Opening the Milk Factory
My experiences as a new mother have taught me an innumerable amount of valuable lessons. I've learned so many things about myself on this journey, one of which happens to be how much I enjoy sharing not only my experiences but also what products and gadgets I use. Most of the items I use on a daily basis have been recommended to me by other moms and well I might as well keep passing the torch.
When I was about 7 months pregnant, someone asked me if I had gotten my breast pump already. Honestly, I was clueless. Did I need a pump? Am I going to be pumping and breastfeeding? I literally waited until about 3 weeks before I gave birth to get one. I had never thought much about pumping and had never seen it being done. So I was about as inexperienced in this world as they get. I say world because there are so many resources and pages out there for pumping moms it's like a secret society I never knew existed until now.
I can remember my first time pumping so vividly. My son had been crying almost the whole morning and when my mom came home for her lunch break I was relieved to finally have a break of my own. My head was spinning, what was wrong? My mom kept insisting he was hungry but how could he be when I had been breastfeeding him every 30 minutes for the past 4-5 hours. She asked me about my pump so that I can express the milk into a bottle and feed it to him that way. On the floor in my room sat my Medela Instyle Pump, still in the box starting to collect dust on top. I mentally fought with myself about whether or not I was doing the right thing by giving him a bottle even to the point of tears. In hindsight, I'm mad at myself for being so hesitant in giving the bottle a try because it really made all the difference for those times he would sleep longer. I couldn't even watch my mom give him the bottle because it felt like a stab in the heart. When I decided it was worth a try, I attempted to assemble the parts with shaky hands and tried to remember how to use the sterilizer my friend set up for me. To say pumping wasn't bothersome (I mean this for the first few times until you get used to it) would be lying but it wasn't quite torture. What makes the whole experience worse is your mental state. Your nipples look like they're entering a torture device and if you see it as so then it will make your experience more distressing. There are also settings on the pump so my first thought was the higher the setting the more milk will come out. WRONG. The amount of suction does not mean you will express more milk, it's more of a gradual process in which you increase the speed as you go making it more comfortable. Also, pumping shouldn't be painful because you can actually get less milk if you're in pain. Now here I am, watching my little drops of milk fall into a bottle while listening to my wailing baby with my mom. I felt rushed and anxious, not knowing was to expect. After about 15 minutes, I had milk! I was excited looking at the bottle containing my 0.5oz (Maybe even less than that) of milk. When I went to give it to my mom to feed Miles, she goes "That's it?!" Well there went my excitement, but I realized she had a point. There was barely any milk in that bottle but I insisted it would be enough to avoid using formula. I realized my excitement at the time came from actually seeing my own milk knowing it existed and I wasn't a milkless mother. However, the amount of milk I was producing was disappointing but pushed me to learn how to pump more efficiently.
The first few months of breastfeeding/pumping are hellish for most people. Your milk supply is establishing meaning there will be times you feel like there are two rocks on your chest because your body simply doesn't know how much milk to make. The engorgement gets better and and less painful by the time you hit around 2-3 months postpartum when your body finally gets with the program.
In September, I had registered for classes with a clinical component to continue my masters. The anxiety this gave me was like no other. How could I breastfeed and leave the house for hours at a time? My poor breasts would only supply so much milk but never a whole days worth. The internal battle I faced trying to decided whether I would resort to formula was making me a crazy person. I think back to these days and wonder why did I put so much pressure on myself? Let me tell you stress only makes producing milk that much worse. Pumping when your out of your house, your comfort zone, is a challenge all by itself. I started with a Medela Manual Pump. This is great because it doesn't require batteries or a plug and it's pretty quiet compared to an electric pump. The downside is that you pump with your hand and if you take a bit longer than 10 minutes to get a decent amount of milk your hand will get tired. Also, your pumping one breast at a time so if you already have carpal tunnel, your going to need a Motrin or a wrist brace by the time your done. I asked a friend what she uses to pump on the go and she recommended a Spectra 9 . I love this pump! It's small, fairly quiet compared to my home pump, and allows for double pumping on the go. This pump is rechargeable and good for about 4 pump sessions depending on how long you pump for. I would most definitely get this pump if your looking for something portable, lightweight, and easy to use when your not home.
The amount of supplies needed to pump outside of your house is like carrying a mini suitcase. I realized that a regular purse would not suffice with the amount of things I needed to carry with me. One day I noticed one of my mommy friends carrying a fairly large but stylish purse which she told me was her diaper bag. A diaper bag purse? What genius created this? I bought this diaper bag purse as soon as I could and let me tell you it's so convenient to just have my purse and diaper bag all in one. I can fit my pump supplies, insulated cooler with ice pack and my own purse contents in it.
Once you have all your supplies in order and know how to use your on the go pump, actually doing it is another story. A lot of people know about lactation room laws and what not but not every single facility has a room specifically for that. Most breastfeeding moms resort to bathroom stalls for privacy to pump which is outrageous. Would you eat your lunch if it was prepared in a bathroom stall? Finding employers and coworkers that understand your desire to continue breastfeeding while working is scarce. I have been going to my clinical a few times a week since my son turned a month old. One of the first times I pumped in the clinic, I asked a nurse where I could go to have some privacy. She pointed to a room that she was sitting right in front of and said "Oh well you can use that room right there since the doctor is done with it". Okay great. I went into the room with no lock and began doing my thing. In a matter of 20 minutes, about 5 people walked into the room and quickly left when they realized what I was doing. The rest of my pumping session was done with tears streaming down my face. As I walked out of the room, the nurse was still seated right outside with a sly smile and asked "Are you all done?". This was my first lesson in learning how unsupportive others can be of this decision to breastfeed, even women and people in the health care industry. The next time I ask that same nurse if there was another room available with a lock on the door, she replied "Well you can use the bathroom if you need a lock".
There has been many times that I found myself in tears, trembling at the fact that other people could make this experience that much harder for me. I began walking blocks to my car with my heavy bag in hand and pumping in the cold (my heat didn't work for a while) just so I can continue breastfeeding. I would be so conscious in the car about having my breast exposed while strangers walked by on the street. My eyes darting around trying make sure no one could see me. It's a terrible thing to experience because this should not be a shameful thing but rather something admired that a mother would work so hard to provide milk for her baby.
I eventually came across a woman who told me about an empty office I could use which has been tremendously helpful in keeping up my pumping schedule. While I'm away from home, I pump every 4-5 hours. I try my best to make it every 4 hours but things happen. If your not on a tight schedule, your supply will dwindle. This is probably one of the more frustrating things about breastfeeding because your baby will eventually sleep through the night but that doesn't mean you will get to. Most breastfeeding moms are up at least once a night to pump, for me it's about 1-2am every night consistently. I strap on my life saving medela nursing bra that was gifted to me and pump away.
I can tell you that breastfeeding after you've returned to work/school is not easy which is why many moms give up around that point. It's a commitment and basically like having a second job. Then there are the snide comments you receive from people who don't understand. There will be people who have a problem with how much time away from work/school you spend by going to pump which will be at least twice in an 8 hour day. Then there's those people that simply will make comments out of pure ignorance and hate. Being a nurse myself surprised me even more that other nurses could be so despiteful. I had one comment on my diaper bag purse saying "Wow that's a big bag you can practically fit a kennel in there and carry an animal." Or how about "How did you find time to highlight your hair with all that pumping you do?" Little did she know, I sat in that salon chair that day with the cape still on from my hair cut and pumped.
I cannot begin to express how much this journey of motherhood has taught me. In this aspect, I've become proud. Proud of myself for pushing past these bad experiences and continuing to do breastfeed as long as I can. I refuse to stop just because it is hard or because others don't understand. When I do stop it will be by my own accord. The mothers that breastfeed up until their babies are 1 or even longer are not given enough recognition. It's such a time consuming life altering commitment that requires hourly work. To those that can't simply understand why a mother would choose to make her life more difficult this is how I see it: Could I not sacrifice this short amount of time for the most important person in my life if I am able to? Babies do not stay babies forever. Eventually this time will pass but for now I will keep working hard at my "part-time" breastfeeding job and carrying my 3 pound kennel purse because I will do anything for this tiny human.
As a side note, this is not to put down moms who chose to give their babies formula. Everyone has there own reasons why they stop breastfeeding. Babies also do not have to have exclusively one or the other, but some Mom give both formula and breastmilk. Many moms even find themselves happier and better able to care for their child because they no longer feel pressured. This like anything else with parenting is a personal choice that no one should pass judgment on. Healthy babies are fed babies regardless of where the milk is coming from.
I have provided links in this blog in case any moms were interested in any of these products. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.