When my baby turned one, I marked the happy occasion with two celebrations of very different natures: a party, and putting away my pump. The first was fun, but I think I enjoyed the second one more.
Most pediatricians recommend that babies get breast milk for the entire first year of life, and only after they turn one should they start to receive cow's milk. That's why many working moms pump breast milk for their babies until that milestone birthday, and then happily sign off the pumping program. Sure, there are some working moms who continue pumping even after their babies turn one year. But this is far from typical; ask any working mom about pumping, and she's likely to respond with a groan. Pumping is hard work. It means constantly feeling torn between your baby and your job while you're at the office, constant stress about whether you're pumping enough (especially if you aren't supplementing with formula), occasional embarrassment as you store containers of breast milk in the office fridge, and lots of discomfort and additional chores.
So when I celebrated putting my pump away, after 34 weeks of pumping three times a day, five days a week, it wasn't just the physical act of pumping I was saying goodbye to. It was also the accessories, the time, the mess, and more. Here are the 10 things that I won't miss.
1. The scheduling. Pumping at work means squeezing in 20-minute blocks of pumping time throughout the day, in between meetings, phone calls, and getting actual work done. In many work environments, it can be tough to block out enough time. And sometimes the need to squeeze in sessions means pumping in odd places, especially when work takes you out of the office for conferences, meetings, or retreats. In my pumping history I have pumped in bathrooms and supply closets, in my boss's house, and in a coworker's moving vehicle--all experiences I'd be happy to not repeat.
2. The bottles. When I was pumping, my kitchen counters, cabinets, dishwasher, and dish racks were constantly filled with bottles. Some had a half ounce of milk, some had six ounces; some were waiting to be washed, others were waiting to be stored. There were plastic bottles for pumping, glass bottles for storage, and high-tech bottles that supposedly best mimicked the nursing experience for the actual feeding. Our dishwasher loads seem half as full now.
3. The washing. Pumping three times a day basically means doing extra dishes three times a day. Many moms have tricks for not having to wash the pump throughout the day (store your flanges in the fridge, for example, and any milk that remains on them will stay cool). But if you want to follow pumping rules to the letter, you need to wash all parts of the pump that touch milk after each use. That's a lot of scrubbing, and it often takes place in office bathrooms or kitchens, with coworkers looking on.
4. The clothes. Pumping means you have to wear clothes to the office that allow your boobs to be easily accessible. That means I didn't wear a dress for eight months. Now that I'm through with pumping, I'm reacquainting myself with some of the cuter items in my wardrobe, and it feels great.
5. The noise. If you use an electric pump, you likely hear the grating hee-haw noise of a pump up to an hour a day. It's a noise no pillow can muffle, despite many working-mom advocates' claims that you can cover up the noise and participate in conference calls while you pump. After eight months of that noise, I'm finding silence is golden.
6. The time crunch. Between the actual pumping, the prepping, and the cleaning up, pumping took up more than an hour of my time every work day. It's a relief to have that hour back each day to focus on actual work.
7. The heavy load. Fifteen ounces of milk, not to mention the ice packs, the pump itself, and additional supplies, is a lot of extra weight to cart around each day. For someone who commutes by subway, bringing this back and forth to the office on a daily basis can mean very sore shoulders by the end of the week.
8. The anxiety. Feeding your baby breast milk exclusively, without supplementing with formula, can lead to a lot of worry, even for moms blessed with an abundant milk supply. Am I going to pump enough today? Will I need to dig into my freezer stash? Do I have enough milk to get me through the week? These are the questions that keep pumping mothers up at night (that is, if they're getting any sleep to begin with).
9. The full freezer. Want to cook a bunch of meals in advance and store them in your freezer? Want to load up on your kids' favorite TV dinners while they're on sale? Want to make some ice? If you're a pumping mother, you're out of luck. Having a large freezer stash of milk is important, and that means breast milk storage bags may be taking up valuable room, leaving minimal space for things typically stored in freezers, like ice and food.
10. The bag. Between two kids, I have more than 16 months of pumping under my belt (or my shirt?), and I therefore spent 16 months trying to cram pumped milk, the pump, ice packs, flanges, tubes, an electric adapter, storage bags, and more into the too-small transport bag the pump came with. Pump bags are like diaper bags--they are never big enough!
Of course, there are several things I loved about pumping and will miss. I loved the connection I felt to my baby throughout the day, even though he wasn't with me and my brain was mostly filled with non-baby thoughts. I loved the time during the hectic work day to relax and do something that I enjoyed while pumping--reading a magazine, finishing a novel, or gabbing with a friend. And I'm very grateful that I was able to provide milk for my baby throughout the day even when I wasn't physically with him, and that I had a supportive workplace that made it possible to do so.
Now that it's been a few weeks since I put that pump in the closet, I don't miss pumping a bit. I'm finding other ways to feel close to my baby during the work day. And I'm fitting in my novel reading during all the time I'm saving by not having to wash bottles, or clear out my freezer, or stretch my aching shoulders and back. My baby is still nursing in the morning and at night, but for 10 hours a day during the workweek, my time, my clothes, my dishes, and my body are all mine, and that feels wonderful.
Is there anything about pumping that drives you nuts?
Rebecca Phillips is a mom of two boys living in Brooklyn, NY. She is a freelance writer and Web consultant and former editor at CafeMom.
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