Thursday, 22 May 2014

(Breast) Pumping my way to insanity

I had one of those moments yesterday, zoning out in Costas, that the endless faffing about with coffee machines was not dissimilar to the mechanical putting together of a breast pump.  My husband used to liken this to my assembling a machine gun.  I suspect that this was a stoic, if fruitless, attempt to make me feel that I struck a glamorous and edgy figure in the kitchen.  As opposed to just being some task that I was destined to do approximately 8573 times, in preparation for the ritual throwing out of the OCD quantities of frozen breast milk that had been stockpiled once several thick lines had been drawn under breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding.  Ah yes, how could I forget?  That quagmire of failure, bastion of middle-class competency.

It is fair to say that I was not a natural at breastfeeding.  I shall spare you the exceedingly long and very dull story, but my eldest daughter ended up being mixed fed.  Which I can tell you for free is the worst of all worlds.  My inverted nipples didn’t exactly help matters in an already sorry state of affairs, so we ended up with this ridiculous, self-patented scenario where – apart from the very occasional concession to a nipple guard – I ended up pumping and feeding it to my daughter in a bottle.  In addition to formula feeding, as I was convinced my milk wouldn’t be enough.  Basically a one-way ticket to insanity.  There is very little as pointlessly time-consuming as pumping and then bottle-feeding it straight back to your child, but that was the way I rumbled.  For 13 sodding months.   And then I wisely stopped, had a good drink, and promptly fell pregnant again.

You’d think that there would have been some lessons learnt here, wouldn’t you?   But no, with my following two children – who miraculously breastfed ok - I continued with the nonsense of pumping.  Nominally in case of some emergency scenario like alien abduction or a burst appendix.  I say they fed ok, obviously I mean ok in the sense of the obligatory 3 months of toe curling and health visitors sending you well-meaning (but essentially useless) articles on wet-wound healing.  It’s magical stuff.

Clearly this doublespeak feeding strategy was the cause of some frequent discussion in our house about the logic of keeping a freezer stacked with milk that was on a constant going-out-of-date watch.  But I probably wouldn’t have liked to push this point too strongly with me at the time either.  A sane person would have also invested in an electric breast-pump, in some sort of a nod towards efficiency, but I was much too far some down the road of crazy by now.  Instead I worked my way through about 10 models on eBay, learning along the way that I couldn’t get a drop out with some makes no matter how hard I tried.  I also learnt that if you want to stimulate the letdown reflex then don’t bother reading anything that might even vaguely stimulate your brain.  I became exceedingly skilled at zoning out, and imagine I was pretty amazing company of an evening.

In retrospect I think the feeling of total failure with my first was not exactly helped by the fact that I went on a post-birth NHS course where we learnt a series of outstandingly helpful techniques like how to brush teeth, and when to start thinking about weaning.  I am not even slightly exaggerating when I tell you that one session was pretty much dominated by discussing the versatility of an Annabel Karmel guacamole dip for dinner parties.  The dip, incidentally, was very good; I wasn't so big on dinner parties at the time so can't comment on that eventuality.  All stuff that I presumably could have read in a book, but in my state of new-parent panic felt that a good old course would settle one and for all.  After all, this theory had worked in most other aspects of my life up until now, and it also kind of distracted me from some of the scary health stuff that was rumbling on with my daughter at the time.  I was normal, see!  Anyway, the other parents on this course were totally rocking the breastfeeding thing, and the following few months were punctuated with this weekly drain on morale.  I’d gleaned that I probably wasn’t in the same social group as them from the off when they all talked about their husbands’ practices and Very Important business trips, but when a post-course knees-up was organised at one of their houses, my suspicions were confirmed.  My car recognition is poor at the best of times, but even I could see that there wasn’t a car in that cattle-gridded drive worth under £30k.  So I turned around, and drove home in my 10-year old Micra, punching air that being - nominally - a grown up I was free to go, and that the ritual humiliation was at an end.

The breastfeeding was actually rather lovely with the second two after the first horrific weeks.  But the pumping sucked big time.


  1. Ah you're bringing it all flooding back now! I was lucky enough to not ave too much trouble breast feeding either of mine (apart from when #2 briefly "forgot" how to latch on at about 3 weeks old, resulting in a week of s tress, anxiety, engorgement & pumping until I attended a local breast feeding clinic where I was shown a VERY bizarre position to hold the baby in to feed, but that miraculously worked!). I always hated expressing, despite using an electric pump (made me feel like a cow in a milking parlour) & gave up after a while. I had planned to express each day so that husband could give the last feed to baby from a bottle while I caught up on sleep, but it didn't really work as baby didn't much like the bottle & barely drank any of my precious nectar & it ended up being way quicker overall for me to just feed him, so daddy was off the hook.

    Hoping this time breast feeding goes ok, but if not I'm not going to beat myself up about it. There is sooooo much pressure put on new mums to breast feed when these days formula milk is pretty darn good too!

  2. I thankfully didn't have too much trouble breastfeeding BUT I could not express, at all! I gave up in the end, although not before tying myself in knots trying to do it for my first baby. I didn't even bother trying with my second and third; all three were mixed fed to some extent, with formula! We do make life difficult for ourselves sometimes, don't we?

  3. Feeding our babies is such an emotional tug at the heart strings. I was fortunate to able to breastfeed, but am extremely thankful that my husband insisted they had a bottle of formula in the evenings from early on. I can't help but think they may have been happier, & better sleepers if bottle fed, more sleep may have meant I coped better emotionally

  4. I too drove myself a bit crazy with the breastfeeding! And my friend (a psychiatric social worker) said she had to give it up because of 'the insanity'. So you're not alone. As for pumping, I'm amazed and impressed you managed to keep it up for 13 months. The pump takes bloomin hours to get the milk out - much longer than the baby, I found. Both mine were jealous of the pump. Austin tried to bat it away from my boob as soon as he could move, so I had to wait till he was asleep. He was still jealous when Gwen came along - he could just about cope with her at my breast, but not the pump! And Gwen started howling as soon as I pulled the damn thing out. So I gave up, and just decided never to go out for the year I was breastfeeding her....

  5. Wow, impressed with the staying power on pumping. My son would latch on but wouldn't suck, so by day 3 having had only hand expressed colostrum, his blood sugar meant he needed formula. No such problem with sucking then (turned out 2.5 years later that he was tongue tied and that was probably why he wouldn't breast feed). I tried to manually pump - just couldn't get on with it at all, nothing would really come out, it would just dribble down me instead of into the containers. Formula worked for us, and actually I'm glad in the end, because the pumping was a long job.

  6. Love it! (The post, not breastfeeding …) Breastfeeding makes you gaga. All I remember is walking around the house in my crusty dressing gown all day, drooling, with my tits hanging out at the ready. I was so completely out of it that I once opened the door to the postman AND signed for a parcel, with one red, rancid tit still out. It did occur to me that the postman looked flushed, bless him. Bet he had a good old vomit into his postie bag after that horror. x