When I was pregnant, I was absolutely positive that I would breastfeed my son. I had zero doubts and I wasn’t concerned that breastfeeding would be difficult. It is the most natural thing in the world and I didn’t understand why moms would choose to do anything else. Boy, was I naive. And judgmental. Fast forward to shortly after my son, Julian’s, birth and he was refusing to latch. It is a long story as to exactly why this happened, and that is enough to fill another post, but the end result was that Julian wouldn’t breastfeed. I was pumping what milk I could and bottle feeding him. I was forced to decide on an alternative to breastfeeding. I could have easily stopped pumping and gone straight to feeding Julian only formula. We were already supplementing with organic formula . However, I was lucky enough to have a good friend who exclusively pumped for her little one for the first few months of his life, so I knew that it was a viable option. I felt strongly that breast was best and I decided I was willing to do whatever needed to be done to feed my son as much breastmilk as I could manage.
I started to research EP’ing. There isn’t a whole lot online about it. I contacted the lactation consultant I had been working with, but she wasn’t particularly helpful or encouraging. I got the idea that she didn’t think it was possible as a long-term option. The only helpful advice she had was to rent a hospital grade electric double pump and to pump as often as possible around the clock in order to establish my supply. The electric double pump that I had was a good one, but those are not meant for establishing a supply, just maintaining it. A hospital grade pump is better at that but they are very expensive to buy. After calling around to a few places, I was able to find one to rent at a relatively affordable price.
The first few months were hard! I pumped around the clock (10-12x/day) and it seemed like all I did was pump, make bottles, and feed my son. One thing that made it a little easier was the homemade pumping bra that I made out of an old sports bra. It allowed me to pump hands free. I pumped every 2-3 hours, whether Julian was awake or sleeping (it was a lot easier when he was sleeping). I pumped at home, at other people’s houses, and in doctor’s offices. I pumped in the car while parked in parking lots, on the street, and while driving. I power pumped in the evenings (pumping 10 min on, 10 mintues off, for a couple hours to mimic cluster feeding). I set my alarm and woke up 1 or 2 times every night to pump. Prolactin levels are highest between 1am and 5am and it is highly recommended to pump at least once during that time while establishing your supply. I am so grateful for my husband, who has been 100% supportive of my EP’ing and always helped in any way he could. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.
Speaking of supply…. mine has never been good. I was never able to pump enough to feed my son breastmilk exclusively. I tried all of the natural supply boosters including fenugreek, oatmeal, mother’s milk tea etc. I know lots of moms who swear by these things, but none of them worked for me. I started taking Domperidone, which is a anti-nausea medication that has the side effect of increasing prolactin levels. That medication is what helped my supply the most and has allowed me to feed my son between 50% and 75% breastmilk.
I often felt like giving up. I would look around me at the moms who, seemingly, easily and blissfully nursed their babies and I felt jealous and like I had failed. I hated pumping and it often felt overwhelming. I was so tired and for a long time I couldn’t nap while the baby was sleeping because I had to pump. Everything revolved around my pumping schedule and it could be quite frustrating. Thankfully, I was able to find a few online support groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and Baby Center. These online communities really provided me with the most information on EP’ing and without them, I don’t think I would have been successful. They taught me to take it one day at a time and set small goals that I knew I could meet. I was told “never quit on a bad day.” So I pushed on and through.
After the first few months, it got easier. My supply stabilized to where it was going to be and I could stop pumping at night. That was a big deal for me. Not having to wake up to pump was a huge relief. I was able to very slowly reduce the number of pumps per day. I made it to 6 months, then to 9 months. And finally, to 1 year. I made it to my ultimate goal!
Is EP’ing right for everyone who cannot breastfeed? Certainly not. I’ve learned my lesson and I no longer think negatively of those for whom formula feeding is the right choice. But I wanted to tell my story so that people can learn about EP’ing and know that there is a 3rd option out there.
My son is now 14 months and I’m still pumping. I don’t have a specific goal in mind anymore. I usually only pump 3x/day now and that seems like something I could do for quite some time. However, I have decided to start weaning myself off of the Domperidone. I can’t explain exactly why, but I’m feeling the need to get off of the medication and clear my system. I am weaning very slowly and, since I’ve been taking a pretty large dose, it will take about 2 months to completely get off the medication. If I can maintain enough supply to make even one bottle a day for my son, I will probably keep pumping until he is at least 18 months. However, if my supply disappears as I wean off the medication, so be it. I’ve come to terms that it will be OK to stop pumping if that happens. No matter what the future holds, I know that I’ve done everything I can to give my son the best and healthiest start in life.