Like all new moms, my TMI filter has disappeared entirely, so if reading about nipples is too much for you, turn away now.

My story isn’t unique, but it’s not one I hear often, so I want to tell it. Plus it’s an exercise in bravery for me, as the feeding choices a parent makes for their child draws ire and judgement on Holy War levels and most moms keep quiet unless they know they’re in the company of others who have made similar choices.

I’m a pumper.

My son arrived three weeks early. We knew that would probably happen since I spent nine weeks on bed rest and I was already dilated at 36 weeks, but I figured at 37 weeks he was full term. It turns out that at 37 weeks he fell into the tail end of the category “late preterm.” We were lucky that he came as late as he did, and that although he had some trouble regulating his temperature in his first days, he didn’t have any major health concerns. What he did have, and what I didn’t expect, was trouble feeding.

Breast PumpDon’t get me wrong, this kid can eat. But to call our attempts at nursing traumatic seems an understatement. I knew to expect it to be challenging, but after all the reading and classes, I was under the impression that all I had to do was wait a little bit for my milk to fully come in, and then believe that I could do it. No one said it might take weeks for milk to come in, even the tiny amount they need to survive in the first few days. That the baby would have to be fed formula if I didn’t have milk to give, and the guilt and sense of failure that would bring in the midst of the baby blues. That my supply might never be enough to feed him breastmilk around the clock, no matter how much Fenugreek and oatmeal and kale and beer I put into my system. After a stream of nurses, two breastfeeding classes, five lactation consultants, two visits to the pediatrician, and exacerbation of the baby blues to the point of near screaming, my husband and I made the decision that I would stop breastfeeding and exclusively pump, supplementing with SnuggleMilk as needed.

I never felt like this was an option before I ended up here, and I hope if you’re reading this and you’re also struggling or if you’re thinking about your future feeding options, you realize that exclusive pumping is a path you can take. You should know, though, that it comes with a unique set of challenges. There aren’t many support resources for this situation. I feel weird about whipping out a bottle instead of my boob at breastfeeding support groups. When moms ask me if I’m breastfeeding, I stammer awkwardly because I don’t know how to say that I am, even if I’ve chosen a non-breast delivery system for it. I’m not quite sure how to address the assumptions that I’m simply on hiatus from nursing. I struggle with the exhaustion of trying to pump around the clock, no matter what his sleep or feeding schedule is, and then the guilt of having less to give him because I skip a midnight pump to get more sleep. I use an app to track each pump, and the ability to see (and even put into colorful charts) how much I produce per pump, day, week, or year can be a comfort or a cause for serious anxiety depending on how I’m feeling in the moment. And if you think it’s tough to find a place to nurse when you’re out, try finding a place to plug in your pump, especially if you have your little one in tow.

Fellow pumper, know that the choice you make is the best choice for you and your family. That you are the expert and you are doing a great job, whether you pump for a year, pump and nurse, or shift entirely to SnuggleMilk tomorrow.

More Pumper resources I’ve found helpful:

The Exclusive Pumpers! on BabyCenter

Pumping Rules

Exclusive pumping links on Kellymom 

Pump Talk class at Isis Maternity