Friday, February 27, 2009

Ali's Annals 8.0: Pump up the Jam

It's that time, folks. I figured it would be appropriate to complete my pumping post after my standard 10pm pumping session. I kid you not—I sing this song in my head every time I hook the udders up. I have to do something to bolster my compliance. I’ve said it before; pumping is my frienemy. I intellectually recognize how important and essential it is as a woman who works outside of the home who also wants to keep her child breast milk fed, but I have never found one iota of pleasure with the process. It began immediately upon Miles’s birth. I was attached to the hospital pump for most of the day, banking milk for Miles to be tube fed. If I wasn’t in the NICU visiting him, I was in the hospital pumping room, staring at the dirty Dora the Explorer Doll with marker tattooed on her face.

Three random things that make it displeasing:

THE SOUND. I know, I know…how bad can it be? It is not that I need ear plugs because it rivals the noise of a Metallica concert, but the sound is as naughty as this post’s categorization (Pumping Annal). There is a rhythmic pulsating that I am convinced sends my office into high alert. Once I shut the curtain to my window and lock my door, I know there is a flurry of e-mails that go around—“here she goes again! Better take a 20 minute break because you know you cannot get work done with that naughty noise.” So I exaggerate, but the noise really does carry through the walls so I try to muffle the noise with a cardigan. I always emerge and scurry to the kitchen with my “secret stash” of bottles that I slip into the freezer. And it is always on my way back that I look down making sure all my buttons are fastened, and that I didn’t forget to cover the udders. I have this fear that as comfortable as I have gotten at home being shirtless, that one of these days I am going to walk out of my office bare chested.

THE FEEL. Breastfeeding has never hurt. Pumping can get uncomfortable if you crank up the suction too high. (Note! Increasing suction does not increase production…). Additionally, if you do it for too long, you’ll come away with white nips.

THE “FEEL.” By this, I mean that pumping does not make you feel particularly attractive. The image of a woman nursing is pleasant, natural, comforting. I have yet to stumble across any paintings hanging in a museum of a woman hooked up to the Medela (Grunkle Seth--any at the MFA you can speak of?). Find any photo of a woman pumping and she has this saccharine smile only encouraged by the paycheck she is receiving as a pump model. (In this economy, I would gladly take a job on as a pump model!) I get done pumping, my chest is empty, and I feel like going back to my corral in the cow barn.
(See that woman in the last picture? There is some evil in her corneas; after the photo shoot, you know she wants to take the pump and go outside and throw it on the ground Office Space style). First, let’s get to the equipment. I have already trumpeted my preference for Medela. There are a host of different types of pumps—all expensive, but all worth it. I have the freestyle, which allows me to go hands free during my pumping sessions. This is especially convenient at work when I can still type on the computer or do paperwork. (I am not nearly as happy as the women above while pumping, nor do I do my work in white pajamas with strategically placed silk flowers when I work from home. I tend to lean toward the oversized sweatshirt and sweatpants option).

Where does all of the milk go? I did not have luck with the milk storage bags. Actually, it was primarily that it took too much messing about strapping them to the pump apparatus. For a long time I pumped into the Medela bottles provided with my pump or into the 2 oz volume feeders I got while Miles was in the hospital. I froze the individual bottles as well as kept this organized little line of ten 2oz bottles arranged by seniority in the fridge. In the early days, we really did go out quite a bit, and my lack of confidence in nursing led us to use breastmilk in bottles quite a bit. My supply suffered later on. D'oh.

After my frozen stash dwindled, I basically began pumping milk to get me through the next day, and that is what I still do. Everyday is a challenge to get three 5oz bottles. My freezer hasn’t seen breast milk since this summer. Because milk can stay in the fridge for 5-7 days, I really have no need to freeze it as I would be getting it out within 5 days. There isn’t a way in God’s green earth that I could produce enough to warrant freezer storage anymore. I guess I could quit my job and truly nurse and pump all day, but there are so many reasons why that won't happen.

I began pumping into the Medela bottle and then transferring the milk into our Born Free bottles. This got old, too, and I finally figured out that there were adapters I could buy so that I could pump directly into the Born Free bottles that Miles drank from. No transfering or pouring. Well, that's not completely true. I'll attach one adapter and bottle, and the other side I'll just attach a medela storage bottle (no need for an adapter). Then, at the end of the session, I pour what I retrieved from the medela side into the Born Free bottle.
Ah bottles. I registered for/purchased bottles during the beginning of the BPA craze. There weren’t many bottles that were certified BPA-free. Born Free was essentially the only option. We have been extremely happy with the bottles. They don’t leak, are sturdy, easy to clean, but they are expensive. Now, pretty much all bottles are BPA free, and many options are cheaper. I cannot speak to any other bottles’ functionality, but needless to say, y’all have more to choose from now. (We did try Adiri bottles. They leaked a LOT for us. I love the look, but they failed to perform.)

I am a list kind of girl these days. Composing elaborate text requires too much mental and cognitive gymnastics, whereas lists allow fragments and save a whole lot of time to do things like PUMP. Here are my pumping pointers, problems and ponderings. Any other pumping moms out there, feel free to use the comment section to add your own.

  • You will never get as much pumping as your child gets from nursing for the same amount of time. Babies are far more efficient at emptying the breasts. Additionally, I have always experienced a significant decrease in milk production at night, most evident when I pump.

  • Pumping can be isolating, unless you are comfortable doing it in front of guests. I DID do it in the back of my father-in-law's van the first week of Miles’s life. Not recommended.

  • Although, I have pumped in the car with Eric and Miles more times than I can count. I pretty much do it every weekend, or any time we are on our way as a family to an event--dinner, shopping, you name it. It helps to sit in the back, and have a supportive husband who is willing to strategically drive so that truckers don’t pull up next to you at a red light for a free boobie show.

  • Working full time and pumping is hard. Point blank.
  • I have now found a system where I pump for 10-15 minutes and then spend 5 minutes hand expressing. I get more milk this way. I feel like the pump sort of primes the ducts, or brings the milk to the front and then my hands are better at getting it all to come out. You’ll find a system that works for you.

  • I wish I didn’t stop pumping after each nursing session a few months back. It gets really hard to do anything else in life if you pump after nursing, but I truly believe I wouldn’t be so strapped for my stash if I kept it up. (Some people are blessed with over abundant supply, too. That was just not me.) True, I could start it up again, but when your life adjusts to a new schedule that is relieved of pumping every blessed hour, it is really hard to go back. It is like running a marathon, walking at Mile 22, and then trying to pick back up running to finish the last 4 miles--it takes every ounce of your being to get running again. And with pumping, there is no medal at the finish line, or throngs of cheerleaders on the sidelines with posters that say "Yay Ali! You can do it!"

  • Pump for 2-5 minutes after your milk stops flowing. This helps your body register that it needs to make more milk.

  • You need to wash your pumping equipment every day. Although, I just rinse it while at work, and do a good wash at night. I just started using the dishwasher for bottles and the pumping parts (top rack). Prior, I hand washed everything with special soap. Necessary? Not sure. But I was pretty anal back then, and am now becoming that "negligent" mother who lets her baby play with knives and eat rocks. Just kidding! But I really have calmed down and don't feel like Miles is so fragile and susceptible to sickness. I also realized that I used a whole heck of a lot of water and decided that with natural detergent, the dishwasher would make life easier. I am happy to report that it has.

  • I cannot wait to stop pumping, but I have a feeling that the second I stop pumping, I’ll need to start up again with another baby. I would be lying if I said that I don't think about hitting that 12 month mark and making a concerted decision to stop pumping. I may make a paper chain to count down the days.

  • I have usually only been able to pump around 4-7 oz in one session. I could get more when he was younger, and now really do struggle to get 5 oz/session.

  • Because you all are just dying to read my schedule, here is where we are at 9 months:

Miles wakes up between 5:15-5:45 am. Until he leaves for school at 7:15 am, we engage in “ADD” nursing. (i.e. nurse him on demand) in our bed. Miles gets b-fast in bed, and Dad kindly gets me b-fast in bed consisting of usually tea, OJ, oatmeal and a bagel.

Go to work and pump between 10-11am for 20 minutes.

Pump again around 2-3pm for 20 minutes

Pick Mee-lez up and ADD nurse at home at 5pm

Nurse again at bedtime while Eric reads a story

Pump between 9-10pm

(On the weekends I just nurse on demand throughout the day, but I do have to figure out how to get three 5 oz bottles for him to take to school on Monday).

I hope this post isn't as boring as it is to actually pump.


  1. Oh my goodness! If that's the "song" that fills your head everytime you pump - no wonder you dislike it! Seriously, it's quite a sacrifice you're making for your baby when you pump - good for you! My list of comments:
    -who knew there were pump models? and how much do they get paid???
    -It's good (and very normal) that you have relaxed a bit with the sanitizing craze. It's most crucial when you have a newborn, but there are (as you know) studies indicating that some exposure to dirt, germs, and allergens is important to developing a healthy immune system.
    -It's obvious this whole system takes a supportive (and skilled in the art of hiding a nursing mother in the car) husband, too.
    -It will all be over before very long believe it or not....until next time.

  2. I am really impressed that you're still managing to pump and breastfeed. We finally gave in in this household, and while it was the right decision for us, it made me really guilty/sad. Way to go, Ali!

    By the way, I now have that song stuck in my head. How funny that the video for it was so cool back in the day!

  3. How funny are those pictures of the women wearing the pumps? They look like an infomercial!

    Way to go, Momma! You are an inspiration!

  4. Hi Ali,
    Not boring at all, for those of us who are going through the same thing anyway...I can't tell you how reassuring it is to hear that someone else in the world is having a hard time getting 5 oz at a time...the public health world would have me to believe that i'm a crazy and terrible mother for struggling to continue bf'ing to 6 months (and hopefully beyond...but we'll just have to see about that one)!

    As far as the friday-to-monday pump-to-get-three-bottles dash, i'm in the same boat as well. I find that if i can just stick to my pumping schedule at work on fridays, that milk just kind of hangs out in the freezer until monday. usually by the end of the week, it's even harder to get what KR needs for the day so sometimes i have to add one pumping session sometime during the weekend.
    oh, and by the way my pump song is "domo arrigato mr. roboto"...cause i feel like a robot or a machine when hooked up to my medela apparatus! :0)