I'll admit, prior to breastfeeding I could've filled a library with things I didn't know. It's hard to imagine the physical sensations and the sacrifices and even the guilt most (if not all) moms feel when breastfeeding. However, what I absolutely didn't bank on was the amount of time I'd be pumping and expressing my milk, rather than just snuggling with my feeding baby. There are some things I wish I'd known about breast pumping before I started.
Even if you don't think you'll need to pump, trust me when I say it's worth researching what equipment you'll potentially need, and doing some background reading (just in case). When you're sleep deprived, hormonal and dealing with a new baby while recovering from childbirth, it isn't really the best time to be learning a new skill.
Some women are advised to pump because they are going to be physically away from their baby for a significant period of time — like returning to full time work or taking a long trip away — while other women are adviced to pump in order to increase their milk supply. Other times, women are prevented from breastfeeding for a variety of reasons, such as illness or pain, but are adamant about continuing to express milk to give to their baby. For example, I couldn't feed my son for a short time when I was suffering from shingles, but consistently pumping helped me keep my milk supply going until I was recovered and could resume breastfeeding.
What ever reason you have for pumping there are some things you need to know. Don't make the same mistake I did, and try to put together an elaborate pump at some ungodly hour of the night when you've done absolutely nothing to prepare. Because, honestly, if I could go back and do it all over again, I wish I would have known the following:
It's Not Just For Working Moms
I naively thought I wouldn't need to pump, because I was planning on staying home on maternity leave (for a year) and didn't envision leaving my baby for longer than the occasional date night. I had purchased a small hand pump and thought that was going to be enough. Wrong.
My baby had a weak latch, so I had to give him a supplement and was told by the maternity nurses to start pumping immediately, otherwise I could lose my chance to breastfeed at all.
It's Really Time Consuming
Nobody told me that breast pumping takes a lot of time and effort, so I was surprised at how long I had to stay attached to a machine after having already fed my baby. It was an exercise in patience, to say the least, because if I got stressed out or tried to rush through the necessary process, my milk wouldn't flow. It started to feel like my whole life revolved around milk. #BreastfeedingProblems
It Makes You Feel Like A Dairy Cow
At the hospital I sat next to another new mom, both of us strapped to industrial size breast pumps, whirring and gurgling and tugging away on our nipples. It felt like we were in a dystopian Mad Max-style future, where our milk was being collected for the greater good.
It Can Be Expensive
I hadn't budgeted for a breast pump at all and to purchase one can set you back several hundred dollars. Then there are the costs for replacement parts and tubing, breast pads, bottles, containers, freezer bags and cleaning supplies.
Luckily I found a service in my city that rented breast pumps, and I managed to qualify for a free unit for six months, but it certainly made me reevaluate the notion that breastfeeding is a cost-free option.
You Feel Like You're Failing
You can sit strapped to your breast pump for what feels like forever, and then look down to see just a tiny dribble of milk.
For me, and especially in the beginning, there were more than a few moments when pumping felt like a wasted effort, but the action of pumping will most likely increase your supply. You just need to try not to get discouraged and don't give up. (Easier said than done though, right?)
It Can Burn You Out
For several months I had a strict schedule: nurse baby, put baby down to sleep, then start pumping, clean up pumping supplies and put milk away in freezer, and then sit down for a five minute (deserved) break before baby woke up again and the cycle was repeated.
I started to feel like I was never able to rest, which probably affected my milk supply. I was also obsessively writing down every ounce of milk I produced, every ounce my son ate, and every minute spent pumping. I made spreadsheets and graphs and had little breakdowns about the amount of supplemented formula he was still drinking.
When I look back I can easily admit that it was very hard for about three months, and those three months felt endless. However, it did end and it led to exclusive breastfeeding, breastfeeding on demand and extended breastfeeding until my son self-weaned.
It Turns You Into An Inventor
The hours spent breast pumping and trying to scroll on your cell phone or turn the pages of a magazine release the inner engineer in you, and have you inventing all sorts of gadgets to make your life easier.
I sewed little loops over my tank top straps so I could hook them over my nursing bra tags, so I didn't have to remove my top every single time I wanted to pump or nurse. I also cut holes out of my bra and fed the breast shields through so that I could pump hands free and still access my book or phone.
Turns out mothers are the mother of invention. Who knew, right?
You Feel A Bit Ridiculous...
Half-naked and strapped into a machine might not be your best look, especially as a variety of strangers and family members are probably going to see you like this, up to and including: nurses, doctors, an unsuspecting orderly, your mom, your sister, your friends, and the UPS guy.
Then again, there's nothing quite like the love of a partner who's still turned on by you, even after they've seen you being milked by a noisy whirring machine.
...But You Also Feel Pretty Amazing
Being able to provide nourishment, comfort and essential nutrients to your baby, right from your body, is pretty awesome.
All us moms make sacrifices and endure hardships for the sake of our children, so know that whichever way you choose to feed your child, you're a rock star. However, if you are adding pumping to the list of your mom achievements, go right ahead and fist bump yourself. Just make sure you're wearing your hands free pumping bra, first.