Pumping sucks – let’s make it better

I’m dashing off this post in a few minutes that I don’t really have to spare, in the midst of a workday that’s just as full of things to do as ever, but one that is shortened and dissected by my role as a breastfeeding mother.

Here’s how breastfeeding and pumping figure into my days right now. In the morning, when my baby wakes up, I spend 20-30 minutes cuddling and breast-feeding. It’s sweet and sad, especially now that we’re into the separation anxiety phase of babyhood and he cries whenever I leave. Before I leave the house, I make sure that I’ve got all of my clean pump parts, bottles, and an ice pack to store the expressed milk. At around 10:30, I stop whatever I’m doing, close my office door, pull out the pump, parts, and bottles, and spend about 20 minutes hooked up to an uncomfortable plastic sucker. During that time, I check email, read a paper, browse social media, or occasionally have a work phone call with another academic mother. (I don’t tell them I’m pumping, but I figure if they hear the sound they’ll understand.) As milk gets sucked out of me and into the plastic bottles, I note that one breast produces about 3x as much milk as the other, and I know that my pumping volume tends to go down over the course of the day. I start my day-long worry that the baby will consume more milk than I can pump and we’ll have to dip into the dwindling supply of frozen milk to get baby through tomorrow. I remind myself that we only have to make it 3 more months before baby can start dairy milk and I can quit pumping. When no more milk is coming, I detach, carefully combine the bottles into one less-than-full bottle, rinse the pump parts, tuck the milk and pump parts into the fridge and the pump into the corner of my office. Two to two-and-a-half hours later I repeat the process. I repeat it again two-and-a-half-hours after that. Then I sneak out of the office a bit early so that I can avoid having to pump again and I can spend a bit of time with my baby before baby crashes into bedtime about 6:30. Baby is still not sleeping through the night consistently, so between bedtime and nighttime feedings I spend another ~2 hours breastfeeding before the next morning. Either my partner or I also spends about 20 minutes cleaning bottles and pump parts before crashing into exhausted sleep.

What I’ve described above is about a best-case scenario for working mothers, academic or not. Continue reading