Looking through my old pictures, searching for the sad little snaps of Medela bottles with one ounce of milk in them that I knew were there (why did my earlier, sleep-deprived self take these? Torture perhaps? I actually think I just sent them to my husband with frazzled / crying emoji faces) I came across instead many, many pictures of my little girls in various states of baby and toddlerhood. These pictures a) made me nearly weep and b) made me laugh (hormones) as in many of them, the background was filled with various instruments of torture, all designed to extract every last drop of milk from my body. In the background, behind ten-month-old Isadora’s cheeky little face, there’s the hospital grade pump I had pinned all my hopes on, hiring after I – and many others before me – Googled something irrational and slightly unhinged after looking in the freezer and realising there were only a few bags of frozen milk left. Everyone on Mumsnet / BabyCentre/ LaLache League raved about the Hospital Grade pump. It was going to change my life (if this is where you’re at now, I have to tell you it didn’t. It didn’t hinder it either though). In the background of four-month-old Pearl, you can see the tubes of the double pump I splashed out on second time around. I had visions of pumping hands-free like Kourtney Kardashian; needless to say, I tried this a couple of times and was not a fan of the whole cow vibe. If it works for you, I’m in awe.
There’s a lot that’s terrible about breastfeeding, but the worst part by far – for me – was the pumping. You don’t have to of course, and in all the times I did there was probably only a handful of times, with Pearl, when she needed a bottle and I wasn’t there. It’s a psychological thing though. Every night feed, every single early early early morning, every 11pm feed when you’ve just gone to sleep, was made bearable by the fact I could shoot off for the weekend to sleep in a five star hotel and Pearl would have enough to sustain her. I never did go away, even for the night. I fully work from home now so I’m always around. It’s just the thought that you could which makes it feel more like a choice and something you enjoy and want to do, rather than because your body has made you a prisoner. My husband also diligently gave P a bottle of expressed milk every three days – and would have done more – so she was always fine with taking it. And I was free! Well I was feeding every three hours, and I couldn’t wear dresses for a year. But I could be free! And that made everything OK.
And, in the end, there’s lots and lots I loved about feeding. But . . the pumping.
- The time it takes is the first big negative, made so much harder from your second onwards. Feed on one side, pump on the other – this titbit of advice still makes me come out in a cold sweat. Do normal babies not mind this?? It took so long to get anything, usually four pumping sessions to fill one bottle. It made me despair on many occasions – it takes five minutes to feed a baby into blissful unconsciousness, and forty to get an eighth of this amount bottled. After a year of pumping, I still hadn’t figured out the best time to do it.
- The space. Our poor freezer is dolefully seeing its third reincarnation as a shrine to breast milk in its near future.
- The noise. Oh God the noise. I was doing a couple of shifts at the Telegraph when Dory was very small, and all I remember from this time is pumping in the toilet, brandishing my little freezer bag everywhere I went, with that distinctive nnn nnn nnn ringing in my ears. At another magazine where I was freelancing, I was doing the same and a woman came to find me after. She didn’t want to embarrass me, she said, but she’d know that noise anywhere and had been in this situation many times. If I wanted, she had a key for a private room with comfy sofas I could use whenever. Little things like this mean you keep the faith and keep going another day.
- How obsessed you become with one ounce of milk. And I now realise, stressing and crying about it only mean, of course, you produce less. One of the biggest breakdowns I had when Dory was little was because I knocked over the six ounce bottle I had just defrosted. Whoever said don’t cry over spilt milk was a) a man and b) had never pumped.
I’m aware, of course, many will be rolling their eyes, wondering why I just didn’t give them a bottle. When out in the past, apologising I must get home and feed the baby (I didn’t want the babysitter to break into the precious, precious freezer stash – although, this was what it was actually for) some commented they were glad they weren’t so precious with how they fed their baby. Really, it’s a debate that shouldn’t exist – feed your baby however you want (milk’s a good idea though). It’s just what I wanted to do because it felt right for me. And if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making life harder than it needs to be.