I knew long before my kid was born that I planned to breastfeed, and like many American mothers who have to work, I assumed that that also meant some pumping. So I did my research, and included two different breast pumps (manual and electric) on the baby registry my spouse and I put together. I anticipated first developing a good breastfeeding relationship sans pump, and then starting to pump regularly for when I returned to my retail job. But that isn’t at all how things went, though, and it turns out I hate pumping more than almost anything else. I pretty much stopped pumping as soon as I could get away with it, and dreaded doing it whenever I had to. No joke, as far as I’m concerned, pumping is the absolute worst.
I understand that not everyone feels the way that I do! For many, many breastfeeding parents, breastfeeding is uncomfortable, and pumping turns out to be the easier option. I had a good friend who exclusively pumped for much of the beginning of her daughter’s life, because that was just the only thing that worked for her. If that’s you, that’s fine! In fact, it’s more than fine. We all, as parents and caregivers, need to do what works best for us to make sure our kids get their needs met. It just worked out that in my case, pumping was an absolutely a terrible option.
My negative relationship with the dreaded breast pump started on the second day of my son’s life. He’d lost a fair amount of weight after birth (in part because my little angel peed twice in the OR right after they weighed him) and though he wasn’t in the danger zone, the doctors were a little nervous. They wanted to start formula supplementation, and I said I was against doing it before the need was proven. The doctor nodded, and said that in that case, they would need me to pump every time I fed him, and that they'd then supplement him with my own colostrum until either my milk came in, or it became clear that formula supplementation was medically necessary.
There is no feeling so sad as being awoken at 3 in the morning, not by the cries of a hungry baby, but instead by an alarm on your cell phone telling you that it’s time, yet again, to hook your boobs up to a whizzing and whirring machine. I missed my baby, and I came to associate the sound of the pump with my deepest and most all-consuming depression.
So I pumped. And pumped. And pumped. I pumped so much colostrum that one nurse said it was more than she'd ever seen in her entire career. I pumped when I desperately wanted to be cuddling my baby, or just plain resting. I pumped with a timer set on my phone, to make sure I pumped for long enough. I pumped when I was starving and my hospital food was getting cold.
But things didn’t get better after we went home. It took some time for me and the baby to get our latch down correctly, but once we did, breastfeeding was painless and relatively simple. But pumping, somehow, seemed to hurt my nipples no matter what I did. It turns out my nipples are too different sizes (yeah, I just shared that information with the whole internet, so what?) and so finding the right size pump was nearly impossible. The electric pump hurt worse than the hand pump, so I tended to favor pumping manually. But manual pumping meant that my hands were never free, so I couldn’t even read a book or check Twitter on my phone while I was at it.
It got even more miserable when, at four weeks postpartum, I checked back into the hospital for emergency gallbladder surgery. If you’ve never experienced the hell of a gallbladder attack, I do not recommend it. They put me on morphine for the extreme pain, and so for five days in the hospital, I pumped furiously (for fear of losing my precious milk supply) and had to dump every ounce down the drain. If my relationship to breast pumping was already bad, that experience made it 1,000 times worse. There is no feeling so sad as being awoken at 3 in the morning, not by the cries of a hungry baby, but instead by an alarm on your cell phone telling you that it’s time, yet again, to hook your boobs up to a whizzing and whirring machine. I missed my baby, and I came to associate the sound of the pump with my deepest and most all-consuming depression.
The thing about pumping is, that even when it goes well, it’s just so completely different from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be messy, inconvenient, and complicated, for sure, but it can also be beautiful, a bonding experience, and a nice quiet time to cuddle with the baby. I cherish the memory of feeding my infant son, his tiny hands clenched in tight fists, his little eyes closed with joy, his body curved around the curve of my postpartum belly. But the pump? The pump was — and is — mechanical, alien, and purely functional. Pumping takes everything that is undesirable about breastfeeding — the inconvenience, the feeling of being stuck, the physical drain on the body that happens when you remove milk — and doesn’t offer any of the good stuff that softens the blow. And without the warm fuzzies I associated with the act of breastfeeding, extracting milk just totally sucked — pun intended.
I’d honestly rather be tied to my home and my child than to that machine.
For months, I still pumped occasionally, and kept a small stash of milk in our freezer for when I couldn’t be with the baby. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I hated every second of it. It was uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst, and it brought back all of those painful memories of being stuck in the hospital and forced to pump around the clock. Once my kid started eating solid foods, we started phasing that contraption out of our lives. But I didn’t realize quite how much I hated pumping until one day my mother-in-law was babysitting for a couple of hours, and I was up late the night before, putting off pumping. The freezer was empty, if I was going to send him with a cup of breast milk, I had to pump right then. In the end, I told her it would be fine to give him formula, just this once. After that night of torturing myself about pumping, I think I’ve actually done it three whole times.
These days, I haven’t touched the pump in ages. My kid is almost 1-and-half years old now, and although he’s still breastfeeding like a champ, he also eats and drinks other things. He enjoys both cow’s milk and almond milk, and I’m happy to give them to him. Since I’m able to work from home, it’s rare that I’m not around to breastfeed when he needs to. I’d honestly rather be tied to my home and my child than to that machine. And when I do have to go out, he tends to eat more solid foods, and breastfeed more when I return. And so the breast pump sits, alone in one of our kitchen cupboards. Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.