I had lots of things I hoped and expected to be able to do with Little Miss Minion. When I first found out I was pregnant, I started reading about labor and delivery, different pain management options, what to register for, how to arrange the nursery, whether to give pacifiers, whether to give formula or breastfeed, whether to give bottles right away if I would breastfeed, where she would sleep, who would come to the hospital, etc. With the exception of “have a baby,” the only other thing that didn’t get thrown out the window when LMM arrived 12 weeks early was breastfeeding. While I only successfully breastfed her twice, I exclusively pumped to provide her with milk. My goal was to make it to one year, having decided that the many health benefits and low cost (free!) made it the best choice for me. I’m very proud to say that I made it 379 days.
***disclaimer*** I don’t judge moms who can’t or don’t choose to breastfeed. It’s a ton of work and in the end FED IS BEST. This is just my own personal experience.
Babies born early, like Little Miss Minion, often have to actively develop a sucking reflex. Once they master that, they have to learn to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time. In the case of LMM, we used a pacifier to help her learn to suck, and then tried to get her to breastfeed (once she was about 34 weeks gestational, or 6 weeks old). Beginning at her birth, I realized that I would need to pump if I wanted to be able to try to breastfeed later, so I pumped every two hours around the clock for weeks, bringing in my milk each morning. They gave it to her via a feeding tube! Since she couldn’t drink enough to sustain her. Since I couldn’t be there all the time, they began to introduce a bottle, and she was pretty successful at that. I still tried to breastfeed, rushing to the NICU when I got off work and struggling with a lactation specialist for about a month. When it became clear that she was on the tail end of her NICU stay and oral feeds were her last real obstacle, I gave up on breastfeeding because I wanted her home. Being the Type A person that I am, and wanting to be able to see if my supply started going down, I started tracking my pumping sessions and didn’t miss one for the entire time I pumped. I finished my last pumping session yesterday and have some interesting stats for you.
Over the course of my 379 days of pumping, I averaged 7 times a day for about 20 minutes. That’s 16 hours a week being chained to the pump, or almost 884 hours over the course of my pumping career. I pumped a total of 191,876 milliliters (and for the first couple of weeks, LMM’s daily intake hovered between 10 and 20 mls). This equates to 6,488 ounces, or 50 gallons. Buying that much formula would have cost $2,495.43, not including the fortifier she was on. I currently have a stash of about 200 ounces in the deep freezer.
I also did some research, checking out CDC statistics on breastfeeding/exclusively pumping. Did you know that 79% of full term babies are breastfed in the two weeks after birth? For preemies, only 35% are breastfed by 40 weeks gestational. By one year, only 27% of full term babies are breastfed, compared to less than 6% of preemies. Breastfeeding a preemie is incredibly difficult, not only for the obvious reason that the baby isn’t usually big enough to try oral feeds for a couple weeks. Preemie moms often have trouble with milk production, since C sections are pretty common and the surgery depresses the ability to produce milk. In my case, I was also on blood pressure medicines for about two weeks following the surgery, due to my preeclampsia. The medicines kept me safe, but also tanked my ability to make milk. I was one of the lucky ones who got to stop taking the medicines, and once they were out of my system, my milk production went up dramatically.
It’s especially important for preemies to get breastmilk. Donor milk is widely used in neonatal care units because of the immune properties and the fact that NEC (an illness almost exclusive to preemies in which the intestines die) is greatly reduced in babies who receive breastmilk. Preemie moms produce more colostrum for a longer time in order to help boost the health of the baby. The full milk that comes later has more calories, more fat, more iron, and more vitamins than the milk of a full term mom. When LMM got her first blood transfusion, they remarked on how unusual it was that she had gone so long without needing one, and I wonder if it was because I was able to give her milk when so many others were unable to. Other benefits of breastmilk for preemies include lower chances of developing pneumonia, SIDS, allergies, and have also been shown to increase cognitive development and IQ.
The benefits of breast-feeding are not exclusive to the baby. Breast-feeding mothers experience lessened rates of post partum hemorrhage, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and several types of cancer, including uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer. According to a 2011 NICU nurse conference, if 90% of Americans mothers breast-fed until 12 months, the economy would be saved around $13 billion.
In America, mothers who return to work face additional challenges if they choose to breast-feed. Since they won’t be able to bring their child with them to work, they will have to pump. The family medical leave act requires employers to provide pumping space and pumping time, but do a five minute Google search and you will quickly realize but not all pumping situations are the same. Although the rules state otherwise, many mothers are given the option of pumping in the bathroom or in a space that is unsuited for pumping. This time is also not required to be paid time and therefore mothers must choose between money and food for their infant. I was incredibly lucky in that my employer worked with me on providing adequate time and appropriate space to pump.
The family medical leave act also provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Most mothers that I know would be unable to afford to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of their child or to recover from a major surgery in the case of a C-section. Knowing that we were in for a long NICU stay, I returned to work after only three weeks of recovering from my emergency C-section and the trauma of LMM’s birth. With all of my extra appointments and extra testing, I had gone through about two weeks of my vacation time before she was even born. Again, I am one of the lucky ones who was able to have any paid time off.
Exclusively pumping provides its own special challenges. When you’re only pumping, you also have to separately feed the baby. So if you have one baby and you’re pumping, it’s really like feeding two babies. I often refer to it as feeding the pump, because it is like feeding another child. In my case, I could not have done it without the help of my husband. When I was in the hospital on magnesium, and still feeling sick and recovering from my C-section, he woke me up every two hours and got me to pump. Once I was discharged, he would get up with me when I would pump overnight so I didn’t feel so alone. Once LMM came home, we took turns feeding her overnight. It took only a week or so to realize that when it was my turn to feed her, I also had to pump afterward, so my turn was taking about two hours in the middle of the night. Mr. Minion started getting up and feeding the baby while I pumped. If it hadn’t been for him, I probably would’ve quit pumping in October.
I’m very proud of myself that I managed to pump for over a year. It was a lot of work and a huge time commitment, but I did it. Out of all of the things that I thought would happen or I thought I would do, I’m finally able to cross one off my list. Plus, I personally saved us about $2500, and who wouldn’t be happy about that?