on breastfeeding.

I've come to realize that blogging and posting updates about Elliott has been a way for me to cope through all of this, so I may be posting more here during my long quiet days at the hospital.... we'll see.

I have been thinking a lot about breastfeeding. A lot.

I have always had breastfeeding on my mind, really. When I was pregnant, I assumed it was this natural thing, and would therefore be natural for me and my little boy. Elliott had other plans. He never latched quite right, in spite of nipple shields and visits with lactation consultants. It wasn't for lack of trying! He would try and cry and try and cry and as a new mom I just couldn't take the crying. The consultants tell you not to give your baby a bottle for the first couple of months if you want to breastfeed, but I gave in that very first night at home with Elliott. What's more, I gave him formula. Yep. I wasn't prepared for this and my milk hadn't come in yet, and what's more pumping colostrum is a huge pain in the ass. I felt like a bad person those first couple of days. Shoving my breast into a crying baby's mouth, crying myself, and then giving him formula, of all things. Ugh. It was a mess. (This is not to say that anyone who gives their child formula is a bad person, it's just that my dream of breastfeeding was brutally crushed, and breast milk is hands down better for a new baby. Formula = Mom guilt.)

But thankfully, I had taken a hand pump home from the hospital, and my sister-in-law had given me a dual electric pump. We ordered some parts online, and soon I was a pumping machine. I had worked my way into pumping 5 times per day with plenty for Elliott during the day and night, and always room to put a little in the freezer for later. I pumped at first in the middle of the night, but after a while, I didn't even have to do that! My body knew when I needed to pump and how much to produce. I was still devastated that Elliott would not breastfeed, but I was consoled by the fact that at least he was getting the best food possible.

Then, when Elliott was 8 weeks old, he got sick and went to the hospital for two and a half weeks. We learned that Elliott had a heart condition. It shed a lot of light on why Elliott did not latch properly. The truth is babies with heart defects often do not breastfeed well because it's just too hard for them. They burn more calories than they take in because they tire faster.

Something happens to you when your kid lands in the hospital: you become emotionally distraught. You spend your days at the hospital and you forget to pump while you're there. You eat terrible food or you don't eat at all. You don't hydrate yourself. Your child isn't eating, instead they are being fed nutrition and fats via IV. You can pump in the hospital but they won't always let you into your kid's room to get your pump kit, or the pump room is being used. You don't pump routinely because you're soaking up moments when your child is awake or having many, many conversations with doctors. Pumping becomes less of a priority and your supply starts to taper.

That was what happened to me. At best, I was pumping three times a day. I would pump when I woke up and before bed at home, but a full day at the hospital would lead me to pump once or not at all. This was fine at first, because Elliott wasn't being fed. When they finally bottle fed him I was forced to be conscious of pumping more often, and I was barely able to keep up. When Elliott was home for two weeks between hospital stays I had to dig into my frozen supply to keep up, and that really bummed me out. Now that Elliott is in the hospital again I am trying to be more aware of my pumping, but it's tough. My supply is dwindling and hasn't fully recovered from that first stay in the hospital.

When all of this started, I proposed to myself that I would commit to 6 months of pumping at the very least, and see how I felt about it after that. Maybe continue, or wean off as babies are starting to eat other foods at that point anyway. I knew that whenever I went back to work I would be supplying Elliott's caretaker with breast milk, and that formula would be waiting in the wings as a last resort.

Now, I am not sure what to do. While breast milk is better, formula is easier. I am going to have to go back to work shortly after Elliott is released from the hospital, and pumping takes valuable moments away from time I could spend with Elliott. At home I would pump while Elliott napped or stuck him in his swing to entertain himself. And now, I will have to pump much, much more to get back up to where I was. I almost lost this little boy, two times, and I am currently weighing what is more important... breast milk, or quality time with him.

And I'll just come out and say this about pumping: I don't want to do it anymore.

I am certainly going to pump while he's in the hospital, and I'll continue after. I am just not sure how long. Formula will be there if I need it, but the thought of giving him formula still crushes me. I am just not sure. Just not sure.

Having a child with a heart condition affects every aspect of your life, but there isn't a thing I wouldn't do for that little boy. I am learning all too well that parenting is about making decisions, and weighing what is best for your child. I never thought it would be this hard, and I never thought I would have to make decisions about breastfeeding so early in Elliott's life. Life will go on, and before too long Elliott won't be subsisting on bottled food at all. So for now, I'll just pump my little heart out.


  1. I'm so glad you wrote about this - it's been on my list of things I wanted to ask you about! Honestly, I am surprised you are still pumping. Not that I doubted your resolve at all, but the logistical challenges of pumping at the hospital - not to mention the stress - seem so daunting. You are freakin' awesome, I can't say it enough! And whatever happens, throughout this whole ordeal while his health has been so fragile, you have done everything you could and given him as much breastmilk as possible. There's no way to measure the positive impact that has had on him.

    Besides, maybe when he's home and his fantastic new heart allows him to eat without becoming exhausted, he'll be able to latch on!

    Also, have you tried any herbal supplements to increase your milk supply? Eating oatmeal supposedly helps, and they sell that "mother's milk" tea at Clarks. I think Kissui even has a few offerings. Might be worth a try! I'm going to be trying all the old wives' tales to try and pump enough when I'm at work.

    1. Yes, I have used that Mother's Milk tea from Traditional Medicinals, and I think it does help, but I have to have a cup every single day. I have never tried oatmeal.... hmmm.

  2. I just found your blog through the wiegands blog. I too have a baby born with heart defects. She was diagnosed at 7 weeks old. She is home and doing well now and we go to regular cardio appointments. She will have to have one more repair but we don't know when.

    Thinking of your family and your sweet boy. You are doing so well and the fact that your still pumping is amazing. My body shut down and I was too frazzled to remember to pump.
    Much love,

    1. Amy, thanks for visiting! I am always exciting to meet parents of kids with heart defects now that we are parenting a child with one. I have heard the recovery rate of these kids is exceptional but it doesn't make it any easier! Best of luck to you and your little girl... keep me updated!


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