When I first started breastfeeding, I was faced with many challenges, from a NICU stay due to failure to latch, to a milk protein allergy that had my doctor telling me to quit. But I persevered, and by around five months had established breastfeeding as a comforting (for both of us) routine and ritual. I loved it.
The thing about breastfeeding for me was that it helped prove to myself that my body was capable of doing something right, after years of infertility and miscarriages. It helped heal me, in a way. I was able to feed my baby, to make him grow. All that weight he gained? That was from me! It was an amazing feeling.
After I got laid off and decided to stay home, I ditched the pump and the bottle, and continued to let LM nurse on demand. Breastfeeding was a big part of our first year or so together, a way of bonding us together. This was something special only we shared.
As he passed a year, the age at which most babies are weaned, many of my mom friends stopped breastfeeding. But I didn’t see any reason to stop, so we kept going. Luckily, I faced no pressure from my husband or family to wean. They were supportive of my decision to keep nursing.
Eventually, though, in the back of my mind I started to think it might not be a bad thing if he weaned. Nursing a toddler is not as calming as nursing an infant. There is a lot of twisting, kicking, pulling, twiddling and general gymnastics going on. I wanted to tell him, “Just stay still!”
Plus, I wanted to think about having another baby, which would entail fertility treatments yet again. Now, doctors will generally tell you to wean before attempting an IVF for two reasons. One is concern about the medications, and another is that a raised prolactin level may impede your lining’s growth and make implantation less likely. But, both of these concerns are greater when you’re talking about an infant who gets all of his nutrition from nursing — less so when talking about a toddler who nurses once a day. Plus, although there haven’t been any studies on fertility meds one way or another, the little research I could find said that the drugs, which are naturally occurring in a woman’s body anyway, are safe.
There seems to be a bit of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude when it comes to fertility doctors and nursing. I was worried when we saw our RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that she would ask me if I was nursing, but she didn’t. I talked to a few other moms who cycled while nursing toddlers. I felt confident that I was producing so little milk that LM would not be at risk from nursing, nor would my prolactin level be too high (and bloodwork showed it wasn’t).
Then in a serendipitous turn of events, LM started weaning as I geared up for my fertility testing. The first to go was the nursing around naps. Our routine became such that he would fall asleep in the car on the way back from our morning activity, and then I would transfer him inside. When he woke he would sometimes ask for it, but after telling him no a few times, he stopped asking. He still threw a big tantrum after waking up from naps cranky, but he didn’t seem to connect that with needing to nurse anymore. Then, because he started staying up super late when he napped, we started encouraging him to go without napping anyway.
Then it was the morning. Because I’m lazy, I would generally take LM back to bed with me to nurse. But on the days Foggy Daddy got up with him, he just took LM straight downstairs. And LM didn’t seem to miss it. One Saturday morning LM burst back into our room after Foggy Daddy changed his diaper. I was still in bed, and he hopped up, asking to nurse. FD asked if he wanted to go downstairs with him. LM thought about it for a minute, said, “downstairs,” and got off the bed. He actually chose his breakfast (or his father) over me.
That left nursing before bed. It just so happened that last week my sister was visiting my parents, so we spent several evenings there. We’d change LM into his pjs before leaving, and he’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we’d transfer him to the bed. One night as I went to lay him down he woke up. “Mama, lay down,” he instructed. Here we go, I thought, believing he wanted to nurse. But he just cuddled next to me and went to sleep.
The last night at my parents’ house I decided to stay over. LM stayed on an airbed on the floor, and he made me sleep next to him. But, he woke up throughout the night, frequently asking to nurse. Because I had put my foot down on night nursing a long time ago, I felt comfortable refusing. In the morning, though, he asked again, and the desperate look in his eyes made me give in. A few sucks, a few minutes, and he was done. I was so tired I had my eyes closed the whole time, but now I wonder if I missed the last time he would ever nurse.
The real test would be putting him to bed at home. So far, two nights have passed in which I’ve put him down without nursing. The first day he asked, settling into position in the cradle of my arm, but I asked him if he wanted to read a book instead and he popped back up.
Last night he didn’t even ask.
So this might be it. This morning he did briefly ask, but I gently redirected him and he was OK with it. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. Part of me is glad — now I can pursue fertility treatments without worrying about it. But what if I can’t cycle after all, or if I don’t get pregnant? I feel like I would have encouraged him to wean for nothing. I could have maybe had a few more months of nursing my baby.
I will miss that special relationship. I tell myself that if I’m determined to have another child, I will nurse again. Even if our second child ends up being adopted, I will try to induce lactation, or at least feed him or her with a supplemental nursing system (in which a tube is taped to the nipple through which breastmilk or formula flows) in order to experience some of the same bonding I had with LM. There is no reason a baby can’t be nursed for comfort, even if he or she gets her nutrients elsewhere. I recently read about a tribe in Africa where the fathers actually nurse the babies when the mothers aren’t available.
So maybe it’s just time. There were no (or few) tears. True, there was gentle encouragement from me, but LM seemed to be going down that path anyway.
So, breastfeeding, thank you for allowing me to feel like a woman again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bond with my baby in that way. Thank you for this special gift that not everyone is able to experience.
I will miss you.
(Of course, there is a chance that LM could ask for nursing again. In fact, by writing this, I’ve probably jinxed it. So stay tuned.)
Extended breastfeeders, how did you feel when your child finally weaned? Did you have to encourage your child, or did he or she do it on their own?
Want to know why mommy is so foggy today? Because someone figured out how to climb over the gate to his bedroom, and came bounding into his parents’ room — scaring the sh*t out of them — at 2 a.m. I didn’t hear a thing on the monitor. The kid is like a ninja.
So what could I do? I couldn’t put LM back in his room, knowing that he couldn’t be contained in there. It was lucky he chose to come into our room instead of one of the other rooms upstairs — or instead of trying to climb over the gate at the top of the stairs (hmm, maybe we should remove that in case he figures out how to climb over it, too?).
LM can open the doorknobs on our doors unless they have a child lock on them, which his bedroom doesn’t (yet). Foggy Daddy thinks it would be cruel to close his bedroom door, effectively “locking him in.” I suppose that does conjure up images of neglected children in some Dickensian novel or Jane Eyre or maybe even Harry Potter being locked in his cupboard under the stairs. But if it’s the safest thing for it, doesn’t that make it OK? Let me know if I’m in the wrong here, but I don’t see much difference between that and his gate — both are supposed to keep him from escaping.
Because I can just see him making his way down the stairs. Someone has left the gate at the bottom open too (not that it’s much of an obstacle for him anymore). Someone has also forgotten to close the child lock on the door to the mudroom. And because you’re not supposed to put child locks on an outside door (not sure why — fire hazard?), LM makes his way outside on some freezing winter night.
I wouldn’t put it past him.
There are other hazards inside the house, too. The hallway on the second floor has a half-wall overlooking the staircase that LM has tried to pull himself up on. That freaked me out. We have all the furniture in his bedroom and the family room bolted to the wall, but the spare bedrooms are less child-proofed. I bought child locks thinking we could just shut those doors, but then LM might be more tempted by the stairs, which is the bigger danger, I think.
We are in an in-between stage of LM’s life where he doesn’t understand danger but is very much capable of getting himself into it. I try to teach him what is and what is not OK to do, but I don’t want to gamble his life on his following those directives when I’m not around.
This child is terrifying me.
So last night after he made his way into our room and I realized his was no longer safe, he came in bed with us — although he wasn’t much interested in sleeping. He nursed constantly, an annoying toddler nursing that involved him constantly switching from side to side and contorting in weird ways and twiddling. Dear God, the twiddling. In so many ways I want LM not to grow up, to stay a baby. And although I will miss nursing, his constant grabbing, his dire need for it, the tantrums he throws when he doesn’t get it make me think I really might be OK if he wanted to stop.
But middle-of-the-night nursing is not the norm anymore — this was really a one-time thing. Still, I didn’t get much sleep, leading to a very foggy day indeed for me.
As the fog in my brain finally lifts (at least a little), I wonder, what am I going to do tonight with our little climber?
Moms of climbers, how do you handle the challenge?
This lovely quote came from one of LM’s doctors when he was just two months old and we were having some difficulties nursing. Unfortunately, stories like mine are all too common.
Yesterday was a perfect day for the beach – warm but not too humid, a gentle breeze blowing, swirls of white clouds in the otherwise blue sky. My mom friends and I had planned this day trip weeks ago, so we were lucky the weather cooperated. Whether our kids would was another story.
We were supposed to meet at 10, but I didn’t arrive until 11. LM was asleep, but the stroller ride to the beach woke him up. I was left with a cranky pants who didn’t know what he wanted – water, food, toys, none of it seemed to appease him. On top of that, I had just gotten a Fit Pregnancy assignment, so I had to do some research and emailing on my phone right away. I begged him to play on his own so I could take a few minutes. But he wouldn’t.
Eventually he started to settle down. We walked down to look at the ocean, and his initial hesitation near the water morphed into an obsession with running towards the waves with abandon. “He’s fearless,” a woman sitting on a chair nearby remarked. “I know, and it’s making me nervous,” I laughed. “He’s making me nervous, too!” she responded. When a stranger says something like that, you know it’s not just parental anxiety.
I dragged him away from the ocean, screaming (him, not me, although I wanted to), and tried to get him interested in the sand toys. Eventually, he started playing by himself near the other kids. I asked one of my mom friends to keep an eye on him while I wrote my email. Once I was done, I felt like I could finally relax. But then the other moms started packing up to leave.
So I decided to stay on my own with LM. As my mom friends loaded up and started walking away, I hoped they didn’t think I was rude. Because I had gotten there late and had been preoccupied with work, I didn’t feel like I had really been at the shore for very long. I wanted to try to enjoy it – as much as one can while trying to make sure your kid is hydrated and fed and sunscreened up and not about to run directly into the ocean.
LM played by himself for a little while longer, letting me decompress and start to calm my mind. Then he suddenly pointed toward the waves. Oh no, not this again, I thought. But when we got down to the water, he asked to be picked up. I did, and he seemed to relax in my arms. I started to slowly sway with him. Although he had napped in the car on the way down, he was so tranquil it seemed as though he might fall asleep. I started softly humming Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” my lullaby for the beach, as LM took long, deep breaths. He put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. I leaned into him, perfectly present and blissful in the moment. He suddenly lifted his head up again, and gave me a soft, serene smile. He pointed up the beach toward our chair.
Walking away from the ocean, I knew he was going to want to nurse. I usually don’t breastfeed in public anymore, because LM doesn’t ask and because he squirms all around and changes from boob to boob. But I decided this was the right time to do it – it is World Breastfeeding Week after all. I grabbed a towel to cover me a bit and pulled my bathing suit down. LM was not squirmy – instead he seemed perfectly restful. I wondered, then, if he could feel my moods and was taking them on. So when I was anxious about being late and having work to do, he was whiny and cranky; but when I was peaceful, so was he.
I try – and fail – so hard to be present in the moment, but my natural type-A personality has a very hard time with it. Even if I’m not actually multitasking, my brain has a way of drifting and thinking about other things besides what I’m doing right then. It makes me feel like I miss parts of LM’s life because I am so concerned about all of the other things going on.
I don’t know if it’s just the calming effect that the shore has on me that allowed me to, finally, accomplish being mindful and present. But in that moment at the beach, I wasn’t concerned with other things. I wasn’t distracted. I was absolutely focused on LM, loving and treasuring him and just being, well, content.
Do you also struggle with being perfectly present in your child’s life? Have you ever had a memorable mindful moment?
This week I read a piece by a former coworker of mine about how she is tired of people who “fat shame” her eight-month-old by remarking on her rolls and overall chubbiness. The response to her story was mixed, with some praising her for speaking out and others saying that it was her own issues with weight that were going to give her daughter a complex, not the comments of strangers.
I understand where the author was coming from. She had weight problems in the past that made her sensitive to “baby fat” comments, and she wants people to understand how such remarks make others feel. Likewise, I had infertility issues in the past that made me sensitive to comments about having more children. People who responded to my piece about it told me to chill out, that it wasn’t fair to expect everyone to be sensitive to my particular problem. An advocate for infertility awareness, I argued that yes, I do expect people to be more sensitive to it.
But in my case, the sensitivity I was arguing for was solely for my own benefit, not my child’s. He’ll hopefully never have to deal with infertility, and if he does, it won’t be when he’s a child (duh); although the attitudes he perceives about infertility as he grows up might affect how he comes to terms with it should it ever happen to him. But in the case of weight, it’s a little different. I have heard of girls in elementary school already worrying about how fat they are or how they need to diet. This hyper-awareness of weight in young girls is a problem we need to face.
At the same time, I believe that the most important factor in how a girl develops self-esteem and positive body image is her mother’s own views and attitudes. So I also agree with the commenters who argued that the author of the piece was putting her own issues with weight on her daughter by taking to heart comments about her roly poly-ness, and that that would be more likely than anything to affect her daughter’s views on her body.
I’m coming at this without a history of weight issues. I was always curvy but still thin growing up, through college and into my twenties. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight (yes, you can hate me for that). My mother and sister were also naturally thin, so dieting was not ever a thing in our house. We ate healthy and my parents prepared homemade, mostly Mediterranean-style dinners. We were only allowed to have “sweet cereal,” like Lucky Charms or Cap’n Crunch (mmm), once a week. My parents didn’t keep junk food like chips in the house; although there were definitely cookies and ice cream to be had. But thanks for the most part to good genes, we never got fat.
Then I got older, had fertility issues and had a baby. I am about 11 or 12 pounds heavier than I was at our wedding, and probably more than 15 over my high school weight. That might not sound like a whole lot, but I’m only 5″1′. Plus, my stomach has taken to bulging out thanks to a slight case of diastasis recti, which a PT friend of mine diagnosed me with. So I am definitely wider than I used to be. Foggy Daddy gets really annoyed when I make him help me pick out clothes to wear, because it usually ends with me in a rage screaming, “Nothing fits me anymore!” But he’s no help with my losing weight — he looooves food, especially food that’s not necessarily good for you, and seems to find me attractive no matter what I weigh. Annoying, isn’t it? Just kidding. Of course I’m happy that he accepts me no matter what; I wouldn’t want my husband critiquing my weight. But a little encouragement or mutual agreement to eat healthier would be great.
My mother and sister are still thin. Actually, everyone on my mother’s side of the family is incredibly trim and in shape, including my 93-year-old grandfather, who still walks five miles on the beach in Florida every day. True story. But lucky me, I got my body type from my father’s side of the family, whose women tend to grow round as they age.
But my weight issues are not so deeply engrained that I worry about passing along my hangups to a daughter, should I have one. Although, I would have to curb my habit of joking about my weight gain (favorite weight-related movie quotes that I like to pull out when I’m feeling large: “I will always be just a little bit fat” from Bridget Jones and “Ooooh would we call her chubby?” from Love Actually). But in general, I think a parent with deep-seated issues with weight is much more likely to inadvertently teach their children that weight matters.
I do believe being “healthy” is key – obesity is a real problem, and it’s a fine line we walk between encouraging kids to be healthy and accepting them no matter what they look like. In terms of what’s healthy on a baby, though, fat is good. A breastfed baby (and I’m not sure if the baby in the piece I referred to was) cannot be overfed because they stop eating when they are full. It’s hard to get milk out of a breast, so you can’t force a baby to nurse the way you can, conceivably, have them drink more from a bottle than they need. When they start eating solids, it’s encouraged to give babies healthy fats like avocado because it helps with brain development. We give them whole milk. We are even told by doctors to load olive oil on the food of some slow-to-gain babies (like mine).
Although the author makes reference to how this is not the middle ages, when people had to stock up on food because no one had enough to eat, slow weight gain in babies is a real problem even today – one that the author is not sensitive to in her quest to make us sensitive to other issues. And I am very familiar with it, because LM was born tiny at 5 pounds 10 ounces. He was in the NICU for low blood sugar. We had major breastfeeding problems. His weight gain was always a source of anxiety for me – I even bought a scale and had to do “weighted feeds” to make sure he was taking in enough. So when he finally got the hang of nursing and grew rolls, I was ecstatic. I was proud of his chunky monkey legs. I loved when people commented on his baby fat. It was evidence that nursing was successful and that I was feeding my child. It did not even occur to me to think it was a case of “fat shame.”
I believe there is a biological imperative for noticing, commenting on and loving chunky baby legs – because, in general, it is a sign of a healthy child and the perpetuation of the species. Even though it’s not the middle ages, this is not always an easy thing to achieve. As long as it’s not presented in a negative way (like the “I hate my thighs” onesie), I’m OK with remarks on baby fat.
What do you think: Is remarking on baby rolls “fat shaming”?
OK, so now I kind of get why some people say that the longer you breastfeed the harder it is to wean. The thing is I’m not actually looking to wean. I just would like it if every second of every day when we’re at home did not consist of being manhandled by my toddler. He is so grabby! And he wants it constantly. Almost as much as a newborn.
The odd thing is that when we’re not at home, he can go all day without nursing. Out of his element or distracted by other things, he doesn’t ask for it. But at home, I can’t even sit on the couch, because LM takes it as a signal that he can climb up and help himself. If I start hugging him, he wants it. If he’s having a tantrum, it’s the only way he can calm down. I sometimes hide myself getting dressed to keep him from ogling me and asking for a sip. If I’m on the toilet, he wants to stand next to me and latch on.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s natural and normal to nurse at his age. I think it’s our society’s preoccupation with breasts that makes people think there is something wrong with an older baby nursing. My boobs aren’t sexual objects anymore – they are for him. That’s just biology, and I see nothing wrong with it.
But it’s a lot. It’s sensory overload. I know there will come a time when I’ll be the one reaching for him, and he’ll pull away. I know there will be a time when he doesn’t want to snuggle. And I’ll long for these days.
But there is part of me that sometimes wants to scream, “Please just get off of me!” Nursing feels like a full-time job, and has been for almost two years. I know it sounds silly: Don’t you just sit there while he breastfeeds? you say. Yes, but with a toddler, it feels like an Olympic sport. He climbs all over me, moves into different positions, changes from one side to another. I’m constantly having to lift him up and move him around. I’m often uncomfortable.
But I’m not ready for the breastfeeding relationship to be over. I don’t want the tears that would probably come along with forcing him to wean. I want him to decide on his own. It might be nice if that happened sometime soon, though, and I’m not sure what to do if it doesn’t. Sometimes I think he’ll be one of those kids who wants to nurse until they’re six.
And of course there is the problem of what to do in order to have another baby. I did some research and found that it’s not completely necessary to wean before doing an IVF cycle, although most doctors want you to. But I wouldn’t feel good about weaning just for that – what would happen if the cycle wasn’t successful? I would feel like I weaned for nothing.
I do love breastfeeding. I don’t mean it to sound like I don’t. It’s just gotten very…physical with a toddler. It’s tough. He throws a tantrum if he doesn’t get it when he wants it. I sometimes even feel used, like he just wants me for my boobs.
And I don’t think I know anyone else with a toddler who is still breastfeeding. I’m the last one of my mom friends, I think, to still be nursing. Am I trying to keep LM a little baby? In some ways, but I don’t think nursing is one of them. I’m proud that we made it this far. We had such a rough beginning that I didn’t expect this. In many ways it has healed some of the pain of my infertility, because my body finally did something right. It even did it better than other people’s. I know it’s not a competition, but what can I say, I’m a bit competitive. After years of not feeling that my body was not as good as other people’s, I finally feel that it is. I don’t think I should feel bad about being proud. I don’t mean this to sound like I think I’m a better mom because I breastfeed. I don’t. But I do feel happy that my body has fulfilled one of it’s biological, traditional roles: feeding my baby.
It’s funny, I never saw myself as one of those attachment parents or a militant breastfeeder, but somehow I find myself in that position. I have found it so rewarding that I want to defend my right to do it, as long as I want to do it. My son loves it (maybe too much?) and so do I.
Did you breastfeed? How did you decide when to wean?
I am a proud breastfeeder. I had it really hard in the beginning – my son wouldn’t latch and ended up in the NICU, I had to pump (which I hated) before I successfully got him back to the breast, we dealt with a dairy allergy that put me at odds with my pro-formula pediatrician – so I feel like I’m entitled to be proud. I went through a lot, and now, at 14 monts, we are still going strong.
I don’t say that to be smug. I don’t say that because I think I’m better than anyone else who does not breastfeed. I know that breastfeeding is hard. If it’s not your thing, or it’s too difficult and focusing on other things would better allow you to enjoy motherhood, I get it. It’s not up to me to say that you should breastfeed. As long as you are informed (which sadly many women are not, because many doctors are not, but that’s a whole other issue), then it’s really up to you.
But that said, it really pisses me off when people who are not breastfeeding (men or women) say they “support” it but want it kept discreet or private. Such was my reaction when a Facebook friend of a friend posted about how annoyed she was at Alyssa Milano’s recent breastfeeding Instagram photo. “Since when did breastfeeding become a spectator sport?” she asked. “I don’t want to see it…There is underlying judgment if one is fed ‘the less natural way.'”
I think there are a couple things going on with comments like these, which arise anytime a celebrity posts a breastfeeding selfie. One is that there is still stigma around breastfeeding in public. It is still taboo. You can’t say that it’s only acceptable if the mother uses a cover or “is discreet,” otherwise she’s flaunting it and shoving her boobs in your face. I have used a cover because I don’t personally like to be too exposed when nursing in public – but that’s me. There shouldn’t be rules or contingencies around how someone is allowed to feed their child. That’s not supporting breastfeeding. That’s not normalizing breastfeeding. That’s allowing it to remain marginalized.
Second, I think there is a lot of guilt around the issue of breastfeeding, like there is around so many mom-centric issues. Often, women who did not breastfeed feel guilty – not that they should – and then take it personally when others “flaunt” their breastfeeding, as if there is implied judgment. I get this. For six years while I struggled to get pregnant, I felt like children were flaunted and shoved in my face everywhere I went, because I couldn’t have one. I hated it. But I knew that their parents weren’t doing it out of disrespect (well, except maybe when they brought their kid to the fertility clinic, where they’re pretty much guaranteed to run into emotionally distressed infertiles. But maybe they couldn’t get a babysitter, so what can you do?). People need to live their lives, and that included inundating my Facebook feed with pictures of their children. They weren’t trying to make me feel bad, even if I did feel bad after seeing their pictures – that was my issue, not theirs. So I understand why women who aren’t breastfeeding don’t want to see breastfeeding; but should that mean nursing moms need to keep it private for fear of hurting others’ feelings?
A tactic my infertile self used for dealing with the barrage of kids I encountered was to downplay their importance. “So what, you have a kid. Any idiot can get pregnant,” I would think to myself. I see this now with breastfeeding: “So what, you are breastfeeding. Everyone does it, so why post a picture on Twitter?” people say. But I know now that it is a big deal to have a kid, and likewise it is a big deal to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I want to be able to say that without feeling guilty (see, there’s enough guilt to go around) for making someone else who doesn’t breastfeed feel bad. I want to celebrate it. And so, I think, did Alyssa Milano. Why shouldn’t we be able to revel in the joys of motherhood, wherever it is that we find them?
How do you feel about celebrities posting breastfeeding selfies? What about nursing in public?
Because of MIT’s recent contest to Make the Breast Pump Not Suck, there’s been a lot of talk lately about how the breast pump does, in fact, suck. I think it’s great that we are finally discussing ways to make it better. But I also think that no matter what, pumps are going to suck. Because no one wants to be hooked up to a mechanical device, especially when it replaces cuddle time with your baby.
The first time I used a breast pump was only a couple of days after I had my son. He was tiny and couldn’t latch on, and his blood sugar was dropping. The poor kid was shaking like a leaf, and he needed nutrition badly. So they hauled in the hospital-grade pump in the hopes that he would take breast milk from a bottle. I wasn’t prepared (why would I be? I didn’t anticipate having problems breastfeeding, because no one tells you you might), so without a pumping bra I literally had to sit there holding these two cone-shaped flanges over my boobs for 20 or so minutes every two hours. And I admit that I hated seeing my husband feeding our baby with a bottle. I was supposed to be the one feeding him, and I was not expecting that I wouldn’t be able to.
The nurses were amazed when I pumped 10 ml of colostrum. I had to keep pumping every two to three hours to get my supply up. One embarrassing moment happened while I was pumping and there was a knock at my hospital door. Without thinking, my husband said, “Come in,” and an old man (the hospital chaplain, perhaps?) opened the door, took one look at me and quickly closed it again. He never returned.
Eventually LM (my nickname for my son, short for Little Man) had to be moved to the NICU. There was a pumping room there, or I could pump in LM’s room when his roommate’s mom was not using the device (hospital pumps are “closed systems,” meaning multiple people can use the same pump without contamination). I feared I was still waiting for my milk to come in, because I thought I should be producing more. The lactation consultants looked at me with concern. But they didn’t realize that perhaps my body just didn’t respond as well to a machine as it would have to my baby.
It was in the NICU that I met another mom who told me about the wonders of a pumping bra. They’re a pain to put on – basically a bra that has cut-outs where the nipples are to put the flanges through. You can also make one yourself with an old sports bra (just cut holes for your nipples). This mom told me that without having to hold the stupid flanges, you can do this, as she motioned typing on her smartphone. And she was right – it was a lifesaver, or more accurately, a sanity saver.
After four days LM was sent home, but I wasn’t done with that monstrosity of a pump. Because hospital pumps are the strongest out there, I rented one. But even though the pumping bra made it hands-free, I still couldn’t get up and walk around. I was chained to the thing. And I was still trying to figure out how to get the baby to nurse directly from my boobs. So I’d try breastfeeding him, then when that wasn’t successful I would bottle feed him, then pump for the next session. My supply did seem to slowly be increasing, and soon I was able to use solely breastmilk, instead of supplementing him with formula. The supply of milk in the fridge hovered on just having enough, but there was not much I could really do to increase my output. I tried nursing teas, herbs, whatever I heard might work.
I was going crazy with it all, because I felt like I was spending my whole day feeding this child or preparing for him to feed. I found out you can store pump parts in the refrigerator for up to eight hours without having to wash them, so that helped a little. But LM was still not latching. I was about to give up on nursing, when finally, one day LM figured out how to do it.
When his weight got on track, I got the OK from the doctor to ditch the pump. I started EBF (exclusively breastfeeding) and enjoyed some pump-free time, but a couple of months later in preparation for going back to work I thought I should start building a “freezer stash.” This time, I used the pump I had purchased.
Insurance is supposed to cover a breast pump; but my insurance was not clear on how that worked. I got the Medela Freestyle, which is so small you can carry it around, because after all that time being chained to the hospital’s monstrosity I wanted something portable. The medical supplier I got it from told me I’d have to pay out of pocket and then get reimbursed. I knew that because I was getting an upgraded pump I might have to cover the difference, but when I got a check back from insurance for the $400 pump it was…$60. I fought with the insurance and the supplier but each blamed the other for whatever it was I did wrong.
Then the ironic thing was that then I heard Medela’s Pump in Style (which I might have been able to get without having to pay out of pocket) was actually a better choice, because the Freestyle’s motor was not as strong. I started to get very worried about being able to pump enough while at work, and that concern began to outweigh the mobility issue (after all, I was mainly going to be sitting in my office pumping anyway). But it was too late – even though unopened, I couldn’t return the Freestyle. So here I was with a pump I didn’t even want that insurance wouldn’t cover. Gah.
I pumped once a day to build a freezer stash. I also got a $35 Medela hand pump which, though not hands-free, worked really well for me. Because it didn’t seem as complicated to hook up as my other pump, I ended up using it more. I often pumped in the car while my husband was driving, because that was time when I wouldn’t really have been doing anything else with my hands anyway.
I was really nervous about finding time to pump at work. There had been days when I didn’t have time to pee or eat lunch, so how on earth was I going to be able to pump? True, I could work on my computer while pumping, but it meant interrupting my day to hook myself up, take it off, etc. I didn’t know how long I would be able to last, but it was really important to me to keep breastfeeding. I was faced with the dilemma that every working mother who wants to nurse is faced with. And it sucked.
My grand plan was to pump during my commute – while driving. I’m not sure if that’s illegal, but, I reasoned, why would it be? It was hands-free. Sure, it would be super embarrassing if I ever got pulled over, and I hoped it wouldn’t be dangerous if I got in an accident (can one be impaled on her flanges?). I did a trial run after my back-to-work hair appointment. I hooked myself up in the parking lot, covered myself with a nursing cover, and switched the pump on. I made it home fine, with 5 ounces of milk to boot.
Then I found out my position was being eliminated. A huge weight fell off my shoulders. I didn’t have to pump anymore. I actually did pump once in my office when I returned for a day to clean it out. It was weird, knowing that that would be the one and only time I would have to do something I’d been dreading for months.
After that I basically stopped pumping. The milk in my freezer went bad – I felt guilty I hadn’t donated it, but I wanted to keep it until the end just in case an emergency came up. There were a few other times I had to use the pump, but for the most part my $400 contraption sits in a box in my closet.
I cannot imagine pumping several times a day for months while at work. I’m not sure I could have done it. Because I got fired and then had the luxury of staying home with LM, I could breastfeed as nature intended. I hate that the pump purports to make women’s lives easier (and in some ways it does), but it also brings up so many other problems. It’s an excuse for not extending maternity leave – if you want to breastfeed, you can just pump! It’s unwieldy, it’s expensive, it takes time away from your child. If the choice is having a year-long maternity leave, like they have in other countries, or returning to work and using the pump, guess which one is better for mom and baby?
I have to be glad the pump exists, because without it NICU babies like mine and others who have it far worse than mine would not be able to receive breast milk. But personally, I was so happy to see the damn thing go. I haven’t had to pump in about six months, and don’t miss it one bit.
What was your experience with the breast pump? Do you hate it or love it?