One Mother’s Pumping Journey: Short on Milk, Long on Stress

Pumping IconBreast feeding turned out not to be the romp through a spring meadow that I had expected. It was not blissful, relaxing or carefree. My baby was screaming, and the incessant pumping – and cleaning, and pumping again – made me feel like a cow in a commercial milking station. It all seemed painfully “steampunk” with industrial accessories in lovely shades of light pink and pale yellow.

There are two common events that call for the adoption of the more-than-occasional breast pump: there is pumping because you desperately need to increase your post-partum milk supply, and there is pumping because you’re away from your baby but still need to provide sustenance for your child. This is the first in a two-part commentary on my journey through pumping, covering the cascading waterfall of events triggered by my low milk supply in the early post-partum weeks. Back-to-work pumping thoughts will follow in a second post.

Pumping Condition #1: Your baby is not gaining weight in the first weeks of life.

In spite of what some may tell you is impossible, it is in fact very possible that you have found yourself with milk supply issues in the first weeks of your child’s life and are coming up short when it comes to baby nourishment. Whatever the reason – your body’s quirks, your baby’s inability to latch, maybe even the massive amount of stress you feel as a result of the trauma of childbirth – you are now in a MUST-MAKE-MILK post-partum fog. You are doing whatever you can to feed your baby that precious liquid that comes from your own breasts, but it’s a struggle.

Step 1. Pump all the time. Pump between breast feedings and bottle supplements, pump on the road, get up every hour-and-a-half to pump in the middle of the night. For higher efficiency pumping, massage your breasts while pumping. But this requires a hands-free pumping bustier, a product that could use a serious design overhaul. If you don’t already feel sexy in the weeks since you’ve given birth, Google image search ‘pumping bustier.’ I don’t know why these women are all smiling.

Step 2. Check-in with your top-notch lactation consultant (again). Your baby needs a pre- and post-feeding weigh-in to see how much milk is actually being consumed at each feed. Rent a professional grade pump immediately. The Medela Symphony might literally be worth its weight in gold. It looks like gold and it’s really heavy. Luckily, you can rent it for less than $20/month from your local pharmacy or hospital. Be sure to find the correct breast shield size. I recommend buying a funnel a size up. There is no reason at all to squeeze into that smaller size. Trust me. Your already painful nipples will thank you.

Step 3. The SNS (Suplemental Nursing System). Because what you really want now are more tubes. You tape the delicate SNS tubing system to your nipples just above your areola so that your baby can suck and stimulate your milk production, but also receive a dose of much-needed formula based nutrition between pumpings. If you are into outdoor sports, it’s like a Camelback that hangs around your neck with a tiny little tube taped to each nipple so that your baby can simultaneously encourage an increase in milky supply and receive formula-based nutrition. This is another worthwhile Google image search.

Step 4. If your baby is still not gaining weight at the correct rate, you have reached the moment when you now need to supplement your baby more fully with formula and yourself with Fenugreek, an herb that, in high doses, can make you smell like day-old pancakes with cheap syrup. Although your perfume may not be ideal, the Fenugreek does actually work. I did not learn about Fenugreek until 6 weeks into the process, but had I been aware that it was helpful, I would have started on a reasonable dose as soon as I realized there was an issue. Continue to pump with your new hospital grade pump while wearing your light pink pumping bustier and supplementing your baby with organic formula through the SNS that may or may not give them awful gas at each feeding. Do your best to hold and feed your baby by bottle while you are pumping with a funnel and tubes attached to each nipple. I recently attended a performance of Russian circus acts at the Boston Symphony and believe that successful pumping-while-feeding should be considered a feat not unlike some of the more clever Russian contortion acts.

Step 5. Stasis. You eventually find the right balance of pumping and formula to allow your baby to grow, which, if you have guilt over feeding your baby formula, is useful. It’s also helpful to note that the personal pressures many new mothers feel to fully and frictionlessly nurse their children into toddlerhood is not insignificant. Our current mommy culture is not always friendly to the bottle-toting-mommy, the inevitable result of breast feeding difficulties or a return to work. It’s too bad. Our health professionals and larger cultural networks could do more to prepare new parents for the challenges of feeding in the early months, and our cultural awareness of the incredible emotional challenges faced by new families could be increased.

Step 6. Maternity leave ends. Ready the pumping stations for a new challenge. Back to work…

By Elizabeth ChristofOretti
EC headshotElizabeth Christoforetti practices broadly across scales as an architectural and urban designer. She studied religion at Bowdoin College in Maine, designed objects at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her Master in Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Elizabeth currently holds a lecturer position at Northeastern University, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate design studios. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two young children.