I’ve been breastfeeding for four years, and last night was the first time I ever used a breast pump.
Which just goes to show you that you really don’t need to know how much you’re producing to have a successful breastfeeding relationship.
A friend of mine recently wrote a series of posts on her blog describing her experience of breastfeeding her two children. (The link is to part one of five, and you should read them all–they are beautiful! The last two always make me cry.) The ending of her breastfeeding story is amazing and wonderful and lovely, and it perfectly parallels the beginning of my own breastfeeding story:
The hospitals prefer that you log feeding times and wet diapers, but I felt no pressure or guilt for handing in a blank sheet of paper, and I was just more confident that we were doing just fine. Baby Abey left the hospital weighing a pound more than he did at birth, too! He was an EATER, and even though my milk had not officially come in, I suppose I was making more colostrum than before. I don’t know. I didn’t measure it. I didn’t pump it and give it to him with a syringe like I did in the hospital with Aubrey. I just put boob to mouth and let chips fall, and I am not sure if I ever put him down.
But the beginning of her story shocked me. She was told to log feeding times, and for months she kept a careful journal of when she fed her daughter, for how long, and on which side. When she pumped, she logged how much she pumped–and she drew frowning faces in the journal when she wasn’t satisfied with her production.
Reading that part of her story, I was torn between tears and anger. I find it awful–unthinkable, even–that a mother would feel such attention and worry is required for successful breastfeeding. I do realize there are times when that kind of care is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the standard, because it’s only necessary when something is going wrong. For a normal, healthy mother and baby, that kind of worry can actually create breastfeeding problems that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Measuring, timing, and stressing about production can cause you to not produce enough milk when you would have otherwise–especially if you’re feeding baby on a schedule and waiting to put baby on the breast.
Which is why, for most mothers-baby pairs, the recipe for successful breastfeeding is exactly what my friend did with her second baby: “I just put boob to mouth and let the chips fall, and I am not sure if I ever put him down.”
But, of course, that isn’t possible for a lot of moms. Many have to go back to work, with little or no maternity leave, and even if your employer is supportive of breastfeeding, keeping your supply up while working is incredibly difficult and stressful.
Which is why most moms I know do not enjoy pumping.
I, however, am approaching pumping from an entirely different situation. I don’t need to build up a stash of milk in my freezer. Unless something unexpected happens to me, I will never have to use pumped milk to feed my baby. I plan to be with him whenever he needs to eat for the first six months of his life, until he can eat solid food and can wait a little while for me to come back and feed him. I have a lot of great baby carriers, so I really don’t have to ever set him down. I want to pump for other people–so I can donate, hopefully to a milk bank, and definitely to a couple of friends who have asked for it.
But I still came to pumping with the perspective that breastfeeding is easy and pumping is hard. I expected it to be complicated, difficult, and uncomfortable. And when I started to put together the breast pump a friend had lent me, that impression was solidified:
What the heck is all that stuff? Why are there so many pieces? And why do some of them not seem to go with anything (see that mesh bag on the right? It had all sorts of random parts in it), and why are many of them not pictured in the instruction manual (which makes the whole thing look incredibly simple)?
I mean, the only thing in there that makes sense to me on sight is the power cord. And the bottle with the nipple on it, of course.
This strange piece had me particularly scared:
Don’t even try to tell me that doesn’t look like a medieval torture device.
Fortunately, I didn’t actually need all those pieces–my friend who lent me the pump kindly threw in a handful of bottles and assorted bottle parts, not all of which matched. (The fact that I didn’t realize that is just further evidence of how little I know about this particular arena of baby gear.) But a phone call to my friend cleared up that confusion. Then I just had to be careful not to mix up these:
(which are part of the pump)
(which are not part of the pump),
and the technical part of pumping turned out to be not so complicated.
Still, after all that confusion, I was ready to hate pumping. I wanted to do it for the sake of the babies I can donate to, because it’s a good thing to do, but I didn’t expect to like it.
And so I was surprised at how I felt when I finished.
True, I only got three ounces of milk. Which didn’t look like much when I finished my twenty-minute session. But I googled it, and apparently three ounces is average for a single feeding. And when I realized that, suddenly the tiny bit of liquid in my refrigerator looked different. It didn’t look like a shot glass of liquid that I could drink in an instant. Suddenly, it looked like freedom.
Because even though Teddy usually nurses more like every 90 minutes during the day (at least), I think he could go two or three hours without getting hungry (or even upset, as long as somebody rocked him to sleep). If I needed to do something without him, those three ounces in my fridge would probably give me another two or three hours of time before he needed me.
Now, I’m not planning on running off for the weekend or anything. But the thought of occasionally being able to go somewhere without my baby–before he’s a year old–suddenly sounds attractive. Not yet, mind. Because I love being with him, and he’s so portable right now anyway and he sleeps all the time in the carrier. But. Maybe in a month or so, it would be nice to go see a movie with Matt without worrying that he’ll wake up and cry. It would be nice to take Anastasia out for a few hours and be able to focus completely on her. It would be really, really nice to go see The Hunger Games in March.
It’s weird, because I never felt this way when Anastasia was little. I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her for an instant–even in another room. But she needed me so desperately, and cried so hopelessly if I ever even tried to let someone else hold her, that I couldn’t feel any other way. I couldn’t imagine being away from her and her being happy. But Teddy is so different–he can be happy with other people. He can be happy with Daddy, or even with Anastasia for a little while. It doesn’t feel like he needs me so desperately.
And I’m okay with that.
I still plan to pump for other babies, not for him. But I’ll keep a few ounces in my own freezer. Because I may want them at some point.
Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ll want them on March 23. Because The Hunger Games will be a lot more fun without a baby on my chest. I’m sure I could go with him–I took Anastasia to movies all the time when she was a newborn, and she always slept through them–but if he’ll sleep through it at home while I go, well, I’ll take it.
And I’m starting to wonder if pumping occasionally might not be even easier than just keeping my baby with me all the time.
And you know what? I’m okay with that.