Home > Health, Humor, Parenting > The Pumping Pits

The Pumping Pits

Let me tell you a little about two words that don’t belong together: “pumping” and “break.”

Ever wonder why it is nursing moms don’t leak all over the place when they’re not nursing their babies?

This has to do with something called “let-down.” When a baby begins nursing, her sucking motions combined with the sweet tiny, nearness of her trigger a surge of hormones in her mom. Those hormones signal to milk ducts that it’s time to drop the floodgates. Release the flood!

Luckily, a pump is just like a baby. I pick it up, cradle it while humming, and instantly feel the surge of lovey hormones that lets me know everything is exactly as it should be.

littler j snuggles

Gives almost as good snuggles as my pump


Except, wait. That’s not really what it’s like at all. Instead, I go through the same wretched ordeal a couple times a day:

  • Excuse myself from other activities, no matter how intriguing/urgent/overdue
  • Take self, pump, bottles and parts to pumping location
  • Unpack the clean pump parts and bottles I labeled and packed at 5 a.m.
  • Assemble pump parts
  • Connect parts to pump and bottles
  • Unwind pump plug
  • Plug in pump
  • Remove shirt
  • Unhook nursing bra clasps
  • Don pumping bra
  • Seal pump parts in pumping bra
  • Turn on pump
  • Notice the seconds ticking by without a single drop of milk
  • Get nervous about how slowly the milk is coming
  • Get nervous about getting nervous, since anxiety can slow let-down
  • Take deep breaths to calm down
  • Look at videos of my baby. Imagine feeling of his fingers wandering over my face
  • Feel glum that my baby is not with me. Eyes fall downward, …
  • Leading me to notice there are only about four drops in each bottle
  • Worry that I’m not going to pump enough this session, which would be terrible since breastmilk supply is governed by demand; if not enough is demanded, supply will dwindle and then it’s all over noooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
  • Remind myself again that nothing is actually over. It’ll all be OK as long as baby is fed somehow. Not all problems need/can be solved during a single pumping session
  • Look at work emails in case distracting myself from pumping is the key to not stressing about it. Feel stressed about work instead and hide work phone from sight
  • Adjust pump parts upon discovering they’ve become misaligned
  • See that it’s already been ten minutes and I’ve only pumped three ounces. Get anxious all over again because there’s no way I’m going to pump nine more ounces in the twenty minutes I have left to pump today
  • Wish I could teleport back to my baby to feed him directly instead of pumping. It’s 2014, man. We’re supposed to have flying cars at least
  • Send my sister a text message telling her pumping is stupid
  • Time’s up! Fifteen minutes, five ounces, no matter how much I hoped for eight
  • Detach pump parts from pump and bottles
  • Place lids on bottles
  • Place bottles in pump bag
  • Place pump parts in bag for later cleaning
  • Unplug pump. Rewind and store cord
  • Remove pumping bra
  • Re-fasten nursing bra clasps
  • Put shirt back on
  • Take all the things with me to the kitchen
  • Place milk in fridge
  • Pretend I don’t hear when someone makes their version of the “hope I don’t accidentally mix that up with my creamer!” joke
  • Take everything else back to office for storage until next time, knowing before I leave I’ll have to …
  • Pack milk and ice pack into milk carrier
  • Take pump parts home to clean (because I already used every available minute getting ready to pump, pumping and cleaning up from pumping)
  • Before bed, clean all the parts and set them to dry
  • Hope I don’t forget some or all of them (or the milk) tomorrow
Better still when the shirt is a dress

… or to put clothing back on. I’d rather that remain a nightmare.

Breastfeeding can be challenging, particularly in the first few weeks of a newborn’s life. Yet it can also be both sweet and mutually sustaining to breastfeed after mom and baby have gotten into their unique groove.

But pumping? There’s no loving connection to that assemblage of parts, or bonding to help make the process anything close to pleasurable. So if you’re thinking of wishing me “happy pumping” during my “relaxing pumping break,” please think again.

That image you have of me lounging with a Cosmo (the drink) and a Cosmo (the mag) could not be further from the reality.

The reality is it’s me against the machine.

I’m really not sure which is winning,

just that I’m not calling it yet!

  1. January 27, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Oh, I don’t miss those days at all (the pumping… I miss the breastfeeding every day).

    • January 27, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      That’s how I felt about the first time around! I do remember a sense of melancholy when preparing the last pumped bottle for use, but not at all for being done pumping.

  2. January 27, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Oh the pumping… I had a love-hate relationship with it…

    • January 28, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      The little bit of love on my end is for how it reminds me we’re still so physically connected, even while apart.

  3. January 28, 2015 at 12:51 am

    Reblogged this on johar24 and commented:

  4. January 28, 2015 at 3:48 am

    You did a lovely job discussing this demon. I swear mine used to say “You suck. You suck. You suck.” There were times I would have to make phone calls to patients or other physicians while doing it. Them: “Hey, doc? What’s that noise?” Me: “Hmmm? I can’t hear you. Must be some static on the line!”

    • January 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      I’ve always heard “wacko” until now, but now I hear “you suck.” Heh.

      No stress at all today, happily, sitting down to pump and knowing it gives me a few minutes to be here … a place I quite like being, thanks to the magnificent company. 🙂

  5. January 28, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Bravo! You are a hero. Thanks for this post, I was lucky to not have to pump at work due to the UKs great working parent leave policies but reading something like this reminds me of how lucky I was, and reminds me of the need to continue to lobby for the rights of babies and their parents who work outside the home.

    • January 28, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      I love your comment so much.

      My just younger sister studied at Cambridge for a while. She described many governmental/societal differences that made me wish here were more like there.

      There is so much benefit in it, too. People who don’t have to agonize over care choices are much better equipped to focus on and excel at their jobs.

  6. January 28, 2015 at 3:57 am

    Reblogged this on Fabricaciones Handmade and commented:
    Read this, please, especially those of you who begrudge breastfeeding mothers their “breaks” to pump their milk. I was lucky to not have to pump at work due to the UK’s working parent policies which guaranteed me the opportunity to work part-time. reading something like this reminds me of how lucky I was, and reminds me of the need to continue to lobby for the rights of babies and their parents who work outside the home.

    We need to remember also the working mothers who *choose* to work full-time outside the home and work to guarantee them support as well so they can continue to breastfeed their babies for as long as they want to.

  7. January 28, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Holla! I had a co-worker who could just duck into the bathroom and hand-express a bottle full in a few minutes, but I could never get the hang of the pump, could never relax enough to “let down” at all. I just got sore.

    With both of my babies I ended up nursing just twice a day – first thing in the morning, and before bed time. During the day they had formula. My body got used to the reduced schedule so I wasn’t producing as much – no midday explosions after just a few days. We had those lovely, quiet bonding times, and I wasn’t tied down as the exclusive provider of food when I was at work. I nursed both of them for over a year like this and it really worked for me.

    • January 28, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      I had oversupply the first time around, so I could pump for a few minutes and have enough to feed D for the next day. This time around wasn’t like that at all!

      I could pump 20 minutes without letting down. I tried every trick I could to change that, but everything failed until I found a podcast that had beem used to help moms of preemies express (much more) milk. I used that to get me through the first couple of months back to work. At first, if I forgot my iPad, I was screwed; I’d pump next to nothing. I did slowly ease up some, so now isn’t nearly as bad as then.

      My back-up supply is almost exhausted. It looks like I’ll probably be introducing formula in the next week or two. I’d hoped to switch straight from milk to water a little further down the road, but there is just too much else to do to invest any more emotional energy in this. (I gave so much last time, and was perpetually exhausted!) We will still have the morning and night, and I will savor those times. ♥

  8. January 28, 2015 at 9:48 am

    What women go through. I never had to pump, but a million other Mom challenges awaited. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I did it.

    • January 29, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      When Littler J was a few months old, a couple people here assured me I wouldn’t feel quite so beat when J was a little older. They were right. Now I look just a few months back and feel glad they were right, which–like your comment–makes me wonder what all this will look like 20 or so years from now. 🙂

  9. January 28, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I mostly pumped in the bathroom (yuck) or in a supply closet – across the hall from a male coworker who would imitate the sound of the pump and laugh every time I walked out. In the bathroom, I just let it all hang out – to hell with any woman who might walk in while I was doing it. Retiring to a stall was not going to happen (and couldn’t – needed the outlet!). They created a pumping room in another building a short walk from where I worked sometime after I finished pumping for the last child…

    I was fortunate for several reasons. 1) I was able to go to my kid at lunch, which saved one pumping. 2) My kids hated the bottle so quickly learned to wait until I got to them so I usually only had to pump once *maybe* twice a day and only for a month or two. 3) My pump came with a compartment that I could store the milk in with an ice pack so I didn’t have to listen to the stupid comments at the group fridge. 4) I almost never had trouble with letdown. I frequently filled both bottles to the brim. Which was good that it happened fast since I didn’t have a pump bra – I had to hold the cups to my breasts the whole time!

    Like others have said, I miss breastfeeding. I don’t miss pumping.

    • January 29, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      My first week here, I hiked over to another building and went through the ordeal of accessing the special room there since the room in my own building didn’t have an outlet. I was happy to find on Amazon a battery powered adaptef, which means I now pump in a tiny locker room in my own building. It’s much less stressful this way, even though I sit on a wood bench instead of a comfy chair!

      I traded one pumping session in to have a shorter lunch and leave earlier. I am pumping the same amount as if I were pumpung twice. This trade makes everything brighter. Less pumping? Less traffic? I’ll take it!

      I’ll be sad when I give J his last bottle, but I won’t miss pumping.

  10. January 28, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I remember those days well, even though they were years ago. You captured the experience perfectly. I would pump in my office over lunch while I dictated patient notes from the morning. Talk about needing more hands! Oh, what we do for our children. 🙂

    • January 31, 2015 at 8:46 am

      I was able to work and pump the first time around, when I had mad oversupply, but I haven’t been able to do it this time around! I’m hoping that will change as I start feeling settled into my new job, which I’m sure will just be another day or two. Heh.

  11. January 28, 2015 at 10:25 am

    My sister and several of her friends quite successfully breastfed part time, and used formula rather than pumping. Would that not work for you? (This is a question arising out of interest, NOT an effort to advise or criticize! Really I’m just curious.)

    • January 31, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Not at this point, no. I don’t usually talk about it here because there’s so much judginess in parenting that I fear someone will take my beliefs about what’s right for my family and believe I’m saying they’re wrong for how they’re handling theirs. Since asked, I’ll give a brief answer about my take on what’s right for me and my family!

      My belief (leading me to have a whole ‘nother blog devoted specifically to related topics!) is that our bodies are best adapted to eat what we’ve been eating for thousands of years. Lab-manipulated food products are necessary sometimes, but should be avoided if possible in favor of the things our bodies are already adapted to digest and from which we can absorb abundant naturally produced nutrients.

      As long as pumping is a nuisance, I’ll keep doing it. If there comes a point where it actually causes me anguish, then that will be sufficient to override my feelings about what the folks in my family should be consuming and shift toward emphasizing other considerations. Ideals are great and 100% achievable in the ideal world, but in the real world, it’s all a balance.

      Oh, there’s another situation where formula is possible: once I no longer have enough breastmilk to provide. That point might actually come soon. With D, I was OK waking up twice in the middle of the night to pump, and then pumping again in the morning. Time and energy constraints won’t permit that now. That would lead me to anguish since I’m already having a hard time getting done everything that needs getting done without that added pressure. So, at the point where I no longer am pumping enough with two pumping sessions a day, I’ll balance my ideals with the realities/limitations of real life and add in bottles of formula as needed.

      • January 31, 2015 at 10:50 am

        It’s so interesting that you have that philosophy regarding what one should eat. It’s what I’ve believed for years, and now I’m getting serious about putting it into practice.

        I hear you regarding balancing the nutritional virtue of breast milk against the anguish of pumping. When I went back to work I tried to keep my daughter on breast milk, but I didn’t even have a pump – I didn’t know they existed, assuming they did 30-some years ago. I used to sit on the toilet seat in the restroom at work, tears running down my face as I tried to squirt milk into a bottle. It was dreadful!

  12. January 28, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    brillIant!!! it’s been 24 years and still you managed to bring it all back! shame on you lol 😉

  13. January 28, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    I had let down all the time. I was a leaker. I wish I had had a pump, so I could have shared that milk. Hand expression was very difficult, and I ended up looking a mess pretty much all the time.

  14. January 28, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Maybe if you name it? How about Buz?

    You are a hero, I say it all the time. You are a hero.

  15. January 28, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    What a precious and peaceful picture! I was fortunate to be home most of the time, while finishing school, with my first daughter, and couldn’t have afforded a breast pump if I’d wanted one! I had tons of milk and would hand express when needed. I only nursed my younger daughter full-time for four weeks before I had to return to work. I nursed morning and night for a couple of weeks, but unfortunately she preferred the bottle and went to it full time. We all do the best we can in our own situations. I think I’d having pumping performance anxiety in your situation, too! Take care! 🙂

    • January 31, 2015 at 8:56 am

      Writing this post (and then exchanging comments about it) really helped take a load off! I can’t quite explain how, but … maybe just the insight into how everyone is doing it–and how life went on after they were finished doing it–was just what I needed to ease up a little here. 🙂

      • January 31, 2015 at 11:52 am

        I can totally see how it would help. I had a great deal of guilt in the beginning about not being able to continue nursing with H, but in the grand scheme of things, it just wasn’t going to be possible with my work schedule. Earning a living for my girls and having a roof over our heads was the priority. They’ve both turned out to be happy, healthy productive humans, and it all worked out in the end like most things do! 🙂 Happy Saturday!

  16. January 29, 2015 at 7:27 am

    It is SO stressful, but good for you! I ended up giving up when I went back to work. And felt so guilty! STILL DO after 21 years… 😉 (She’s always had a lot of allergies, been more susceptible to illnesses…)

    • January 31, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Aw! I hope you find a way out of that guilt before long! We truly do the best we can with what we have, and if you stopped then, it was for a good reason. (I find it’s easier to remember the things we feel we did less than ideally than the circumstances that prompted them!)

  17. January 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I hate pumping with the fire of a thousand suns, but I would kill for 5 ounces

    • January 31, 2015 at 8:59 am

      I hope for the sake of future generations someone’s developing the pump that assembles itself underneath a woman’s clothing, quickly suctions all available milk with no pain or fuss, and dissembles itself. I’d be a little sad to have missed it, but glad enough for future generations of moms to outweigh that!

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