I’m finally posting this on the one-year anniversary!
On the babies’ seven month ‘birthday,’ I pumped for the last time.
Yes, I was finally DONE WITH PUMPING.
It felt like a major decision. And for a long time I still didn’t know how I felt about it!
Once I knew that I didn’t want to nurse, I figured I’d pump for maybe the first three months. Well, that came and went pretty quick and then they were like five months old and I was like, hey…I’m still doing this? But I didn’t want to stop at a random time, and their six month ‘birthday’ was really close, so I decided I would go for seven months as my endpoint.
I can be somewhat terrible at actually Deciding to Do Things. I would much rather decide that something needs to happen and then kind of wait for the chips to fall. Or have something assigned to me. I think I worry that I’ll make a wrong decision, or a strange decision, or that I don’t know how things will play out later on, so I’d sometimes be happy to let the Fates decide! But sometimes I have to be a GrownUp and put on my Big Girl Pants and make a Damn Decision Already.
I was never one to have a ‘goal’ for something like nursing or pumping, because I didn’t know how I would do, if I would like it, or what our life circumstances would be. I didn’t want to tie myself down to some mental milepost in the future.
But once I started, I figured I might as well keep going for awhile. It seemed to be working pretty well, and my supply kept up quite well. I never made enough to fully feed both the babies, but for many months we only had to do one set of formula bottles (for anywhere from five to eight feedings a day). This was pretty great. Especially because with samples and gifts, we didn’t have to buy any for maybe 3 or 4 months.
I need to include an aside about formula itself, as a principle. I love it; I think it’s great. My babies needed more food than my body provided, and formula kept their bellies full so they could grow.
Since the babies tolerated both Enfamil and Similac regular formulas without even noticing the switch, once it was time for us to buy the formula, we tried the Costco brand and it was good. And it is SO MUCH CHEAPER. On Amazon, the big brands are a dollar an ounce; at Costco those brands are like 80 cents an ounce. The Costco formula is forty-five cents an ounce! Winner! (But really we are just lucky that our babies don’t have any special dietary needs/restrictions. And that I don’t care about organics and stuff.)
Even with the cheapest formula option, it still costs money. As I transitioned to fewer pumps per day and my output dipped, we used more formula each month. And of course then once I stopped, we had to buy a lot. The babies take 32-35 ounces a day, times two, so the giant can only lasts 3 1/2 – 4 days. Again, even cheap, it adds up.
And to me it felt like I was forcing the family to pay this extra money because I was being lazy and selfish by not pumping anymore.
I wanted to be free. I wanted my body to be my own again. I wanted my schedule, all the hours in the day, to be my own again (or as much as they could be with two infants). But I also waffled a bit.
There was a nagging thought in the back of my head that if I was able to make food for my babies, I should keep doing it. That maybe my needs weren’t really needs, just wants, and that my babies’ biological needs trumped whatever I wanted.
Happily, my husband insisted that I should stop. Not pressuring me to or anything, but asserting that I had done a lot already and it was more than okay for me to stop. He respected my seven months of pumping and my decision to be done. But I asked a lot of times, “Are you sure it’s okay? Should I just keep going after all? Is it too much money?” He always said “No, you should stop. It’s really okay.”
Another aside: apparently some husbands think it’s their business to insist on or pressure their partners to pump or breastfeed. What the everloving fuck?! Unless a man is the one strapping a baby or a milking machine to his own body, he has zero right to push for his partner to feed a baby that way!
Anyway, so over the course of a few weeks I weaned myself down and then off the pump entirely.
The last pump was on a Friday. I wasn’t sure how the stopping process would go for me, physically. All was fine for awhile, at first it didn’t feel any different. Later on Saturday I started feeling uncomfortable. By Sunday it was actual pain. It hurt to hold a baby and it hurt to sleep–pressure on my engorged chest. I read that other women had pain for up to a week when quitting! I tried cabbage leaves, I thought about finding whatever herbs or drugs might help after a few days…Sunday night it got even worse and so Monday morning I broke down and pumped for ten minutes. I decided that if I needed to do once a day for a few more days I could handle it. I got another 10 ounces or so, and after that my body totally got the message. No more pain, no more milk, all done, all gone. My body was once again all mine.
two months A YEAR now and I can’t believe how glad I am that I stopped, and how incredibly much I don’t miss it. I look back and wonder, jesus, did I really do that?! I have not regretted the decision to stop for even a SECOND.
And now for all the random thoughts I have about pumping.
1. NUMBERS! DATA! NERDINESS!
I kept a log while I was in the hospital so I would know when to pump and be able to see how much I was getting. And then…I kept going. I continued to keep track of every single pump for all seven months. And then I graphed it! Is that dorky or what?
Several things to note:
-The stars indicate when I decreased a pumping session. At first I believe it was seven times a day, so the first star is when I went down to six times a day. I did 30 minutes each time, until going to five times, when I did 45 minutes each time.
-I don’t even want to think about the total amount of time I spent pumping. Hours and hours and hours. I essentially lived on our couch.
-My supply really jumped up quickly at a clear pace and I had a really good average–over 50 ounces a day for a long time. Again, though, the babies were taking 60 ounces.
-Looking at this graph, it looks like such a short period of time. And I guess it was, in the grand scheme of things. But those days and weeks and months of pumping felt looooooong. So very long. Never ending, really. I can’t even tell you how long it all felt. Such a slog.
-I was fascinated to learn (thank you auto-sum!) that over the course of seven months, my total output was SIXTY SEVEN GALLONS. That’s a full milk case at the grocery store. FROM MY BODY. That is crazy weird strange cool. Check out my badly-photoshopped graphic of SIXTY-SEVEN GALLONS:
2. THE ENERGY
The first few weeks of pumping, I could literally feel the life draining out of me at each session. It felt like I was wilting from the inside out. It was probably because I wasn’t eating much of anything at first. As time went on, I didn’t feel weak anymore, though I doubt I was ever eating enough. When I went out for errands, I frequently stopped for a chocolate milkshake to get some extra calories.
Sitting in one place for so long so many times a day forced me to drink a lot of water–I easily drank 60oz a day, and that made a huge difference for my skin and for my energy level.
Also, I was surprised that I didn’t lose weight faster than I did. I dropped forty pounds in the first week, but only another six pounds in the next six weeks.
3. THE SCHEDULE
A lot of women keep pumping every three hours (around the clock–that means overnight!) for way longer than I did. I was never willing to do that. Within a week maybe I was skipping one overnight session, for a total of seven pumps a day instead of the ‘ideal’ eight. My supply may have been higher if I’d done that extra session, but I was not willing to sacrifice even more sleep. As it was, for many months I could only go 5 or 6 hours between pumps, which meant starting the last one of the night around 2am, which meant getting to bed around 3am, and then getting up again to pump at 7am.
The worst part was when someone would suggest that I should sleep in. Or my husband would offer to do something so I could sleep. I wanted to cry and scream every time I had to say (and good lord I hated that everyone else seemed to forget what a slave to the pump I had to be), “I CAN’T; I HAVE TO PUMP.”
Eventually I started doing the last one a little bit earlier and earlier, stretching out the overnight. It took awhile, but man, the difference it made to get more sleep….indescribable. I know that a lot of babies don’t sleep well and continue to wake up every night every few hours for many many months….but ours didn’t, and being unable to take advantage of their good sleep was so frustrating. I was a zombie for months when I didn’t ‘have’ to be.
The best part was when I got to the point of 8 or 9 hours overnight between pumps. And when my amazing husband started getting up with the babies so I could sleep for eight hours. I think that was in April, when the babies were about five months old or so. Oh my god, I felt like a real person again. It was an incredible, priceless gift.
The other sweet spot was when I finally got to four pumps a day. That felt really manageable in the daily schedule: first thing in the morning, lunch time, late afternoon, night time. (Until I got to three times a day; that was even better.)
Of course, the relentless pumping schedule means that you have to schedule your life around your pump. Date nights, playdates/mom groups, exercise–all of it has to be done in those times between pumping sessions. And if they overlap, then you can’t just skip. Your body won’t let you. So you have to pump before and after your fun event.
4. THE HASSLE
Pumping sucks. Literally and physically. In so many ways.
First, there’s all the crap. Keeping track of all the parts, washing them in between pumping sessions, finding room to let them dry on the counters. If you pump in different places, you also have to cart the pump and accessories to different parts of your house (or car, or work, or vacation).
Then there are the accessories. Often I would rush home from an outing and immediately run upstairs and do a fast clothing change to pajama pants and a nursing tanktop. I also had a special hands-free pumping bra, plus a muslin blanket to cover up (I just tied it on like a giant neckerchief). Then the bottles and lids, and eventually you might need to keep extra bottles around in case one fills up and you need to switch before the pumping session is over. It really sucks when one leaks or overflows and you don’t notice until it’s already been going on for who knows how long. Ick and ack.
It is a huge hassle to stick to that schedule. Your boobs don’t need a clock; they know when the milk is due, and whether or not your pump is going, that milk will come. Occasionally time would get away from me, and I would feel a tingling, and then suddenly realize I needed to be pumping. On our trip north in January, three different times I was busy being social and missed the pumping times and leaked everywhere. Yuck.
5. THE IMMEDIACY
When I would say I have to pump, that might RIGHT NOW. Not right now in three minutes, RIGHT NOW THIS VERY MOMENT GET OUT OF MY WAY. Occasionally my husband would try to give me a hug or leisurely talk about something as I was frantically trying to get all the pump shit ready and I would be like I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW I NEED TO PUMP.
Imagine that feeling when you’ve needed to pee for a long time and you’re about to burst and you’re on the way to the bathroom. And someone wants you to stop and chat.
Except that ability to hold it in is not available and the ‘ready to explode’ feeling keeps building painfully and there’s no immediate relief.
So a note to all you friends or partners who are pumping: get the hell out of their way!
I would frequently lose track of time and be like, Shit! I have to pump! And then proceed to run around getting all the pump stuff and accessories ready, and oh yeah, fill up my water bottle, since I’ll be stuck in one place for almost an hour. And I probably need a snack. And I should go to the bathroom now while I can. Where’s my kindle? Is my laptop plugged in? Make sure I can reach the remote!
Now imagine the fun times when I was alone with two babies and pumping! For months I did at least one feeding a day *while* pumping. It was difficult and extremely, incredibly annoying. But I figured that multi-tasking was the best way to use my time. As I slowly changed my schedule and those pumping/feedings got fewer, it was such a relief.
6. THE IN-BETWEEN-NESS
Everyone wants to know how you feed your baby. It’s none of their damn business, and I have a much bigger post brewing on that, but people will still ask. It does come up organically sometimes. And I think people in general like to categorize things, and seek out people with similar situations. It pretty much seems like there are only two options: breastfeeding and formula feeding. And…I was neither. Or kind of both. My babies obviously got formula from the start, so I was a formula feeder. And I only nursed a handful of times ever, so I wasn’t a breastfeeder. But I was pumping. So they were getting milk from me. Does that mean I was breastfeeding because their food came from me? Or does it mean I wasn’t breastfeeding since that food from my body went into theirs via a bottle? Then there are the small, forgotten segment of Exclusive Pumping mothers. Which, I wasn’t that either, since I was pumping like 70-80% of what my babies ate, not 100%.
I never liked being neither, or both, or nothing easily categorize-able. I always wished I could find other people like me, in all those facebook groups where it seems everyone is an exclusive and/or extended breastfeeder. I wish I could have found a community of other in-between-ers.
7. THE UNEXPECTED BONUS
Once I was a little less zombie-fied and was more stable with my pumping schedule, I began to enjoy my late-night (2am) pump session. I’m a night-owl anyway, so it wasn’t a stretch to stay awake for so long, even though I was tired. But I was alone. I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I could do it while sitting on the couch. I wrote blog posts; I read the internet; I watched Netflix (mainly a ridiculous and fun Aussie teen soap called Dance Academy); occasionally I would read on my kindle.
I came to relish that quiet alone time, and actually look forward to it. Even though I wasn’t really doing anything different than during the rest of my day, my mind felt calm and quiet. Relaxed. I suppose the time sacrifice was worth it for the mental break, in a way. Sometimes you just need to get away, and sometimes the only way to do that is to stay up until 2 or 3am.
8. NO, YOU’RE NOT LOSING YOUR MIND.
Many women–including myself–hear the pump ‘talk.’ Especially since I had a hospital-grade pump for the first 6-7 weeks, which is gigantic but pretty quiet, and then moved to the Medela Pump-In-Style (the tote bag version), which is small and lightweight, but very loud. I heard different words or phrases nearly every day the first few weeks with that one! Then I finally started tuning it out. Here’s a funny/frustrating article about pumps being so technologically un-advanced: Shouldn’t the Breast Pump Be as Elegant as an iPhone and as Quiet as a Prius by now?
You can use any bottle with a standard opening. I used the Snappies bottles first, then the 5oz Medela bottles that came with the pump, and then I had to move to something bigger. I found a couple cheap 8oz bottles at Walgreens, and also used the Dr Brown’s 8oz bottles. They actually hold closer to 13oz!
However: lids matter! You can buy separate screw-on caps for the Dr. Brown’s bottles (which fit the 4oz and the 8oz sizes) and they ACTUALLY work. The Medela bottle lids worked mostly okay for the Medela bottles, but not for any of the other kinds.
You can use dry-erase markers to write anywhere on any bottle. We have a bunch of the fine-tipped markers for our kitchen dry-erase board, so I used them to write day/time of pumped bottles. Wipes right off!
For chafing, almost everyone recommends lanolin. Lanolin is really, really sticky. Which means that you and your pump parts are always a little sticky. I dug around and finally found another suggestion: olive oil! Put some on a paper towel, and then wipe it around the inside of the pump flange. Et voila, no chafing, and no stickiness!
9. IN CONCLUSION
You can feed your baby however you like. One method (formula or breastfeeding) may work best for you, or you might combo feed. You might use a pump also. It’s pretty neat that our bodies can feed our babies, isn’t it? But–the best things to remember are that 1, if you’re feeding your baby and loving your baby, that means you’re a good mother–period. And 2, YOU matter. Your time matters, your physical AND MENTAL health matter. If you want to pump, and you can, then great! If you don’t want to, or you can’t, great! Love your baby. That’s what matters. I support you!