Sunday, December 31, 2006


Can I complain about this pumping milk thing? Well, yes, of course I can. I have to pump a lot for the interview process, since it's just not yet socially acceptable to bring a baby to a job interview and nurse. (Something I'd like to see changed, but that's another post.)

I think people have this idea that you just attach a suction thing to your bosom and, hey presto! A convenient bottle of nutritious milk for your baby. Nothing could be further from how it really works, even for those of us who can express milk with a pump.

If you're pumping in addition to feeding, you don't get as much per pumping session because (of course) your baby is still eating his usual amount, and you have to also produce extra for the pump. If you're like me (and I am), I can only get a few extra ounces per day. This means that I have to pump several times a day, every day, over a week, to get enough for a few hours' worth of feeding that Friday.

Contrary to what the public may imagine, the baby gets milk out not so much by sucking it out as by "stripping" it out (picture what a person does when milking a cow); the suction is secondary to the milk production. However, a milk pump can't really do that to a human breast, so it's stuck with pretty much just suction as its primary action.

Also, breast milk doesn't just flow constantly; the baby stimulates it to sort of flood out in bursts every so often (milk “letdowns”) that dwindle down to a trickle (like many other biological processes). Milk pumps try to approximate this stimulation, to greater or less success.

Me, I’m one of those whose milk doesn’t let down so easily for a plastic bottle. I tried it and really got some sore, bruised nursies and almost no milk at all. One technique in that case is to nurse your baby on one side while pumping on the other side. That way, when the baby stimulates the milk letdown by suckling from one breast, the “unused” side’s letdown can also be harnessed to pump milk from that breast.

This sounds fine in theory. And in practice it really does help me to actually get some milk out. However, there's this thing called "gravity" that takes the expressed milk from its source down into the milk container. And unless you have breasts that naturally point downward or can be bent downward easily--which I don't--you have to lean over to allow this to happen. Otherwise the milk comes out and then leaks out the pump opening and runs down your torso.

Add to this leaning over the fact that I have to hold a wriggling baby so that his head comes up to the opposite nursie, but without having his body interfere with the bottle I'm leaning over, and I have a real slapstick kind of situation going on.

What I usually do is to carefully arrange the baby on the Boppy on one side of my body so that he's sort of in the football hold, but propped up by the pillow, which leaves the other side open for the bottle. But I have to slide my leg (on the bottle side) down off the couch into a kneeling posture so that there's room for the bottle under my hunched-over chest.

It's pretty awkward, and Limelet doesn't like it nearly so well as the normal snuggly cuddling type of nursing. (For some reason!) It's also awkward because it takes a certain number of hands to accomplish the nursing and the pumping, and I seem to be short.

When I was first writing this post, the most recent pumping episode had gone like this: After arranging the boy on the nursing pillow, I started pumping and he started nursing. But he was unhappy with the arrangement and started fussing about the same time the milk let down. I picked him up with one of my arms and tried to put him over my shoulder while still pumping the precious, precious milk from that letdown. (Can't waste the opportunity, because it could be hours before I get the opportunity to do both at once again.)

Limelet, dejected with this very non-snuggly nursing experience that was focused on a plastic bottle and not on him, disconsolately grabbed the first thing he could find and hangs on for dear life. Unfortunately this happened to be a lock of exactly 12 hairs growing from the sensitive nape of my neck. As I shouted "Ow ow ow ow ow!" right next to his ear, of course he started wailing in startlement and fear--who wouldn't? I had one hand holding him up, and one hand holding the pump, so I didn't have another two hands to disentangle his little fist from my hair.

It was a fiasco and very frustrating for both of us. I wouldn't do it if I didn't have to get milk for him to have during my interviews.


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