Our twins were born at 31 weeks after a crash c-section. I was a mess. High doses of magnesium to manage atypical HELLP Syndrome, coupled with various other drugs, preemie twins, and the fact that my husband was out of town left me fairly devastated. I couldn’t stand up, I certainly couldn’t walk, and my body was so swollen it looked like I didn’t have any bones. Only a few hours after the babies were born I was visited by a lactation consultant–Marie.
Marie was sweet and soft spoken with a New Zealand accent. She brought in the hospital grade pump and all the tubes and parts that went along with it. I was scared to death. I knew that my babies needed my breastmilk but I didn’t know what I’d have to offer, or how in the world I was going to manage pumping every two or three hours when I was in such bad shape. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that trying was all I could do for my babies. I couldn’t hold them, I couldn’t help them breathe, I couldn’t keep them warm, and I certainly couldn’t breastfeed them, all I could do was try pumping. I started pumping about 6 hours after they were born and didn’t stop until they were 16 months old.
At first I produced almost nothing and I had the world’s tiniest syringe that I used to collect any little drops that were stuck to the pump parts or my body. It was almost comical at first, but alas, my milk came in. I was extremely dedicated to my pumping schedule and I pumped every 2 hours during the day, and every 4 hours at night for the first several weeks of their lives. After a month of pumping, I was asked not to bring any more milk to the NICU to freezer because I was taking up the entire freezer! We did a rough estimate and figured I’d pumped about 13 gallons in 6 weeks! My supply was way above and beyond what my babies needed, especially considering that we weren’t even able to feed a bottle or nurse until they were 10 weeks old. I continued to pump and store the milk in a deep freezer at home.
After 78 long days, our babies were discharged from the hospital and I was well armed with a supply of milk both frozen and fresh. Pumping became more and more difficult to manage but I felt like giving them my breastmilk was really all I had to offer to make up for the fact that they came so early (does the preemie mom guilt ever go away?!). Neither of our babies had a great latch and I tried to nurse them each once a day, but it became too difficult to manage and was extremely stressful for me so I pumped ALL THE TIME.
At first, I pumped in our room at the bedside and I got so bored I couldn’t stand it. I think in my sleep deprived brain, there was no way to move the pump, parts, and my body to pump while doing something a little more fun (like binge watching Netflix!). Eventually, after my family suggested it, I tried anything and everything I could to make pumping into a time I was able to spend focusing on something else. I watched TV shows, read magazines, and started my blog!
When there was no one else around but me and the babies, I’d strap them into their little papasan chairs while I pumped and they would hang out or fall asleep. As they got older, I had to wake up before they woke up to pump in the mornings, wait until nap time to pump in the afternoons, and pump just before I went to bed. For the last several months, I was pumping just three times a day and was producing an average of about 45oz. per day. If we were going out for the day, I’d pack up the pump and parts and pump wherever naptime happened…and sometimes that was even in the car (I had a battery pack). I even pumped in a bathroom stall in Chicago’s Midway Airport!
In order to keep up my supply, I was consuming well over 3,000 calories per day and drinking about a gallon of water per day. I lost all my baby weight and even some pre-baby weight and weighed what I weighed in high school when I started weaning! I pumped so much that my pumping bra had about 8 extra holes in it from being worn so often. Our pump parts started to break from overuse, and we went through so many storage bags I can’t even count them all.
The weaning process was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I guess I thought that since pumping was such a mechanical thing that I could just stop and my body would stop producing. That was not the case. I hoped it would take about 2 weeks to stop pumping–it ended up taking a full 6 weeks! At first I cut time off of my pumping sessions until I was only pumping for 5 minutes 3 times a day, and then I cut the middle pumping session. After that I continued to cut a few seconds (literally) off my pumping time and eventually, one morning I woke up and didn’t feel like I needed to pump.
It was a relief not to have to pump anymore, but at the same time, it was sad for me because my children no longer required my body to survive! It’s been several months since I’ve pumped and overall, I’m happy to have my life back, but when I look back on my hours and hours of pumping (I estimated one time that I spent 75 hours in one month connected to the pump) I am so glad I chose to persevere and keep going. I know that I was extremely lucky to have a great milk supply and that my body responded so well to the pump, and I am so thankful for my family and friends for supporting me through the hours and hours of pumping!