When is it Ok to stop exclusively expressing?
Something I read/hear a lot in relation to exclusively expressing is "how to do I know when it's OK to stop?".
Reasons mothers choose to exclusively express differ - some end up doing it because their baby won't latch directly, some prefer being able to see how much their baby is getting, some don't want a baby to latch directly. Whatever the reason, most will agree that it is hard work.
I'm not saying that direct breastfeeding or parenting in general isn't hard, but expressing comes with unique challenges - being tied to a pump while trying to entertain/console/feed the baby, being bound by a schedule of needing to pump, worrying that you can get enough out to give your baby for the next feed.
Just like direct breastfeeding a lot of mothers who exclusively express will be asked 'when are you going to stop?'. But unlike direct breastfeeding this might be a harder question to answer. With direct breastfeeding a lot will say 'when the baby wants to stop', or 'when they get to xx months'. With exclusive expressing it can be a bit harder to put an end date on it.
Unless a mother has made a conscious decision to start exclusively expressing, there is usually a lot of guilt that goes with it. If the baby hasn't wanted to latch directly, or if their supply has been low - they might feel that if they stop prematurely they are denying their baby something important.
I ended up exclusively expressing because of both the reasons above. I fought hard to increase my supply - maybe too hard in hindsight - I wanted to prove that I could make enough and once I did I didn't know how, or when, to stop.
Before having my daughter I had planned to exclusively direct breastfeed as per the WHO Guidelines and continue for long as she wanted - even it that was 2 years or more. But now that I was exclusively expressing I was lost - how long do I do this for now?
I was told my fellow mothers in the expressing FB group that I should make small goals and to reassess when I get to them.
I was already almost at 3 months by the time I got up to an almost full supply, so I made 6 months my first goal.
One day around 4 months I had a mini meltdown. I posted in the expressing group - I was exhausted, I was depressed (I didn't use that word, but people in that group obviously understood), I wanted to give up. But every time I thought about stopping I would have an overwhelming feeling of guilt and want to burst into tears. What should I do?!
I got the best advice ever from that group - DO NOT give up on a bad day. Because if you do you will regret it more. Stop only when you have made the decision calmly and rationally.
Six months came and when I thought about stopping I would still feel panicked, and want to cry. My daughter was still a baby and in my mind babies were meant to have breast milk. She still depended on me to make her food.
I knew I wasn't ready to stop completely. Instead I started making 'deals' - I would stop taking domperidone and if my supply dropped then I would stop. But it didn't drop. So I stopped the other glactologues I was on (I counted that I was 11 at the height of my journey!). But it still didn't drop.
I wondered if I could make it to 1 year?. But that thought just exhausted me more. But the idea of her having breastmilk until she was 1 made me feel good.
So I came up with a new plan - I would give her half breastmilk and half formula, and freeze the excess. I calculated how much I would need to give her 1 bottle (150mls) of expressed breastmilk every day until her first birthday.
I got to that goal just as she got to 9 months. And when I realised that I was there I stopped to think about how I felt about stopping, and I realised I was OK with it. In fact I was somewhat excited about it. I had done the best I could, and my daughter would get some breastmilk up to 1 year.
It took me until just before she was 10 months to completely wean, and I put away my pump around New Years 2015 (my daughter was born in early March 2014).
So when I read posts that say or have someone tell me "I'm exhausted, I want to stop, but I feel guilty when I think about stopping" this is what I say - if you think about stopping and the feeling you have is more overwhelmingly negative than the thought of having to continue, then you probably aren't ready to stop. If you think of stopping and you are at peace with that decision, then you are probably ready.
I set up this business in early 2016 to make Spectra breast pumps more accessable to the families or Perth, and to make other products more accessible around Australia. I have since become an International Board Certifed Lactation Consultant and HypnoBirthing practitioner - I want to help familes have a positive birth and breastfeeding journey, regardless of how that actually happens - www.cherishedparenting.com.au