My New Year’s resolution is to break free from the tyranny of the pump. Baby boy will be a year old pretty soon, and he never got the hang of directly feeding from me. That is, he wasn’t able to extract milk; he was very good at feeding on my flesh. We’re not talking an improper latch, here; we’re talking about crunching down on Mommy’s boob as if it were a triple-decker sandwich on ciabatta. So to the pump I turned, to save my body from mutilation and my wallet from formula-related expenses, and I was fortunate enough to have a truly abundant milk supply.
I was often reminded that I was lucky to be a prize dairy cow when I talked to other mothers, particularly those who struggled with low supply. They commiserated with me on the annoyance of having to hook my breasts up to a suction machine six or seven times a day, but congratulated me when I whipped out bottle after bottle of freshly extracted boob juice. It was nice to be able to feed my baby, my toddler (who was thrilled at the reopening of Mommy’s milk factory), and another baby to whom I donated some of my excess milk, but boy, there are some significant downsides to mechanically squeezing out the equivalent of eight grande-sized steamers each day:
1. You Are Hungry and Thirsty All the Time
I enjoyed indulging my deep and abiding love of butter and cream without having to worry about sending my weight through the stratosphere, but in order to remain functional I had to forage constantly and be extremely conscientious about drinking large quantities of fluids. This took a lot of time, cost extra money, and didn’t result in the rapid weight loss that you would expect from producing liters of milk. If I wasn’t careful about eating and drinking enough, and about keeping my electrolytes in balance, I would get spells of shakiness, dizziness, and cold sweating and have to lie down until I had taken in enough liquid, calories and salt to restore myself to normalcy.
2. Blocked Ducts Are a Given
I gave up using a bra because even a well-fitted one put too much pressure on my breasts. I couldn’t wear my son much, for the same reason, and unless I slept on my back (which is an uncomfortable position for me) I would wake up with painful, rock-hard lumps and a fever. I took lecithin for a while in an effort to keep my ducts clear, but even with all my precautions I was getting clogged ducts about once every month and a half.
3. If You’re Pumping, You’re Relying on a Machine
If you have a large supply, you simply must be able to use that machine every few hours, or you’re in trouble. Nursing women face plenty of challenges when planning their outings, but at least they’ve got everything they need right there when baby gets peckish and the breast gets full. If I was going to be out for longer than three hours at a time, I would need to find a power source or rely on the weak battery pack. I had a backup pump, which I needed when I killed my main pump, but I lived in terror that I would be stranded somewhere without the means to extract milk. Power outages at my house made me extremely nervous, though at least I had a car charger.
4. You Don’t Sleep Through the Night When the Baby Does
In the beginning, it was wonderful to give my husband a bottle and head off to bed for a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. Several months in, however, I still need to be awake for roughly an hour at a time in the dead of night to flush out the milk buildup. It takes a long time to pump 20 to 30 ounces, which is what I remove during my late-night pumpings, and it usually takes me a while to get myself back to sleep afterward. If your baby wakes up at a different time than your pump time—and he often does, as does my toddler on occasion—you have to go to bed ridiculously early in order to get a decent night’s sleep. But wait! You can’t go to bed too early, or else you’ll have to pump twice during the night, which will really foul up your sleep!
5. Your Breasts Just Aren’t What They Used to Be
Okay, this is common to most nursing women, but it’s really sad to see what the constant distention has done to my poor girls. Although I know that breasts are for feeding babies, gosh darnit, they are there for other reasons too. I’ve had ’em for more than two decades, and only in the past couple of years have they been converted to infant feeding mechanisms. There’s a lot of outcry about the sexualization of breasts, but I like having a nice set of erogenous zones on my chest. I look forward to the day when they serve purely sexual purposes again, but alas, they will always bear the mark of having been stuffed and squished over and over again.
6. You Feel Guilty About Ceasing to Pump
Breastmilk is liquid gold! It’s got all these awesome antibodies! It’s good for your baby’s gut flora! It’ll make him healthier, smarter, leaner, blah, blah, blah! You’ve got such a large supply—why in the world would you put him on formula? A lot of breastmilk claims are, frankly, overblown for resource-rich countries with good water supplies, but getting off the lactation crazy train is still guilt-inducing. Breast is best, and now you want to give up even pumping to put your child on highly processed milk made by another species? Is your discomfort really great enough for you to forego the benefits of breastmilk? Why did you even have a kid, if you’re going to be so selfish?
Well, I had a kid whom I madly adore, and I am going to be that selfish. I don’t think my baby is going to suffer from drinking cow’s milk, especially when he’s going to have a mommy who suddenly has more time to play with him and be well-rested. Feeding guilt? I am done with that. And now I am going to be done with pumping.
A final thought: When my baby was about 4 months old, I realized that his body was still taken from mine, almost as much as when he was in my womb. After all, every bit of substance that he added to himself came from milk that I produced. It was rather a wondrous feeling, even though I did have that extra layer of separation from him in the form of a breastpump. Now that my child is older and eats table foods, his body seems more like his own. And I, I am ready to reclaim my body, which I was so pleased to share with him throughout pregnancy and his first months. We’ll all be better off for it.