There are some things better left unknown until you actually experience them, and one of those things is pumping breast milk. Sure, people will tell you about how wonderful breastfeeding is, but people are oddly hush-hush about what happens when you're using a breast pump. Now that I am on the other side of it, having pumped for a combined 20 months for both of my babies, I can safely say that there are many things I'm glad I didn't know about pumping until I was in the middle of it all.
Even though I discovered some of the less-than-pleasant sides of exclusively feeding my children breast milk (i.e. all that freaking pumping) I still remained a devout pumper. I hated and simultaneously loved my pump. I hated it because I felt like I couldn't get away from it, like a bad habit I couldn't quit. It was like, wake up and nurse and then pump. Put the baby down to sleep, then pump. Leave the house for a few hours, then pump. Return home to find that the sitter had already fed the baby and my boobs were going to explode, then pump.
However, I loved it because it afforded me the freedom of leaving my baby at home with someone else so I could do stuff alone. Then again, was I really ever alone? If carrying an ostentatious looking tote bag overflowing with breast pads spells "independent" to you, then sure. But to me, I felt like I was carrying a sour-milk-smelling albatross. Who knew that a breast pump had all these surprises in store?
That It Could Take So Freaking Long
No one ever told me how long pumping actually takes, and honestly, I never asked. However, I would have certainly been floored if someone had sat me down and said, "Listen, this is probably going to horrify you, but be prepared to spend the better part of your day (roughly, oh, three or four hours or so) strapped to an apparatus that will be suctioning milk from your body."
Three or four hours might sound excessive to you, but I am an excessive person. I don't do anything in a normal, "as prescribed" way. If you tell me to brush my teeth twice a day, I'll brush four to five times.
That It Required So Many Confusing Parts
You guys. I had no idea that there would be so many parts. When I first opened my pump and saw the valves and the tubes, and the tiny plastic pouches with even tinier plastic thingies inside that I probably would have thrown in the garbage by mistake if not for my husband, I may have given up on pumping right then and there. All of these parts were suspiciously reminiscent of a middle school science lab and I was terrible in science labs.
That You Could Buy So Many Accessories For It
Some people like accessorizing. Not me. I'm all about clothes, but I'll wear the same earrings for years and I cannot be bothered with things like hats or scarves. Even my shoe collection is pretty basic.
So the fact that my breast pump required accessories wasn't exactly thrilling for me as well. When I found out I had to purchase a special bra with cut outs by the nipples so that I could fully enjoy the "hands-free pumping experience," I was like, "What the what?" I couldn't believe there was yet another thing I had to go and buy.
That There Were So Many Different Varieties Of Pumps To Choose From
From the hand pump, to the hospital-grade pump, to the battery powered pump, to the electric pump, there were many pumps from which to choose. I didn't know there could be such variety. I wished that there was just one pump that everyone was forced to get, because I felt overwhelmed by all my choices. I wanted all of my mom friends to be able to recommend just one pump because there were so many of us, and it would have been so much easier if the majority had just been able to say, "Oh, we're loving such and such pump because of blah blah reason."
That There Would Be An Annoying Sound Accompanying It
You haven't lived until you've been haunted by the sound of your pump. That whirring, squeaking, sometimes ominous but more often just annoying, "Aweeee-aw, aweeee-aw," like an asthmatic donkey gasping for breath, defines my entire pumping career. In order to get the right amount of suction, I often would have to turn the dial on my pump way up, rendering whatever I had been watching on my iPad impossible to hear or canceling out any conversation I may have been having on the phone or with my husband. So pumping sometimes felt even more like a punishment, as it was something I had to suffer in silence, while alone, with no one to talk to unless I felt like shouting (which I think would have been stressful and would have had a negative impact on my milk production).
That It Would Feel So Weird When Doing It
I had an inkling that it would feel weird, because, let's face it, this is an apparatus attached to your nipple that is causing you to spurt milk. Still, I was not prepared for how weird it would feel. Even after having nursed my son for a couple of weeks, pumping felt new and strange.
That It Could Be So Messy
I think the way the pump is designed is so that collecting milk is as clean and mess-free as possible. But it is hard to avoid drips, leaks, and of course the blend of both that happens when you first remove the suction cup from your breast when you're done pumping. I can't remember a time where I didn't end up with some kind of milk stain on my person.
That I Could Use It To My Advantage
At one point I realized that I could use pumping sessions as a get out of jail free card. Was there an unwanted chore that needed doing? Sorry babe, I have to pump. Did someone need a diaper change for an unreasonably stinky diaper? Oops, it must be pump time. Was there company that I wanted to escape talking to? Guess what time it was?
If I had known in advance that I could use pumping to get out of things I didn't want to do, I think my husband would have seen right through me. But since I happened upon this plus side of pumping as kind of a happy accident, it felt much more sincere, at least until he started to see a pattern.