Unplugging: My Year of Pumping Exclusively

After he was born and we were both newbies at breastfeeding, each time I tried to breastfeed the Bug, he would get frustrated and refuse to latch and would cry and cry.

When he was just a day old, the hospital's lactation consultant came to see us. She took one look at him and one look at my breast and said "we need to get you a pump". Within 30 minutes, a hospital-grade Medela was sitting at my bedside and I was receiving instructions about how (and how often) to use it. And so, even with the Bug in the nursery overnight, I still was up every 2 hours pumping.

When I was pregnant, I had researched breast pumps, figuring I would most likely need one at some point. The day we went home from the hospital, we called a local dealer, who told us the Ameda I'd decided on would not be in until the next day. That stupid manual pump they gave me in the hospital was a pain in the neck (and arm) (and breast) to use. My dutiful husband went and bought my double electric up for me the next day.

In those early days, I was fighting against the clock. The baby needed to eat every 2 hours, which meant we fed him formula every 2 hours and I would pump every 2 hours. Sometimes, especially after M went back to work, I would feed the baby and then I would pump. That meant very little sleep for the momma, but I was trying to get my milk to come in and to establish a supply that would be enough to get him off the formula. It was completely exhausting!

I remember having to set the alarm on my cell phone to remind myself to pump every 2 or 3 hours. I remember getting up and feeding the babe in the middle of the night, then staying up to pump. I remember spoon-feeding the babe colostrum and finally (triumphantly!) making enough milk so that we didn't need formula any longer.

I remember the pride I felt when my doc told me that I was lucky that I could maintain a supply using only a pump because some women can't. I remember feeling grateful that I never knew in advance how hard it would be and just running into it headlong, completely stubborn and determined to make it work.

I remember leaking all over the first time we traveled away from home and I used a manual pump instead of my double electric. I remember learning all about why breasts start feeling less full after a couple of months of breastfeeding. I remember wondering if I should have called a lactation consultant to my house and given it another try. I remember trying anyway when he was about 4 months old and having him treat my boob like a pacifier. I remember regretting ever saying that it wouldn't bother me if I had to pump exclusively rather than breastfeed.

I remember how groping, pressing, and otherwise feeling my boobs in public became the norm. I remember crying over spilled milk, over milk left to ruin in a insulated pack, over milk leaking out of busted freezer bags, over bags that fell out of the fridge bursting all over the floor. I remember the feeling that my baby was protected from all sorts of illnesses by the bubble of the antibodies my milk provided him.

At the height of my establishing/maintaining a supply days, I was pumping 7-9 times a day. When he was little and could still be curled up on a boppy on my lap, I could pump while holding him. It took only one swift kick and the knocking of a flange and bottle onto the floor and milk thrown all over both of us, the couch, the armchair and the floor for that arrangement to come to an end. Then, there was a larger pillow with his feet turned away from important parts. Then the bouncer. Then the swing, then the walker. . . And as he got more and more active and alert, I kept getting the feeling that pumping was actually taking me away from him at the same time it was providing food for him.

Once my supply was steady, I went down to 6 sessions a day. When I went back to work, I dropped the middle of the night session and went down to 5 a day. The most I ever pumped in my first morning session was 15 ounces. I had a very good supply and I was able to establish quite a freezer stash all those months.

I kept pace pumping 5 times a day - before and after work, twice at work, and during lunch - until he was 8 months old and fully transitioned to solids. To say it was grueling at times is an understatement.

Then, finally (and with a great deal of relief), I gave up the lunch session. I held steady at 4 sessions a day for almost 3 months. I was getting between 30 and 34 ounces a day and able to keep stockpiling my freezer stash. In those months, the sense that pumping was taking me away from him increased and I basically had to reconcile that with myself every time I was home alone and unable to attend to him. More than once I had to disconnect from the pump and, holding flanges to me with one arm, go and retrieve a crying baby with the other.

My pumping schedule was easy enough, if not always convenient, to keep during the week when I was at work. But, inevitably, the weekends would find me disjointed and either skipping a session or trying to force that fourth one in somewhere, especially when I could no longer pump at church because I was trying to keep a crawling baby out of things.

And so it was by happenstance that I went from 4 sessions to 3. My supply decreased almost immediately, but as long as I was making my mark of around 26 ounces a day, I was happy. It also meant that I no longer had to pack my pump and take it (and all the accessories, ice packs, freezer bags and bottles) to work with me everyday. It was a lovely thing to only have to worry about grabbing my purse and heading out the door!

Eventually, my milk supply started doing battle with my monthly cycle and always came out on the losing end. Rather than pick up an extra session, every once in a while we used frozen milk to supplement what I pumped in order to meet all his needs.

When, exactly, to go from 3 sessions down to 2 was a matter of great internal debate. At issue? Timing. The Bug was getting ready to turn 1 and I wanted to time phasing out pumping with transitioning him to whole milk in such a way that all my frozen milk would be used and that his full transition didn't happen until after he was fully a year old and we could make sure he tolerated the switch well.

And so, about 2 weeks before his first birthday, I dropped down to 2 sessions a day. I was managing between 16-18 ounces a day and was regularly supplementing with frozen milk, which was helping me be less anxious about any of that frozen supply going to waste. Each and every bag of frozen milk represented time served at the pump!

The weekend of his very first birthday party, I went down to just one session a day. At the same time, I began making his bottles a mixture of 3/4 breast milk and 1/4 whole milk. The following Tuesday, I only pumped once in 24 hours and got only about 9 ounces, and he went to 1/2 breast milk and 1/2 whole. Then I waited for 36 hours and got about 8.5 ounces.

I waited until I was sore before pumping again, and about 52 hours after the previous session, I pumped 10 ounces and the pump chewed me up and spit me out (thank goodness for A&D ointment). Examining the tears on my sensitive parts and feeling the soreness . . . I was SO done!

Five days after that, I Googled to make sure I was on the right track. Reassured, I continued not to pump. On day six, I pumped only enough to relieve my growing discomfort. The freshly pumped milk sat while I pondered over what to do with it, knowing we were on a 1/4 to 3/4 mixture by this point, that I was down to a single bag of frozen milk in my freezer, and that I was wholly ready to go all the way to whole milk within a day or two.

Besides, gun-shy as I was about using the double electric after the last time, I used my manual pump, which had been relegated to the bottom of my breast pump bag and which I had not sterilized (or even cleaned, really) before using. For the first time since I began this journey, I purposely dumped those 3 ounces down the kitchen sink, and even premeditated, the loss still made me want to cry.

As I packed my double electric and all the sundry breastfeeding paraphernalia away “until next time”, I thought about the double edged sword I am walking like a tightrope: how freeing it feels to have huge chunks of time back, but how I’ll no longer have a ready excuse to just stop everything and sit down for a while; how I can just go the store and buy milk when we travel and not have to worry about running out, but how sad I was last week when the Bug was sick and I realized he’s not getting the bolstered protection of my antibodies anymore; how my boobs finally had a real purpose and had fulfilled that purpose and now they are just plain ol’ boobs with nothing worthwhile to do but sit (hang?) there while I do battle with the weather and desperately try to conceal my newly. . . . erm, pointier parts.



And Then . . .

The Pitocin was increased, the contractions intensified, and before long I was fully dilated and ready to do the dirty work. I pushed for 53 minutes.

And then, at 11:57 a.m., there he was.
I cried. A delirious mixture of complete relief and all-encompassing joy.

Words stumble and fall weak in the knees, entirely daunted by the task of expressing the emergence of a body, the rushing forth of spirit, the creation of a whole new being, and how it is one becomes a mother.

The ability of language is eclipsed by the largesse and majesty of that moment.

And just when words fail you, love crawls into your being, sparks a primordial ember and sets fire to your heart, the urgency and ferocity of which both engulf and mesmerize you all at once.

As of this moment, my baby is one year old! He is an amazing little person, with such a fun personality! He grows more interesting and fascinating every single day. I am convinced I will spend the rest of my life completely in awe of him. I am so blessed to be his mother.



Stage 1: 14 hours and 45 minutes (plus 5.5 hours at home)

We went to Walgreens to get cold and flu stuff for M's worsening sickness. I remember having to stop in Aisle 1 to breathe through a contraction. We picked up a burrito for M and two smoothies on the way to the hospital. The anticipation was a heady concoction of not wanting to rush to the hospital and be admitted too early and knowing my body was on the labor train and not wanting to wait overlong. We checked into the hospital at 8:00 that evening. I send out a dispatch: in labor, going to hospital.

I was 5 cm dilated and 100% effaced when I was admitted. My blood pressure was 139/89. So, on to magnesium I went, doctor's orders, which, of course, slowed my labor. One by one, my women gathered to me: mom and sisters and mother-in-law. I labored and they watched and we waited together as my contractions became less intense and farther apart even as I continued to dilate.

Because of the magnesium and its side effect of dizziness and drowsiness, I was not able to walk around or even be out of bed much, even though I asked at every opportunity/nurse change. Finally, I got an angel of a nurse who let me get out of bed and get on a birth ball and change positions to try to get the baby rotated. I'm convinced this is when my water broke (just before 6:00 a.m. the next morning) and before long I was at 7 cm.

To get my contractions back into a regular pattern, I was started on Pitocin around 6:45 a.m. The baby was still not descending, so they put a catheter in to measure the strength of my contractions, which were determined not strong enough to get the job done, even with the Pitocin. I was at 8 cm, water already broken, and having really hard back labor when the doc said we'd have to up the Pit to make the contractions stronger.

At 8:24, I got an epidural. It wasn't nearly as scary or painful as I expected. In fact, once it took effect, I think my exact words were "oh! that's like ice cream!" And it really was! I couldn't feel or move my legs for a while, but eventually that went away and I could feel both my legs and the pressure of my contractions.


How It Began . . .

There was no compelling clutch across my belly. No momentously rushing fluids, no thundering squeezes.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009 had started just like any other day, except I was largely pregnant and anxious for the end of that particular ailment.

I had been having early labor signs and I was already dilated 2cm and over 50% effaced. Still, the discomfort and fatigue I was feeling were pretty par for the course for a 40 week-plus pregnant lady.

By the early afternoon, I had started to notice a sort of pattern to my discomfort. My back ached and there was absolutely no comfortable way to sit. I found myself shifting positions every few minutes. I started tracking this pattern at 2:30 p.m. I visited with friends, got a blessing, and faithfully tracked the time, duration and frequency of my discomfort, which eventually gave way to full-fledged contractions that I had to breathe through and that were coming routinely every 4 minutes.


"May you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world." -Ray Bradbury