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After becoming pregnant the first time, one thing I knew right from the start was that I would breastfeed my child. I knew it might require a little bit to master breastfeeding after birth, but I felt confident that my baby and I could achieve it. Little did I know that my baby’s severe tongue-tie and lip-tie would make it a lot less simple than I imagined—and forever change my preconceived notions of there being only one “right” way to provide human milk. I hadn’t even heard of exclusive expressing, let alone considered it an option!
Breastfeeding challenges with tongue-tie and lip-tie
My baby was born with severe tongue-tie and lip-tie. Despite a frenulotomy (tongue-tie release surgery) and frenotomy (lip-tie release surgery), follow-up treatments, frequent lactation consultant visits, and a whole assortment of approaches to get my baby to the breast, I just was not getting the results I hoped. I had tried just about every breastfeeding tool in the toolbox—from using a lactaid (with baby at the breast and me wearing a tube device attached to a bottle of expressed milk), to nipple shields, and an array of positioning styles. My baby was unsuccessful at being able to take the milk without causing serious damage to me over time. Ouch!
Call me stubborn or dedicated, but I would not give up. I knew my body was making breastmilk because after every try at breastfeeding, I would then express and produce more than enough for the next feeding. So, with every breastfeeding attempt, I thought “This could be the moment she will breastfeed successfully!” But every time it resulted in her crying with hunger and me having to resort to feeding her my breastmilk expressed from the previous session.
By then, my mental health had declined. I was judging myself for not being able to breastfeed directly from the breast. I was someone who achieved things; I thought “practice makes perfect.” Yet here was something I just could not master.
I am so glad I fought my way through that postnatal depression fog because in doing so, I came to realize what I was doing right. I was still exclusively feeding my sweet baby my own breastmilk—only just using a different method: exclusive expressing using a breast pump.
Coming to terms with a new way to feed
By three months postpartum, I finally accepted that the way I fed my child would be breastmilk, only it would be breastmilk that had previously been expressed for her. Breastmilk was my first choice even if the method of delivering it was not my preference. My focus changed, and I felt empowered. I often was told, “I don’t know how you do it!” which now made me swell with pride.
I won’t lie; it was not easy. Exclusively expressing for my baby required dedicating about three hours per day to the task, which despite having a hands-free style of pumping bra was mainly “lost” time. It is like doing things in double-time as you must express the milk and then feed it back. Then there is the washing of breast pump parts. It was difficult to hold my baby as she would dislodge the pump bottles and I certainly did not want to spill any liquid gold! I also found it a bit isolating as I had my pumping station set up in one place, and if I wanted to be around others, I had to traipse a power extension cord about because my pump did not have a battery option.
Planning my pumping sessions around other household tasks and baby activities was also tricky. I quickly learned that public places are not very well thought out for expressing mothers and needed to map out power outlet options if I was going to be out and about.
I often considered stopping, but my reasons for wanting to provide breastmilk would persuade me to head back to my pumping station, time after time. I had established a good day-to-day supply and managed to build up a considerable additional supply in my freezer. Since I was producing more than enough to meet my baby’s daily needs, I even donated some excess breastmilk from my freezer supply!
Successfully reaching the finish line
Then, my sweetie started to self-wean, and reduce the amount she wanted each day. But I am happy to share that I exclusively expressed for her a total of 10 months. She then used up the rest of my freezer breastmilk supply until just after her first birthday.
New breast pump designs aid exclusive expressers
With my second pregnancy I had fingers and toes crossed that my breastfeeding journey would be more straightforward than my first. I still wanted the health benefits that breastmilk can provide to my baby and didn’t want the expense of buying formula. I also like that producing breastmilk helps with postpartum weight reduction and also long-term breast cancer risk reduction. But unfortunately I experienced similar struggles to my first.
So I first started out my journey for my second child using my non-battery powered pump, I knew that it would be harder to accomplish than with my first. This time I had a toddler running around me while I pumped. I didn’t have the three hours that I used to devote each day for expressing for my firstborn. So, I started to dream up ideas for a breast pump that would enable you to do your day-to-day activities while expressing, without being limited in radius of movement by a silly power cord! Thanks to late night pumping and searching on Google, I found that such a pump had already been invented! The Freemie Liberty, I quickly got one.
I now have the Freemie Liberty which is a rechargeable, battery operated mobile pump that sits inside my regular bra and is hidden from view to the public. I can express while I’m out and about and no one even knows I’m doing it! I just pop it in and carry on with my busy day. Even better there are no bottles sticking out, so I can cuddle my baby while using it! I have pumped while driving, doing kindergarten drop-off, shopping, visiting friends, housework, and even helping bathe my little ones. Now at the sixteen-month milestone for this current pumping journey, I have no found it SO easy! And once again, I am also donating my excess freezer breastmilk supply to help others.
Despite all the challenges of exclusive expressing, I have learned that there are positives too. Being an exclusive expresser has allowed me to return to work with a fairly seamless transition. It has also given me a great sense of fulfillment by allowing me to supply extra expressed milk to babies in great need of donor breastmilk, due to health issues with the mother or baby.
Take it from me: if you are exclusively expressing, you are awesome! Congratulations on achieving it for however long you choose.
Sheena Thompson is a nutritionist and personal trainer specializing in pregnancy and postnatal services. She lives in Hamilton, New Zealand, with her husband and two daughters.
Full article https://www.llli.org/life-as-an-exclusive-expresser/