Exclusive Pumping Struggles and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

If you read my previous post about my first son being raised mostly on formula, you know I’ve struggled with breastfeeding. (Read it here if you’re interested in hearing my story.) When my second son was born (now just over five weeks ago), my success wasn’t much better. This time, he didn’t go into the NICU, but I still had trouble with latching.

I gotta start by saying, the first 24 hours were pretty awesome. His latch didn’t hurt, he seemed to be getting something, and he was overall pretty darn content for a newborn. Sadly, it took a downhill turn not long after. That second night in the hospital was a struggle.

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It was about 2 a.m. when I woke up to him crying in his bassinet. I quickly scooped him up and prepared myself to start feeding him, but this time was different. Regardless of the hold we tried, it was painfully uncomfortable for me. Plus, he would latch for just a few seconds before screaming again–like nothing was coming out.

I finally did get him to latch (mostly pain-free), and then he kept working at it for 40 minutes! Yes, 40 minutes!! At the 40-minute mark (and really, way sooner), I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I made him stop. The instant I removed him, he was screaming again. I absolutely couldn’t take letting him latch again, and I was about in tears from the pain and frustration.

I sat there for a minute or two not sure what to do. Finally, I pushed my call button. When the friendly voice asked me how she could help, I asked for formula. My nurse quickly came to the rescue with a 2-ounce bottle of formula in hand. She got it ready for him and handed it to me. When I gave it to him, and he happily gobbled it down, I felt myself sigh with relief. He was eating, he was happy, and I wasn’t in pain.

For the rest of our hospital stay, we gave formula. By that point, frankly my nipples couldn’t handle even trying anymore, so I gave myself a much-needed break. The nurses were awesome and stocked us up on formula before we left. They also gave me tons of info about meeting with lactation consultants to help with his latch and/or to help with pumping should I choose to go the exclusive pumping route again.

When we discharged and got home, the first thing I did was pump. That initial pump didn’t yield much, so feedings were primarily formula mixed with what I was getting. The good news was pumping didn’t hurt.

After a day of just pumping, we tried breastfeeding again. I was immediately in pain, and it wasn’t long before the tears came–from me! I immediately felt like a failure. This is what moms are made for–feeding their babies. I had heard and read so many times about how you just have to grin and bear it for the first few weeks and it gets better. I had also heard and read (equally as many times) that if you’re doing it right, it shouldn’t hurt. So there I was…was I doing it wrong? Did I just need to buck up and deal with it?

No matter the answers to those questions, I knew I couldn’t do it. My husband quickly swooped in and took our son. He had a bottle ready for him. He told me I was doing great and all I could do was try. He told me not to cry and that he would feed him. He told me how proud he was of me. Have I told you all how INCREDIBLY AWESOME my husband is? Have I told him? Note to self: tell him more often.

So here we were, back to this idea of exclusively pumping. What does that mean? It’s exactly what it sounds like. You don’t breastfeed, but your baby gets breast milk because you’re pumping ALL. THE. TIME. It feels like it anyhow.

Most moms who struggle with breastfeeding are led to believe their only option is formula, but that isn’t true. If you’re able (and willing) to do it, there’s a mysterious third option called exclusive pumping. Ideally, you pump as much as your baby feeds. So if your baby is eating every two hours around the clock, that means you’re also pumping every two hours around the clock to mimic that. That’s what tells your body to keep making milk.

Of course, that’s all in theory. My understanding (I obviously have no personal experience) is that a baby is far better at emptying your breast than a pump. If the pump isn’t fully emptying your breast, your body might not make enough or might not produce as quickly. So far, that’s been my experience. While I feel like my breasts do get fully emptied with the pump (they’re soft and free of lumps when I’m done), I don’t feel like I’m producing as much as I need to.

A couple weeks ago, I downloaded an app to start keeping track. I record when and how much the little man eats, and I record when and how much I yield pumping. For the first few days, I was making about 3-4 ounces more than he was eating daily. I was able to freeze some, so that’s a good feeling (especially since I stopped producing with my first son at six weeks). Over the last week or so, though, my production has been–at best–exactly the same as he’s eating. Often times, I’ve had days with lower output than what he was eating.

Before I even noticed the production dip, I started the common recommendations:

  • Eat and drink enough. If you’re not getting enough calories and/or drinking enough fluids, your body won’t be able to produce enough milk. Most folks recommend eating at least 1800 calories per day and consuming at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day. Admittedly, I’ve struggled with both. With a two-year-old, a newborn, and a pumping schedule, it’s hard to get in enough food. And, I hate water. I do not like it one bit. I try to drink lots of other fluids to compensate.
  • Take Fenugreek. Fenugreek is an herbal supplement that is supposed to boost your production. Most people say you should take 2-4 capsules three times a day. I’m up to three capsules three times a day, and I’ve yet to notice a change.
  • Make lactation cookies! Remember that incredibly awesome husband I told you about? Well he loves to bake, and he baked these awesome cookies we found on Pinterest. Let me just say they’re delicious, and I was happily scarfing down 3 or 4 or more a day! Did they make a difference? Again, I didn’t notice one.
  • Last resort: prescriptions. When nothing seemed to be helping, I asked my doctor for a prescription for Reglan. My understanding is that Reglan is actually prescribed for acid reflux but has a side effect of boosting the hormone in your body responsible for milk production. I’ve been taking it about a week and haven’t noticed a difference. **Also: one of the side effects is depression, and let me tell you–that kicked in over the last couple days! Like a new mom isn’t already riding an emotional roller coaster! Last night, I started to have panic attacks (I suffer from anxiety, so I know what these are like) seemingly out of the blue. I’ve decided to discontinue taking it.

So now here I am…producing less than the little man is eating, struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed. Thank God for my awesome neighbor!

Yesterday, in the midst of a near-breakdown, I called her and asked for help. She quickly came over and helped take care of our little guy so I could pump in peace. Bonus, she also has some excess breast milk in her freezer and brought some over for us (she also gave us some a few weeks ago).

Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to ask for help! As a general rule, I’m terrible at it. But, I knew I’d reached a point where I needed another person to help me.

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