A personal experience from Michelle Matos-Becerra
Pumping is breastfeeding. Say it loud for the people in the back. Pumping is breastfeeding. Though breast milk is given to your child through a bottle, your baby is being breastfed.
Not every mother and child has the same breastfeeding experience. There are many reasons why breastfeeding directly is not an option, sometimes babies have trouble latching on, or the parent or the child has a medical issue preventing them from feeding directly from the breast. Whatever the case, pumping your milk to feed your baby is a form of breastfeeding.
When it comes to breastfeeding, and after a couple of kids and much reflection, I finally realized that I should not hold myself to standards out of my control and that the most crucial thing was feeding and nourishing my children.
Oh, the many things that happened during my first birth. The baby was overdue, I had complications during delivery, and she had health issues resulting in a painful NICU stay. I couldn’t hold her after birth or physically breastfeed her until a week after that. However, the nurses quickly focused on pumping milk so she could benefit from the colostrum and I could be prepped for direct breastfeeding.
I personally was not looking forward to breastfeeding, but I was open to it. I knew breastfeeding would be good for the baby and me, and I was prepared to do it in the months leading up to her birth. But having missed the moment to feed and hold her directly after birth, I began to sink into an intense guilt and feeling of failure that further deepened my sadness and pain due to my daughter’s health.
When I could finally breastfeed my daughter, I found myself surrounded by the lactation specialist and the nurses, all doing their best to get my little one and me to come to an agreement. After a week of strictly bottle-feeding breast milk, she told me she was not having it. Let’s just say I learned a toothless bite still hurts a lot. The look on her face was of frustration and hunger.
I’m pretty sure if she could have spoken at that moment, she would utter what her eyes said: “I don’t want to work so hard for my food.” Despite the support around me, I was starting to settle into the idea of being incapable. My mom, who formula-fed us, toggled between supportive and encouraging words while declaring that formula feeding was okay (which it is!)
A pumped-up approach
Though my daughter would not latch on, I kept pumping away at home and in the hospital daily to help her get better. It also helped me cope with having my baby stay in the hospital while I got to go home. With my daughter in the NICU, I looked at breastfeeding as one way I could try to break her out of that joint. So I took on pumping like a champ and crushed it. My husband even joined in, sometimes pumping manually for me while I tried to eat, was too exhausted or depressed.
I pumped in the hospital. I double-pumped. I would have triple-pumped if I could find a way to grow another breast. She thankfully got better, I took her home, and she’s now a whole adult.
Embracing the reality
When my son was born a few years later, he also had some complications and did not latch on. I was once again wondering what was wrong with me. I realized that nothing was wrong with me. I breastfed my little buggers with purpose. I breastfed like a champ. The milk was coming from me. It was just delivered differently. I also stopped thinking about what was “right” and started understanding what was best for my child.
I learned that I did not have to define my motherhood by other people’s standards but by my unique experience as a mother.