Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I'm Not (Just) Lucky: How to Succeed at Pumping By Really, Really Trying

 My Voodoo Magic Combo
 Unflattering Self-Portrait on My Last Morning of Car Pumping

Pumping at work. Oy. What an adventure. Sam is now 9.5 months and we made it. We did it. We're still nursing now that my school year is over. And I'm taking an extended vacation from that stupid pump.

Can I tell you how many times throughout this process someone said, "Oh, you're so lucky - pumping didn't work out for me?" While I have nothing but sympathy for anyone for whom nursing doesn't go as planned and/or doesn't work out at all, I really got tired of hearing I was lucky. It's like telling someone who got promoted due to their hard work and tenacity that they were "lucky." It's like, "Um, no, buddy, I WORKED for this."

So, in order to both document this wild ride and offer support/advice/humor for anyone in a similar boat, the following is a list of ways that luck did play a part, as well as ways my own hard work played a part. You need a special mixture of both to survive this, that's for sure.

1. The Birth
Luck: I'm so lucky that I had a healthy pregnancy, despite the fact that I was classified as a "geriatric pregnancy." (SO MANY EYEROLLS.) I carried Sam to term and then some (40 weeks, 5 days), and never had any complications - no gestational diabetes, no group strep b, no high blood pressure, etc. Why would any of this relate to breastfeeding? That brings me to...
My Hard Work: I had a vaginal birth. That is becoming increasingly rare, especially in my neck of the woods. Of course, whether or not I had a c-section was not entirely in my control (see all my luck above), but I did do my part. I sought out care providers who use evidence-based practices, namely not inducing unless there is a medical reason to do so. Inductions increase the risk of c-sections, and c-sections increase the risk of breastfeeding difficulty. I also had an unmedicated birth - not because I felt the need to show off (I'm actually a wimp when it comes to pain) or because I'm such a hippy (we ate at McDonald's the other day), but because it is the most assured route to avoid a c-section. (Even epidurals can slow down labor to the point where care providers feel the need to use inductions, which often lead to c-sections.) I've said it before and I'll say it again: c-sections are miracles. Before them, babies and mothers died in childbirth routinely. But they are widely overused, and women are not made aware of their risk factors nearly enough, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Can a mother successfully breastfeed after a c-section? Absolutely. I know many women who have. But it is more challenging.

2. Starting Our Nursing Relationship
Luck: I'm lucky that Sam latched on like a champ, moments after birth. I'm lucky my hospital, Clark Memorial, had fabulous lactation consultants on their staff who came in to help me, despite the fact that I was a second-time mom who successfully nursed her first kid. I'm lucky I married a guy who understands how intense the first few days of nursing are so he fetched me water after water and countless snacks as I nursed Sam on demand.
My Hard Work: I nursed Sam on demand. Day and night. Night and day. That's the key to breastfeeding in the beginning. After about three weeks, I did start pumping, and I let Dave give Sam one bottle per week, so I could get a bit more sleep. Even that goes against lactation consultants' recommendations, but I had to take a balanced approach, because my mental health seriously suffers with lack of sleep. But mostly, I just fed the dude when he asked for it, and that mostly happened between the hours of 10pm and 5am. (Yawn.)

3. My Leave from Work
Luck: I took a three month leave from work, much to the shock (and dismay?) of my students and coworkers. I'm lucky that I qualified for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) at my job, and I'm lucky that my boss was amenable to the situation.
My Hard Work: I felt that, for me, six weeks wouldn't be enough time to establish a solid nursing relationship so I could pump successfully. (I also felt I wouldn't be ready emotionally or psychologically, but that's another story). We worked hard to budget for this, because I was only paid for five weeks of the leave through disability (although I certainly didn't feel disabled after birth). We saved and scrimped, for sure. I also knew to look into the possibility and know my rights. I also had to plan three months worth of sub plans for two different grades so I could be away from my classroom all that time. That was so fun. Yeah.

4. Pumping Time and Space at Work
Luck: I had so much luck here. My boss was 100% supportive of my decision to pump at work. He told me not to worry about being late to meetings because my family came first. I was able to pump in my classroom, which was easy and convenient. I just had to cover up the window on my door (I had an interior room, so it was my only window) and lock my door. I already had a mini-fridge someone gave me for free to keep all my stuff in, and I was able to use those nifty wipes so didn't have to schlep my milky goods to the public sink to wash them off. My schedule wasn't perfect, but I was able to pump every four hours (once before school, once during my planning/lunch, once after), and that worked OK for me. My planning period was also the lunch period, meaning it was an hour and a half, rather than an hour, and that was a true godsend. My fellow coworkers on my team were also totally sympathetic and supportive, understanding when I had to jump up to leave a meeting.
My Hard Work: Even with all this support, I still had to stand up and demand my time to pump. It would slip people's minds and they'd plan two back to back meetings, or someone would show up knocking on my door when the pump was going. I had to stand up for myself and, sometimes, I had to cope with the fact that someone was annoyed with me. I never hung a sign on my door, because if my students knew what I was doing some would use it as fodder for drama, so kids often knocked relentlessly on my door while pumping, and that was very stressful. Not to mention the fact that I had to pump in the car on the way to work many days. I started work so very early, and I had to help Dave get the kids ready, so it was the only way to get it done in time. Once, I forgot breakfast, so I ran through a drive-thru strapped to all my equipment. Another time, my pumping bra fell out in the parking lot and was run over by another car. Another time, one of my very sweet students spotted me out of the back of his bus and waved enthusiastically, thankfully not noticing my weird get-up. I did wear a cover over the pump, but it still looked very weird. Oh! And twice, custodians walked right in on me while pumping in my classroom. I like to think that was the highlight of their days.

5. Maintaining Supply
Luck: When I came back from my leave, I had a great supply. I'm talking "I better make sure I have my breast pads or else" kind of supply. I pumped plenty for Sam's daycare, plus I had plenty to spare.
My Hard Work: And that's where my luck ends. First off, when Sam was only three weeks old, I started pumping once daily. I was busy and tired, but I knew that I wanted a freezer stash of milk. So, by the time my leave was over, I had 60 oz of milk in the freezer. And I was able to add to that stash at first, due to my plentiful supply. Very soon, though, that supply started to plummet. So, I started playing around with foods and beverages, and eventually settled in on a daily routine that worked for me: steel-cut oats for breakfast, lactation cookies as a snack, tons of water, and a Guinness each night before bed. That worked for a while, but then it started to drop again. So I added the supplement, More Milk Plus, despite the fact that it was expensive and gave me tremendous gas (sorry students). That helped, too, but I wasn't making enough. So we bought some organic formula when my freezer supply was finally gone. I took my first pump (see below) to Babyology, where they tested its effectiveness for free, and deemed it fine. But, eventually, I decided to return to them to rent a hospital grade pump. Although it was large and clunky, it worked wonders and finally saved my supply (along with all the above foods/beverages - none of which I could skip without seeing a dip).

6. The Pumps
Luck: My wonderful friend Bethany had an extra pump, an Ameda Purely Yours, that she just gave to me. That is lucky, especially considering pumps cost between $100 - and $300. And, when I had to rent the pump, I'm lucky I could afford that.
My Hard Work: I guess mostly I worked hard trying new things in order to save my supply. I lugged around the hospital-grade monster when I had to, and finally I discovered that now, thanks to Obamacare, most insurance plans pay for pumps! So I was able to get a Medela Pump in Style FOR FREE from And let me just say, it is so much better than the Ameda.

So, that's that. I'm not tooting my own horn. I got very lucky in many ways. But I also worked my rear end off maintaining this relationship. And I'm so glad I did. Now, when Sam and I want to go out, I don't have to pack bottles - just me. And although I'll need to start pumping again to build up a supply for those days I actually go out, right now I'm letting that pump gather some dust.

Good luck to all who are trying to pump and work. It's hard work! Make sure you tell your spouses that every day.

No comments: