Bonding Moments with a Breast Pump: The Practice of Exclusive Pumping by Heather Bowles
I belong to a subset of the mommy blogger community that affectionately refers to itself as “crunchy”. For those of you who don’t know what that means: we breastfeed, cloth diaper, carry our babies in slings rather than using strollers, make our own baby food purees, co-sleep, eat organic, recycle everything, and attempt to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. That is, I’d like to belong to this community. Mommies are an opinionated and often judgmental bunch, and the belief that natural parenting is the best parenting is poignantly at odds with some of the things that I’ve had to do to see that my daughter gets the healthiest start possible.
What most alienates me from my granola sisters? My daughter didn’t latch well after birth, and listening to this tiny being whom I loved most suddenly and absolutely as she wailed inconsolably was unbearable. Couple that with the pressure that the attending physician put on me. The threat was made that they might keep her until they could be reasonably assured she wasn’t going to lose any more weight. She went on a bottle immediately thereafter. The concept of leaving her there was terrifying, and after 3 days in the hospital, I was ready to walk out, get in the car, and go home to my own people and my own bed.
After the baby was offered the bottle, she refused to latch on me at all. However, I am a woman made of stubborn convictions, and even though Tabitha wouldn’t latch, I insisted that she not take formula. I will have nothing but the best for her, and in this case, that means a breast milk diet. Enter stage left, the most abominable contraption I have ever known: the Medela Pump in Style Advanced Double Breast Pump.
First, let me say that without this machine, I would never have been able to provide personal nutrition for my daughter. Even now, eight weeks into our lives together, I am not able to express any substantial quantity of milk for her by hand. With it, I produce such a surplus that I expect I could stop pumping after a year and easily have enough in frozen storage to wean her by 18 months if she so chooses. The pump does what it is designed to do, and it does it superbly well. That said, I utterly loathe this machine. I hate it with my entire being. In fact, I despise it with a pink and purple polka dotted passion. Did I mention how much I really, really, really don’t like this machine?
Using a breast pump adds time consuming, complicated steps into what would otherwise be a relatively simple procedure. Baby crying because she’s hungry? It’s the middle of the night? Lay baby on nipple. Go back to sleep. With the breast pump, there are several parts to assemble each time I need to draw milk out. Then there’s the time involved. I have to be upright, and unless I’ve laundered the one hands-free pumping bra I own, I get to hold the funnels in place the entire time, leaving no way for me to read, watch television, or browse online. I’m stuck staring at the four walls. Pumping is not as effective at stimulating supply as an infant’s natural suckling reflex, so it must take place every 3 hours, round the clock. God forbid I should drop a tv remote down in the sofa cushions or the magazine I’m reading falls in the floor while I’m reaching for my bottled water. I can’t bend over that far. The funnels would leak breast milk everywhere.
Once I have the milk, there’s the matter of storage to consider. Going to be using it today? It still needs to be refrigerated. Remove all the pump bits and baubles from the bottle, put a clean lid or nipple on the bottle, and put it in the door. If it gets frozen, then there’s labeling the bag to do, and hoping I don’t spill the whole mess. Oh! You think I’m done and can go back to bed? Hardly.
Now I get to clean all the pump parts. To leave them would be unsanitary, and the last thing I want is to invite bacteria and mold to grow in all the little nooks and crannies on the interior pieces of the pump so I can feed it to her later. Once I’m done standing at the kitchen sink from meticulously cleaning no less than six different and oddly shaped parts in scalding hot water, then I can go back to sleep for an hour or so, assuming the child hasn’t already woken up and decided she needs me.
That brings me to an even bigger reason I hate this machine. Once I start pumping, I have to continue until my breasts are completely emptied. To do anything else would signal my body to produce less, and run the risk of drying up completely. If I’ve been pumping for five minutes or twenty, it doesn’t matter. When she starts crying, I have to make her deal with it until I finish. Mommies are good at imposing guilt on themselves, and I am no exception. I worry that in my attempt to make sure she eats well that I neglect her socially and may cause her to have attachment issues. Nothing makes me feel worse than knowing I could console her if only I could go in the other room and pick her up. Luckily, I have a good man at home, and I don’t have to do this completely alone all the time, but he’s not always here and sometimes that means she has to just cry for a few minutes. I expect I am not the only woman on the planet who would rather rip her heart out of her own chest than hear her child cry. I am not that special. Still, I feel like I spend way too many precious hours bonding with the pump when I could be spending them staring into my daughter’s eyes and telling her how much I love her over a meal from my own breasts.
So is the pump a good thing? Maybe. I’ve been able to provide her the best nutrition available with it. I just wouldn’t recommend the practice of exclusive pumping for anyone who needs sleep, a hot meal, or the best possible bonding experience with their baby.