Pumping: the Agony and the Ecstasy

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I’m at work. My nipples tingle and my breasts ache to nurse Emily.

About six weeks ago, I decided to stop pumping  at work. I still nurse on demand when I am with Emily, who is nearly one year old, so in no way am I weaning.  I will nurse her until she is ready to phase it out herself. 

My goal had been to provide Em exclusively with breast milk for the first year of her life. I got to about nine months, and then for the sake of my sanity, I decided to hang up the pump horns for good. Depending on which side of the “bfing” fence you are on, your reaction to that might be, “Wow nine months! That’s amazing!” Or something like, “Why would you stop? Don’t you know formula is poison?” Depending on my mood any given day, I go back and forth between both reactions.

This decision was not made lightly. When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I did pretty well pumping for Emily to have milk at daycare.  I followed the rule of leaving one ounce for every hour I was away from her, so even if I could only pump 9-12 ounces per day, she was all set.  For whatever reason, my body is not one that responds to a breast pump.  Often, I see pictures online of gluttonous freezer stashes of mom’s who can pump copious amounts of milk.  These images grip me with envy.  Sometimes, when leaving food for my daughter in the fridge at daycare, I will see baggies or bottles of breast milk akin to a supersize soda, and I will sigh, and feel inadequate to the core of my being.  Despite my crazy jealousy of other women’s bodily fluids, I still managed to feel amazing when I could send Emily to daycare with a few little baggies of my milk.  It was comforting to know she would taste and smell her mama even when we were apart.  And my pump time at work was like a lovely meditation.  It was time completely to myself when I could focus entirely on connecting with my daughter, even while apart. 

At one point, I had a freezer stash of 80 ounces.  I would sometimes take it out to rearrange it by date, counting the ounces like a miser counting coins.  I was remarkably proud of my 80 ounces.  And this 80 ounces provided Em with enough mama milk for another couple weeks after I stopped pumping. 

So, why did I stop?  Well, once Emily started solids, her nursing patterns changed.  Then I came down with thrush and my supply dipped significantly when I was pumping.  She always seemed content at the breast, and her growth was never an issue, so I always felt confident that she was getting enough.  But when I would pump for 45 minutes and only get one let down and a couple ounces, I would find myself close to tears.  I spent a small fortune on fenugreek, blessed thistle, Mother’s Milk Tea, and Motherlove More Milk herbal supplement.  I did compressions.  I power pumped.  I looked at pictures and videos of Emily on my phone, smelled articles of her clothes, and chanted to relax.  Nothing increased my supply.  All I got were a bunch of truly uncomfortable milk blisters

The obsessing began in ernest.  I phoned and emailed my IBCLC, posted on breast feeding support groups and read everything online I could find.  My lovely meditation turned into torture as I literally tried to wring the milk out of my breasts.  I thought, if only I can make it a few more months, then she can start cow’s milk and I won’t have to be seen buying the dreaded formula.  Looking at Emily’s face while she contentedly nursed would trigger feelings of being a horrible mother for contemplating the inevitable. 

There was no precise moment of clarity or distinct end to the obsessing.  Several things that people posted to me online, or said to me in person helped me to let it go.  Someone mentioned that it is unnatural for a mom to be apart from her baby 40 hours per week, and that in reality for a lot of moms, it is hard at best and impossible at worst to keep up with the pumping.  Another close friend urged me to congratulate myself on getting so far exclusively breast feeding.  Someone else encouraged me to think about how awesome it would be to NOT wash pump parts every night. 

I fought through gaping nipple wounds, mastitis, thrush, and supply issues to provide my little one with my milk.  This is an accomplishment.  Looking at the situation through the lens of “Wow, I really did do well,” rather than, “I am inferior for not being able to pump 16 ounces in ten minutes,” helps.  I share this for other moms who have fought tooth and nail to nurse and still feel inadequate.  What we give our babies is beautiful.  What we give our babies is enough. 

In the mean time, when my breasts buzz to let me know they are filling for my baby, I try to savor this mild discomfort.  I know that I won’t feel this level of engorgement for much longer, but while I can feel it, I am connected tangibly to Emily when we are apart.  So, I sit at work and smile a little, knowing I can be at peace in my nursing relationship.

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11 responses »

  1. “For whatever reason, my body is not one that responds to a breast pump. Often, I see pictures online of gluttonous freezer stashes of mom’s who can pump copious amounts of milk. These images grip me with envy.” Finally someone says it!! I thought I was the only one jealous of those women. I am a happy breastfeeding mama, but the pump remains my nemesis! Now, it is true that I’ve never owned one of those expensive double pumps, but I don’t think it’d matter. My milk lets down within 10-30 sec when my son (14 months) is nursing, but a pump? 5 minutes? Owwwie!

    • Yeah, it is pretty funny the things we women get jealous of! Hey, look at her new hair color! Oooh, I want that pocketbook! Wow, those shoes are to die for! OMG– look at her freezer full of boob juice!! I think more of us can relate to this than we would like to admit, which is why I wrote about it! Thanks for your comment!

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  5. Yes! It’s crazy how envious I am of a coworkers’ 6oz bag of milk after one pumping session. I pump 4 times during my work day and am lucky to get 10oz total. I hear you, momma, and I needed to read this today. ♥ Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh my, I remember those days so well! Depending on how long you are away from your little one, 10 ounces might be enough for him/her while you are apart. A breast fed baby needs about one to one and a half ounces for every hour you are away from them (not like formula babies who guzzle up to 8 oz at each feed). I used to leave my daughter with about 10 oz per day. . . she didn’t like bottles at daycare though and did a lot of reverse cycling at night to make up for it. Good luck! And remember, anywhere from 1-4 oz per pump session is considered “normal” pump output and anything above that is considered oversupply. So you are doing great! xo. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

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