My daughter Faith turned 2 years old on August 27, 2013, and it also marked two years of exclusively pumping. And also my last day. I have been sleeping through the night for about six weeks now (hallelujah!), and really could have stopped a month ago, but getting that far I just had to make the 2 year mark!
Never would I have thought that I could keep it up for two years. When we were in the hospital, about three weeks in, I met another mom who told me she had been exclusively pumping for four months. "FOUR MONTHS???" I exclaimed! But at the time I had no idea my little 2lb 13oz baby would never take to breast OR bottle feeding.
Faith was born 11 weeks premature with heart and abdominal defects. Her first surgery she was only 6 days old. Her second was open heart surgery; she was still a month shy of her due date and only 4lbs. Her third was a few months later, for a total of 4 months in the hospital. I stayed with her the whole time, getting used to my new full-time "job" of pumping.
I have always been a big proponent of breastfeeding and planned to for at least a year, which was my initial goal for pumping when it became obvious Faith was not going to eat by mouth and needed to be tube-fed for the foreseeable future. But when a year came and we tried to transition her to formula (which I didn't want to do anyway), we realized the more she got the more she would vomit. Due to her medical issues she already had a huge problem with vomiting and gaining weight. So I continued pumping.
At that point I was only producing about 8oz a day, pumping for 30 min, 7 times a day, taking every galactogogue under the sun. So I have had help from some wonderful overproducing moms. With our combined pumping we have been able to keep her formula to a minimum!
While none of my family or friends would dare tell me to stop, I know they all felt I should. Some are from the school of "there's nothing wrong with formula" and others, like my mom who breast fed all three of her children in the early 70's when it was NOT the norm, thought that a year was enough. I knew that a 1 year old, ESPECIALLY one with complicated medical issues, needs more nutrition than just formula, never mind the fact that her digestive system simply does not handle it.
Many times (ok, every day!) I felt so exhausted that I just couldn't do it anymore. I would rarely get to bed before 1am, sometimes 2 or 3 if I worked that evening. Then up at 4am (though many mornings I would press snooze for 30-60 min!), and back to bed about 5am. Then up somewhere between 6 and 8am (usually 7), or whenever she decided to wake up. But I've had good incentive. The more formula Faith got, the more she vomited. The more she vomited the worse her oral aversion and the less likely she was to learn to take food by mouth (there was nothing medically keeping her from eating). It would also harm her esophagus and teeth over time. (If you have ever tried to brush a child's teeth with an oral aversion....several times a day, it is, to put it mildly, a challenge!) Not to mention the constant fear of leaving her alone for even a minute because it meant I would have to change her clothes and bedding yet again. And of course there is the worry of aspirating (choking). I still can't drive alone with her any longer than about 15 minutes and it has to be somewhere I can easily pull over. In addition, Faith's immune system is not functioning properly, and what's better for the immune system than breast milk!
There is no one in my life that can fully appreciate my accomplishment, so I thought I would share my story with those who can. You all know the utter exhaustion of getting up in the middle of the night, every night. The frustration of dragging your pump EVERYWHERE you go! Some like me have had to pump in a dirty storage room at work. Asking friends and relatives if you can pump at their house. Pumping in the car. Bathrooms! In the hospital sometimes there was a pumping room, sometimes only a curtain for privacy that residents often simply ignored. I have no problem breastfeeding in public, but I prefer to pump in private! Many of you also have children with medical issues that are time consuming and make pumping 6-8 times a day almost impossible.
With Faith's physical delays it meant she didn't start crawling until she was 15 months old (12mos adjusted) or walking until 21 months (18mos adjusted). I could pump while she was tube-fed by a feeding pump as she lay in bed. But when she learned how to get up that was no longer possible and I had to begin to wean (about 2 months ago). We are starting her on a blenderized diet to replace some of her breast milk meals. I wish I could say that I have gained 6 hours of my day back! But 2 of those went to sleep (yay!) and now I have to syringe all of her daytime feeds and that takes time. But the rest I get to spend playing with my daughter instead of her in front of the tv while I pump!
Faith has made dramatic strides in her health and development and I owe much of that to breast milk! She still has a ways to go, but she is a very happy, smart, energetic and mostly healthy toddler. :)
I am going to give myself a pat on the back...heck, a huge HIGH-FIVE! And you should too! And remember, you CAN do it! And it's NOT for forever! You WILL sleep again!!! And you are affecting your child's health for the rest of their lives! Even if you can only do a few weeks or months it will have a huge impact! And when your husband has the gall to say that he is tired too, or another mom says she "understands" how tired and busy you are....know that we here DO understand!
Thank you Ms. Medela for all that you have done for Faith, but I will not miss you.....especially at 4am!