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We all know it.
Breastfeeding is not always easy.
Add a super erratic working hours to it.
And you have created the most challenging commitment ever.
Can you imagine...
Having to pump every 2-3 hours on top of direct latch, to stockpile enough stash for your baby?
Can you imagine...
Surviving 36-hour work shift with almost no milk stash in your fridge.
Sounds like crazy, right?
But it's reality.
I was so lucky to be able to interview an extraordinary mom who went through all of this and yet still managed to provide breast milk for her baby up to 2 years old.
Read further to continue reading her story.
Initially, she planned to formula-fed her baby right after birth.
But the more she googled about which formula is the best in the market, the more she learnt that breast milk is the best choice for her baby.
Her baby was born prematurely at 35 weeks via c-section.
Though her milk came right after the birth, the journey ahead were full of challenges.
Her baby, Naya, was severely jaundiced and needed to go back and forth to the hospital for phototherapy in her first three months after birth.
BUILDING A FREEZER STASH
Meta started pumping for her stash right after birth, which helped a lot during those phototherapy sessions.
Also, she started to save some extra breast milk to before returning to her study.
The fact that she only pumped at most 0.8-1 oz per pumping session did not make her despair.
"At most, I would get 20-30 ml per pumping session, all the time. While I heard other moms would get150 ml in a single session. So I need to pump 5-8x to get what other moms typically achieve.
But it's ok. Even though I only got a little in a single session, at the end of the day it added up, and I had a decent amount of milk stash."
She diligently pump every 2-3 hours (on top of breastfeeding) every single day.
Here are what she did:
- She sets 2-hourly reminders for pumping.
- If her baby is nursing, she put a Milky Milk Saver at the other side of the breast to collect the leaks.
- If her baby is comfort nursing while it is time to pump , she pump the other side.
- Sometimes, the pumping schedule falls right after the baby has just finished nursing. But she would still keep pumping, though she would get not even a drop.
"I may not getting anything while I pump after nursing. But I believe it will stimulate my breast to produce more milk for my baby."
Those little extra milk adds up.
Here's the proof.
In 4 months of her maternity leave, she managed to accumulate 1000+ oz of
Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn't know you had, and dealing with fears you didn't know existed.
How could she manage all of this?
We all know that early days with a newborn is so hard.
With such a tight pumping schedule, you would easily feel that all your days were spent for nursing, pumping, and diaper change.
But Meta is lucky.
"I was very fortunate that all the people around me were so supportive.
My husband was stationed out of town that time.
I was at home with my baby and a young live-in maid that I recently hired. She had no cooking skills and such, but at least she accompanied me so that I was not alone.
Also, my mom came to stay with us for quite some time and she has been really helpful. Then there is my mother in law, who loves to send us her cooking so that I don't need to worry about 'what's for dinner'.
Thus, I was able to focus on taking care of myself and my baby."
RETURNING BACK TO RESIDENCY PROGRAM
Her baby was 4 months old when Meta went back to pursue her study as a pediatrician.
She was in the middle of her pediatric residency program.
Just to let you know, if you are not familiar with the life of medical residents, they have a very busy and erratic work schedule.
Here's how Meta described her life as a pediatric resident:
"My schedule varied throughout the week.
If I have normal working hours, that means leaving home at 5 am and back at home at 6 pm.
I also had 36-hour shifts 3-4 times per week. In this case, I would only be reaching home at 6 pm the day after.
Even during weekends, there were schedule for lectures or on-call duty."
Initially, she planned to pump 2-hourly at school/hospital, just like what she did at home. Alas, it didn't happen.
"There were many times that my pumping schedule clashed with my consultation hour as a medical resident.
Or in another occasion, while discussing critical cases with the senior doctor.
I remember I was just pumping halfway when the nurse suddenly burst into the room saying, "the patient stops breathing."
I quickly run to the patient immediately, forgot about my pumping altogether.
My initial plan to pump every 2 hours became pump whenever I have time".
As you can guess, with such an erratic hospital schedule and inability to pump regularly, her milk supply dropped very fast.
She quickly went through bottles and bottles of her stash until her freezer stash were gone, in no time.
Not to mention the accident whereby her 4-rack freezer got unplugged accidentally so that some of those hard-earned milk were thrown away.
"I literally sobbed and repeatedly apologized to my baby due to that incident. Alas, I need to start from scratch again."
BUILDING BACK HER MILK SUPPLY AND BREAST MILK STASH
With almost non-existent freezer stash, Meta had to think smart on how she could continue to provide breast milk for her baby.
"After Naya turned 6-months old, I thought we could switch her to formula if I wasn't able to keep up with her needs.
But, she refused formula milk totally. She wanted MY milk.
That moment, I know I have been destined to continue providing breast milk to her, no matter what. And I believe, God will help me."
So her journey to re-build up her milk supply began.
Here are some of the things she did in order to keep giving breast milk to her baby:
1. Donor Milk
"I wasn't prepared when Naya refused formula. The bad news? That night I had to go for my 36-hour shift and I've got no stash at all. So I quickly look for donor milk. Luckily, I found one. At least, it will suffice for one whole day."
2. Power Pumping
Meta did power pumping in the weekend. When she browsed online, she read so many variations of power pumping.
She needed to build her milk supply FAST. So she went extreme.
"I pumped 20-30 minutes every hour for 2x24 hours.
Yes, it is very tiring, and I felt so sick just by looking at my breast pump.
But, I had to do this.
By the end of the weekend, I only accumulated 75 ml of milk (this is by combining ALL milk expressed during my 48-hr power pumping).
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I thought I would be able to collect more milk.
But the surprise came the following day when I went back to work.
In just one pumping session, I was able to express 50 ml! That's a lot, considering I was only pumping drops the day before."
Since then, whenever her supply dropped, Meta always did power pumping during the weekend or the nights whenever she's not on duty.
3. Ask the sitter to bring the baby to her workplace
There were also times where Meta had no stash at all. So she asked her babysitter brought her baby to my workplace so that she could nurse her there.
4. Using Expressed Breast Milk Delivery Service
Some times I had a few bottle of milk, but not enough for one-day feeding.
So, whenever I was able to pump at work, I use a courier service to send my EBM home, so that it can be used immediately for the next feeding.
5. Bring her baby with her in work-related trips
There were times that I need to be stationed out of town and I barely had any stash.
So, I brought Naya and her sitter during my work-trips. This way, I was able to nurse her directly and during non-feeding time, her sitter was taking care of her.
Her hard work pays off.
Meta was able to continue providing breast milk to her baby until she turned 2. Hats off to you, Meta!
Looking back, there were a lot of unforgettable moments that she had during her breastfeeding journey.
Once I attended a lecture out of town and I was able to pump 20 ml. I was extremely exhausted that day such that I forgot to bring my expressed milk home! And you know what I did? I went back to the lecture venue (2-hour drive back and fro) just to collect my 20-ml pumped milk, LOL.
I was actually lucky to work in an institution which highly supports breastfeeding. There were about 8 pediatric residents who were breastfeeding and pumping at work. We supported and cheered up each other.So, I didn't feel so lonely even though the journey was very challenging.
Also, even though, my schedule was very busy and I had very limited time with my baby, she always preferred to be with me whenever I'm at home. She even called me 'nenen' (her way of asking for milk), not 'mommy'.
I realized that breastfeeding is not just a matter of giving milk to my baby. There's so much more than that. It's the bonding between a mother and her baby. I remember when Naya had a nursing strike, I felt so sad and miserable. I realized that I need 'nursing' more than Naya needs me. I missed the cuddling, being loved, the physical bonding..."
LESSON'S LEARNT FROM META'S STORY
What could we learn from Meta's story:
1. Determination and perseverance pay off
Since the beginning, we can see how Meta is putting her hard work in building her precious stash (despite she's only pumping less than 1 oz all the time).
Her erratic work schedule does not prevent her from keep providing breast milk for her baby.
She's willing to do the power pumping, no matter how tiring it was. Or, to bring her baby to work just so that she can continue giving her breast milk. And her hard work pays off.
2. Constant support from her surrounding
She's not doing this ALONE.
In fact, she had FULL support from her family: her husband, moms, and the baby sitter.
She also had a breastfeeding mom community at her workplace, which made this journey feel easier.
So please ladies, don't do this alone. Get support from anyone: your husband, parents, friends, and find a community to cheer you up.
To end this story, here's a final note from Meta to all moms out there:
Breastfeeding is a personal choice for every mom. But know that breast milk is the BEST choice for your baby.
In my religion, breastfeeding is strongly recommended. And that's why, I believe if you put effort into it, God will help you to reach your goal.
Whether you are a stay at home mom or working mom, you can do this!
Meta is a pediatrician based in Surabaya, Indonesia. When she's not busy with her patients or playing with her daughter, you can find her writing for her blog at metahanindita.com.
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