I read the books. We bought the gear. The baby came and the breastfeeding journey began, without much incident. Twelve weeks passed and I returned to work, pump in tow. However, nursing a baby is nothing like being hooked up to a breast pump. There were some things I wasn’t prepared for when I started pumping. Everything I thought I knew — how to use it and care for it — was not enough. My entry into regularly pumping was surprising, and not in a good way.
I was committed to pumping because my daughter was thriving on breast milk. As a new working mom, I felt tremendous guilt about not being there for my baby, so the least I could do (in my opinion) was provide her meals. As I grew to be a more experienced mother, I realized this guilt was unwarranted; the best thing I could do for my baby was to keep myself in good shape, physically, emotionally, and mentally, so that I was in the best possible condition to care for her. I grew to understand that, for some mothers, this meant not breastfeeding or pumping. I don’t regret pumping for the first year of each of my children’s lives so that I could supply them with as much breast milk as they needed (and so that we weren’t spending money on formula), but I do wish I wasn’t so hard on myself for feeling obligated to do this for them. Pumping is not without its hardships, and the fact that I was staunchly opposed to quitting meant I had a real love/hate relationship with my pump. I loved it for what it allowed me to do (express milk), and I hated it for reminding, twice each workday, that I was pumping because I was at work and my baby was home with a sitter.
I don’t think anything really prepares you for motherhood the first time around. Everyone’s experience is different, so you can’t study for the “new baby” test. I wish I heard that more often. I would have felt a lot less anxious if I knew that everyone’s foray into parenthood was unique and that I needed to rely more on my instincts than on others’ advice and baby books.
When it came to pumping, here are the things I totally wasn’t prepared for. Pumping isn’t an instinctive behavior. I just had to get used to all the weirdness that came with getting milk sucked out of me by a plastic contraption.