use the milk you already have, but, by doing a few simple things, your milk will help the tiniest babies who need it. Make sure that your milk bank follows the guidelines of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America and is non-profit. If there is not a milk bank in your area for you to drop-off, you can arrange shipment of milk to a bank.

Others can feed the baby. Even though I feed him at least 95% of the time for bonding, others love to do it, too. And when I had an emergency appendectomy a few weeks ago, I had comfort in knowing that my baby would take a bottle and I had enough frozen breastmilk to get him through the 2 days during which I was totally incapacitated and on drugs not compatible with breastfeeding.

Special Situations. When a friend adopted a baby born at 26-weeks gestation addicted to crack to a mother who didn’t know she was pregnant, they were desperate for breastmilk. Even though their doctor wrote them a prescription for breastmilk, their insurance wouldn’t cover it and they could not afford it. (There is a charge for breastmilk, because it is very expensive to store, transport and pasteurize it and monetary donations to a milk bank don’t cover all the costs..sometimes insurance will cover it. It is not distributed without a prescription). I was able to give their sweet baby boy milk, which was a blessing to their family and to me. There are so many stories like this.

There are some unique challenges to pumping.

Sleep. After feeding the baby in the middle of the night, I have to pump, clean the pump, fill bottles, store milk, which means less sleep for mom.

Travelling. Don’t get me started here, but have you ever tried to explain to a 21 year old male TSA officer how much breastmilk a newborn consumes and that you have to bring enough in case the plane is delayed and you are not going to feed your baby milk expressed in a public airport restroom stall?

Chaos. Pumping while a 3 year old and 20 month old try to see how high they can swing the 2 month old baby in the baby swing. Signing Time anyone?

Guilt. We’ve discussed mommy guilt and mommy pride on this blog before. I felt very judged and guilty as a first time, insecure mom who desperately wanted to nurse my baby, but could not and didn’t know why. We may joke about my method of lactation on this blog now, but these ladies helped me through some rough times when I was adjusting to the fact that I couldn’t nurse and made me realize that my guilt was very unfounded and wrong. And they continue to encourage me all the time.

While I still desperately wish I was able to nurse my little ones, I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot. Expressing milk has been the solution for our family. I still enjoy plenty of snuggle and bonding time with my babies who sleep 6 inches away from me and I wear all the time. I am also thankful for the opportunities I have to share milk with others.

If there are any questions about milk banking or pumping, fire away in the comments.

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