Monday, January 30, 2012

Pumpin Ain't Easy

Most moms eventually return to work and with the sad 12 week leave (or less) that most of us are entitled to in the US, if you plan on breastfeeding for the recommended first year of life you're going to need a pump.

There are tons of blog posts, books, forums and websites dedicated to giving moms tips on how to combine breastfeeding with work. Make sure you buy a good double electric pump! Always keep extra storage bags and pump parts at work! Here's how to talk to your boss about setting up a space for you to pump! These bottles are best for breastfed babies and don't forget the slow flow nipples! Wow, pumping at work is now protected by law! And on and on and on.

What is implied in these blog posts and message boards and websites is that if you do it right and have all the accoutrements, that you can totally work full time outside of the home and continue to breastfeed your baby. I'm here to tell you that is a lie. Even under the best conditions, with a supportive boss and co-workers, a door that locked on my own office, hell, even being the boss myself! and owning top of the line breast pumps and even renting a hospital grade pump..... I couldn't pump successfully.

This lie that breast pumps quickly, easily and efficiently put milk into bottles is so pervasive that every mom asks for a pump on her baby registry and everyone assumes she will use it so her husband/partner/mom can give the baby a bottle. Many women who find the idea of breastfeeding icky say they'll just pump and give the baby breast milk in a bottle.

Thirty minutes of hard work pumping BOTH breasts

Let me let you in on a secret: pumps don't magically suck out all of the milk from your breasts. YOU have to actually have a letdown for the pump to extract the milk. And many women simply cannot letdown for a machine the way they can for their own sweet baby. This means that you can have a full milk supply and not pump enough for your baby. It also means your supply will diminish over time because you are not removing enough milk, but in the meantime you can suffer from plugged ducts and mastitis until your supply regulates. No pump is as efficient as your baby but for some women the pump is practically worthless.

And before you say, "You should hand express!" let me stop you and say I cannot for the life of me figure out how hand expression works. I've watched all the videos and I've never been able to get more than a few drops out that way.

How did we get here? How did we get to a place where everyone assumes pumping is easy and of course they will be able to maintain a full supply when they return to work? Almost every woman I know has really struggled to maintain breastfeeding while working and the main reason is they couldn't pump at work what their baby needed at daycare. Some did OK until the infamous "six month slump" but many, like me, found their supplies dwindled down to nothing in mere weeks.

With Miles I barely made it two months before he was almost exclusively getting formula at daycare. Thankfully I was able to take advantage of my employer's generous 6 month leave so he was nearly nine months old and so in love with breastfeeding that my boobs still made enough milk to nurse in the morning and before bed. He was sleeping through the night but got a bottle or two of formula a day in addition to solid foods and nursing a few times on the weekends. It wasn't ideal and I was annoyed but he went on to nurse for 3 years and overall I think he got mostly mama milk for the first year and I'm OK with how things turned out.

But Aminah isn't even four months old and I have no freezer stash and we are already having to supplement. She is nowhere near sleeping through the night and we haven't started solids. My supply is slowing down and I can easily see her being fully formula fed by 6 months. That is NOT OK with me. It's actually beyond fucked up. I do not want my baby getting formula when, if she were with me there'd be no need for it. I make plenty of milk for her and she's happy and healthy. I don't want to have to get up in the middle of the night to fix bottles, I don't want to jeopardize her health with formula at such a young age and I don't want her rejecting the breast for the bottle, even if I could pump enough for her which I can't.

If she ends up being a formula fed baby I won't feel guilty but I will feel angry. Who decided that we should be fighting for the right to pump at work instead of fighting for paid maternity leave? And who keeps perpetuating the myth that every woman can pump and provide milk for her baby? You can do everything "right" and still end up failing. And THAT'S what truly sucks.

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