I’ve resisted writing this post for nearly three years. I mean, who wants to pump in the first place, let alone take a microscope to the subject and write about it?
I’ll begin with a disclaimer that the idea here is to chat about something that doesn’t get chatted about very often and to share a bit of my own experience, in hopes that it might provide a bit of normalization. My particular experience is as quirky and specific as any one else’s. Differences in work hours and work places and personal preferences means that it’s unlikely this will serve as a guide for what any one else’s pumping experience might look like. That’s okay. It can be still be nice to learn how someone else tackles something that might seem daunting. (If this feels helpful to you, yay! If it feels stressful to you, let me offer a cookie instead. If you’re otherwise uninterested, here are some pretty Easter eggs.)
My first experience with a breast pump came just days after Faye arrived. I sat crying on my apartment floor, exhausted by having just given birth and uncomfortable from engorged breasts. My sister Cait took the subway from the East Village, toting her electric pump. She slathered the flange (worst word) in coconut oil, told me to take a deep breath for heaven’s sake, and assured me that it was a good idea to take a little bit of the pressure off. A few minutes into the heaving groan of the electric motor and golden-colored milk started to fill up a bottle. Sweet relief, etc.
I eventually wrote to our insurance company to get an electric pump of my very own. I used that daily until Faye was about 8-months old and, shockingly, I just really didn’t like it. I didn’t like feeling confined to my desk. I didn’t like coiling and uncoiling all those tubes and plugging it in every time. I hated listening to it struggle along. Once I got a manual pump for on-the-go pumping, I just decided to start using that exclusively and I never looked back. (I pumped until Faye was a year old, when I started supplementing my milk with cow’s milk during the day.)
For me, the beauty of the manual pump is that it’s quiet, it’s small, and it’s, duh, portable. I can slip it into a small cloth bag, along with a glass jar or two for storing the pumped milk, tuck it into my work bag (or date-night bag) and no one’s the wiser.
Since I’m still often working from home for a few hours each morning while Silas takes his morning nap and Faye goes on adventures with a sitter, I’ve gotten along fine with just a manual pump this time around. Very much understood that for folks who need to pump several times a day, all of that hand-pumping might get tedious, but for me it spells freedom and an ability to go back to work while still breastfeeding.
All of this to say, I promise pumping isn’t so very bad.
A few other things:
I hear a lot from breastfeeding parents about the complications of cleaning a pump and bottles. We’re lucky to have a dishwasher in our apartment, so I just put everything on the top rack, run it through with our nightly load, set the pieces out to dry on a dishtowel, and start fresh in the morning. If I ever know that I’ll need to pump twice while I’m away from home, I just make sure I wash my pump out with hot water and dish soap (if I can find some). (I know some folks pop the whole pump into the fridge in between sessions to avoid needing to thoroughly wash it several times a day. Genius.)
To avoid single-use plastic, I store my pumped milk in 8 oz mason jars in our freezer. We have twelve of these jars and with the addition of a few extra glass bottles also filled with milk, that’s enough for me to have a comfortable stockpile.
I typically get about 5 oz from one pumping session. If I get a lot less, I pop the jar in the fridge until the next time I pump that day. Then I top off the jar and pop that into the freezer.
+ As always, consult the real experts for more advice. My go-to site for all things breastfeeding is Kelly Mom, an evidence-based resource that’s specific and clear and blessedly not a live forum for every worried person on the internet.
+ I use the Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breastpump. It’s super easy to clean and comfortable to use. I’m using the same one now that I used with Faye and it’s never broken or warped or otherwise stopped working, even with daily trips through the dishwasher. (Ironically, in between writing this piece and posting it, the plastic handle fell to the bottom of the dishwasher and got a little scorched, but it’s still totally serviceable.)
+ The other day it occurred to me that it would be very awesome if someone made a bottle nipple to attach to the mason jars I’m already using to store milk. Shortly after that, Faye and I were in a shop full of baby gear and she came running over to me with just such a contraption in hand. We’re still using our hand-me-down glass bottles, but if you’re considering something different, meet Mason Bottles.