On March 16, 2017, I took a huge sigh of relief and gained a little bit of my freedom back. After 405 days of pumping, I was finally done. For just over a year of my twins’ lives, I spent at least 3.5 hours per day being milked by a machine. That’s 1,417 hours and 30 minutes. To put things into perspective, those hours equal just over 59 days, or about 2 months. While I am eternally grateful for the ability to produce ample milk for my babies, I’m not sure that I would do it all again. We often hear the amazing feeding stories, but we rarely discuss the downfalls. I’m not sharing this because I believe any particular method of feeding is best (I believe everyone is doing their own version of their “best”), instead I just want to put my personal journey out there for anyone who can relate.
Why I Began Pumping
I began pumping shortly after delivering the boys. They were NICU babies, so I would bring them as much milk as possible, and pump while I was with them. They practiced breastfeeding, but their “sucking” mechanism was not initially strong. I knew that if I could still give them breastmilk, then they would get stronger, faster. By the time they were able to come home, they did a combination of breast and bottle feedings. If you’ve been following us for awhile, then you know we had to relocate from Germany to the states for medical reasons. Because the move was going to be involved, we decided that I would exclusively pump, so my husband could help with feeding during our transition.
I’m going to skip over my experiences pumping during commercial flights, as they were enough to warrant their own post in the future. If anyone is wondering, I pumped in the car during our search for a house. After finding a house, we needed to renovate, and I pumped between painting and caring for the twins. It was not a blast. These things were necessary though, and I don’t take them into account when I consider why I would be against pumping again.
What Was So Bad About It?
To produce enough milk and deflate my balloon breasts to a level of bearable comfort, I had to pump between 6-8 times per day, for at least 30 minutes per session. So, when you take into account pumping, cleaning parts, and labeling and storing milk, it was about an hour long process. Luckily, the boys were great nappers up until about 6 months of age. This meant that I had the opportunity to pump, but by the time I was finished, they were up and ready to be changed and fed again. Their routine took anywhere from 45-90 minutes. So, I often had to get right back to pumping. It became a vicious, exhausting cycle, which left me a little depressed.
If I didn’t pump on time, either one or both of my breasts would get engorged and painful. For those of you who don’t know, this happens a little faster to women who exclusively pump, than those who exclusively breastfeed. Engorgement can contribute to clogged milk ducts, which may then result in mastitis. Just my luck, I ended up with mastitis 3 times. That means I had to fight to a fever and struggle to regain my supply on each separate occasion. Mastitis was worse than any illness I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
I thought that as they got older, it would get easier. Their feedings would take less time, and I would actually have a minute in between to feed myself or clean our house. While those things were true, I was wrong about it getting easier. When babies grow, they nap less and become more aware, demanding even more of our time, but in a good way. They become more playful and are able to be taught fun things. It’s truly a joy to be a part of. Unfortunately for me though, I still needed the time to produce milk for them.
To try and get my pumping in, I would time my sessions for right after the boys ate. After eating, they usually played, so my hope was that they could be content during that time. While this occasionally worked, I generally was not so lucky. Most days, I found myself pumping to the sound of babies crying. It seemed like they would upset each other, get a toy stuck, or some other issue would arise, and I wouldn’t be able to help them. Sometimes, I think they just wanted me to be with them, and instead, I was glued to my pump. It brought me to tears, because I was at odds with what to do and felt like I was failing them either way.
Couldn’t I Have Stopped Pumping?
I considered ending my pumping journey multiple times, but didn’t. Our pediatrician recommended breastmilk for at least the first year, so I felt dead set on reaching that goal. Quitting hadn’t really crossed my mind until about 7 months, and at that point I was over halfway there. Our premature babies were then above average on growth, and I wanted to keep them going strong. At the time, I thought that providing them the best nutrients that I could was worth everything, so that’s what I did.
How Do I Feel Now?
The numbers in the first paragraph are shocking to me. I spent 59 days pumping. That’s 59 days of watching and listening to my babies cry for my attention, just so I could make milk. I acted as if there was no alternative, when there was. We had supplemented a little with formula, so it’s not like we were against it. After almost 2 weeks of not pumping, I’ve been able to spend more time with my boys. I’m enjoying their laughs, instead of enduring their cries, I’m reading more books to them, instead of watching them wave their favorites toward me, and it’s all so fulfilling. It makes me sad to know that at a minimum, I missed two months of their little lives.
I also want to throw in that I’m getting more sleep now. I used to stay up extra late and wake extra early, just to avoid having to get up twice in the middle of the night to pump. My husband stayed up to keep me company and help me wash pump parts, but we both ended up more exhausted than we needed to be. We ran on empty for way longer than necessary.
Am I happy that I provided them with breastmilk for their first year of life? Of course. I don’t meant to sound anything less than grateful. They are happy, healthy, and won’t remember this past year. My point however, is before pumping for twins, no one tells you the time investment. When I consider the past year, what I realize is that a year of my milk cost me two months with my babies. If I had known that ahead of time, would I have still done it? I probably would have thought twice. If I were only pumping for one baby, that may be a different story. The three of us though, we lost precious time together that we will never get back.
As always, feel free to comment if you’d like. I’d like to reiterate though, that this post isn’t about breast is best, or fed is best, or anything like that. I’m also not into mommy shaming, so even if you aren’t nice to me, please be nice to each other!