From Terror to TARDIS: How I Learned to Stop Fretting and Love My Breast Pump

Electronics GeekMom Health Household Gadgets Technology

If someone would have told me five months ago that I would one day depend on a machine to feed my child, I would have lashed them raw with a tongue-full of überfanaticism for natural childbirth, feminist body consciousness, and an unwavering “breast is best” attitude. Five weeks into motherhood, and after having my ideal birth plan made Frankensteinian after my arrival at the hospital, I would now regret every word.

A few traumatic moments after delivery were all it took to encourage a latch difficulty with my son. In those first few hours together, we were both logy from an epidural and magnesium sulfate, and I was content to simply hold my son against my breast, thinking nothing of the fact that he would not take my nipple to feed. When his blood sugar plummeted and he had to be given formula, the nurses encouraged me to use the breast pump to collect colostrum to feed through a bottle. It was there my resistance to the pump began.

The first breast pump was first patented in the US in 1854, with the first mechanical model produced in the early 1920’s by Edward Lasker. The design concept is directly analogous to the machines used in commercial dairy production, using vacuum suction to pull milk from the ducts within the breast and collecting the liquid in a container for storage and feeding. These days, breast pumps are ubiquitous, found in the nursing section of every specialty and big-box retailer, ranging in price from $1, 500 for hospital-grade machines, like the Medela Symphony, to $30-40 for Evenflo models. Manual, electric, pumps with adapters for your car cigarette lighter, or with portable battery packs, women have many choices to make when deciding on a machine to express their breast milk.

Still, I cried each time I used the pump, disappointed that I needed a machine to accomplish what should come naturally, easily. I blamed myself and fretted over the minuscule amount of fluid produced in 15 minutes of artificial suckling. The next 24 hours were a trial, with breastfeeding boot camp being dictated by every nurse and no less than three lactation consultants. But I was dedicated to feeding breast milk to my child, and reconciled myself to pump and feed while making the commitment to attack actual breastfeeding, and my son’s inability to latch, with a ferocity to rival that of Gandalf battling the Balrog (smiting its ruin against the mountainside).

At home, my disappointment with having to pump took time to diminish, despite the rhythmic sounds my Medela Freestyle made, sounding, especially after the 3:00 a.m. feedings, like the soothing phrase “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”  This didn’t make me feel any less like chattel, however, any less a food machine (not so say that mothers actually feeding from their breasts don’t feel this way too, during those first few sleep-deprived weeks). I would look at my son and imagine him performing the action, willing it to happen. And while I was still somewhat sad, I knew that every drop of expressed milk was going to his nourishment.

I wasn’t a total downer. I did feel lucky to pump and feed at all, knowing that some women don’t ever produce milk, or enough milk, to feed their children. My approach to breastfeeding, and working on his latch, slowly changed from attempts to practice. The attempt mindset was doomed from the start, as it predicts failure, whereas practice connotes work, and the aim of perfection. Instead of feeling disappointed during a pumping session, I started to interact more with my baby, smiling, talking, and playing with him. This not only helped my mood, but increased my milk production.

We’re not off the pump yet, but every day my son’s latch comes more readily, and he suckles at the breast for more extended periods of time when we practice. Pumping has become part of my daily routine, like a morning cup of coffee or a glass of milk before bed. I know I’m providing him with the sustenance he needs, and his growth chart is proof enough of that. I’ve found comfort, emotionally and physically, in the churning of the cycling motor. No longer are the pump’s sounds a consolation.  Rather, and especially in the middle of the night, they sound to me like a TARDIS, and my mind wanders to adventuring as one of the good Doctor’s companions.

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26 thoughts on “From Terror to TARDIS: How I Learned to Stop Fretting and Love My Breast Pump

  1. I have been there, me and my breast pump, days, nights. It gets easier. I’m glad that the latch is getting easier. It’s amazing what a little time and increase cranium and corresponding mouth size will do to help resolve those problems. Good luck!

  2. I have been there, me and my breast pump, days, nights. It gets easier. I’m glad that the latch is getting easier. It’s amazing what a little time and increase cranium and corresponding mouth size will do to help resolve those problems. Good luck!

  3. When my milk came in, my son refused to nurse. I then pumped four times a day, every day, for the next five months. I encouraged him to latch on, but he was never very interested. One day, out of the blue, he got it right! My doctors had warned me that once he went on the bottle, he’d never go back to the breast, but I nursed him successfully until he was 15 months old! And my Medela breast pump allowed me to at least avoid ever having to use formula.

  4. When my milk came in, my son refused to nurse. I then pumped four times a day, every day, for the next five months. I encouraged him to latch on, but he was never very interested. One day, out of the blue, he got it right! My doctors had warned me that once he went on the bottle, he’d never go back to the breast, but I nursed him successfully until he was 15 months old! And my Medela breast pump allowed me to at least avoid ever having to use formula.

  5. My breast pump saved my sanity. My son was born two months premature, and the day I walked out of the hospital without him I went straight to buy a double pump, knowing that I was going to feed him even if we weren’t together. I pumped exclusively for a month before they let him come home. Every session I’d set up and then close my eyes, thinking about my absent baby, thankful to have this odd connection with him. They fed him my milk through a gavage tube until he was old enough to try a bottle. I was horribly upset the first day I arrived at the hospital with another set of bottles and bags of pumped milk (they said I could feed the ward on what I was bringing in, and asked me to keep it at home until they needed more) and saw a nurse calmly feeding him with a bottle. They hadn’t even offered to let me try breastfeeding him first. But when they finally did, there was just a day or so of adjustment. He took breast or bottle with equal cheer.

    I kept pumping even when he came home. I built up a store in the freezer, which allowed my husband and I to alternate feedings at night and for his grandparents to babysit him, allowing us some time off. I am so thankful that I never saw the pump as an enemy or an obstacle that kept my child and I apart; it was a strange mechanical blessing, insurance for my son’s health and development, and it certainly encouraged my body to to produce milk in plenty for the year that I used it. I remember feeling oddly wistful when we finally threw out the last few frozen bags that didn’t get used when he stopped nursing entirely at fourteen months.

    Your contrast of attempt vs. practice is really insightful, and applicable to so much beyond breastfeeding. Thank you for writing this. And yes, it does get easier for everyone involved! Best of luck to you and your son.

  6. My breast pump saved my sanity. My son was born two months premature, and the day I walked out of the hospital without him I went straight to buy a double pump, knowing that I was going to feed him even if we weren’t together. I pumped exclusively for a month before they let him come home. Every session I’d set up and then close my eyes, thinking about my absent baby, thankful to have this odd connection with him. They fed him my milk through a gavage tube until he was old enough to try a bottle. I was horribly upset the first day I arrived at the hospital with another set of bottles and bags of pumped milk (they said I could feed the ward on what I was bringing in, and asked me to keep it at home until they needed more) and saw a nurse calmly feeding him with a bottle. They hadn’t even offered to let me try breastfeeding him first. But when they finally did, there was just a day or so of adjustment. He took breast or bottle with equal cheer.

    I kept pumping even when he came home. I built up a store in the freezer, which allowed my husband and I to alternate feedings at night and for his grandparents to babysit him, allowing us some time off. I am so thankful that I never saw the pump as an enemy or an obstacle that kept my child and I apart; it was a strange mechanical blessing, insurance for my son’s health and development, and it certainly encouraged my body to to produce milk in plenty for the year that I used it. I remember feeling oddly wistful when we finally threw out the last few frozen bags that didn’t get used when he stopped nursing entirely at fourteen months.

    Your contrast of attempt vs. practice is really insightful, and applicable to so much beyond breastfeeding. Thank you for writing this. And yes, it does get easier for everyone involved! Best of luck to you and your son.

  7. I don’t know where we’d be without my wife’s breast pump. Although I must say, I’ve never thought it sounds like the TARDIS. Rather, her Medela “Pump in Style” seems to be telling us “wear a coat” over and over and over again.

  8. I don’t know where we’d be without my wife’s breast pump. Although I must say, I’ve never thought it sounds like the TARDIS. Rather, her Medela “Pump in Style” seems to be telling us “wear a coat” over and over and over again.

  9. It’s so easy to feel like, as a new mom, we “fail” if we can’t breastfeed straight from the source and have to rely on a pump or even formula; due to one of my boobs not working I had to ultimately supplement my supply, so I’ve been all over the “bottle vs breast vs pump vs formula and all points in between” spectrum, and have ridden the emotional rollercoaster that comes with that. But thank goodness that the pump was created to help us feed our babies, and to restore a modicum of sanity to those of us whose babies have trouble latching or have no interest in the breast, my youngest having been a prime example of the latter.

  10. It’s so easy to feel like, as a new mom, we “fail” if we can’t breastfeed straight from the source and have to rely on a pump or even formula; due to one of my boobs not working I had to ultimately supplement my supply, so I’ve been all over the “bottle vs breast vs pump vs formula and all points in between” spectrum, and have ridden the emotional rollercoaster that comes with that. But thank goodness that the pump was created to help us feed our babies, and to restore a modicum of sanity to those of us whose babies have trouble latching or have no interest in the breast, my youngest having been a prime example of the latter.

  11. Been there… My son WOULD NOT nurse I continued to try for months but not matter what we did, he’s scream bloody murder if I even thought about trying to nurse, I pumped exclusively for 6 months until my milk dried up – more due to lazy pumping than anything else – and then we switched to formula… Sometimes the pump was a Godsend, sometimes I hated it… No matter what, doing what you can and providing for your baby be it breast milk or formula makes you an awesome mom…

  12. Been there… My son WOULD NOT nurse I continued to try for months but not matter what we did, he’s scream bloody murder if I even thought about trying to nurse, I pumped exclusively for 6 months until my milk dried up – more due to lazy pumping than anything else – and then we switched to formula… Sometimes the pump was a Godsend, sometimes I hated it… No matter what, doing what you can and providing for your baby be it breast milk or formula makes you an awesome mom…

  13. I wish I could pump without pain! Unfortunately, even the largest flanges are still too small for me 🙁

  14. I wish I could pump without pain! Unfortunately, even the largest flanges are still too small for me 🙁

  15. As a newborn mom myself, stories like these make me feel like I’m not alone. I too had latch difficulties as my daughter was tongue tied and had to have the procedure done to correct it on her 2nd day of life. The first 4 weeks of breastfeeding were very difficult and the urge to give up was quite strong. We stuck through it though and are now successful, although now we are dealing with colic. Thank you for sharing your story and I look forward to reading more posts from you.

  16. As a newborn mom myself, stories like these make me feel like I’m not alone. I too had latch difficulties as my daughter was tongue tied and had to have the procedure done to correct it on her 2nd day of life. The first 4 weeks of breastfeeding were very difficult and the urge to give up was quite strong. We stuck through it though and are now successful, although now we are dealing with colic. Thank you for sharing your story and I look forward to reading more posts from you.

  17. I wish my pump sounded like the TARDIS!

    I’m a new(ish now) mom too and my son had difficulty latching. The breastfeeding process was so stressful for him that first week that he would scream bloody murder every time I brought him to my breast. The pump saved my sanity (and his too I suppose) and stopped my heart from breaking every time I held him close.

  18. I wish my pump sounded like the TARDIS!

    I’m a new(ish now) mom too and my son had difficulty latching. The breastfeeding process was so stressful for him that first week that he would scream bloody murder every time I brought him to my breast. The pump saved my sanity (and his too I suppose) and stopped my heart from breaking every time I held him close.

  19. I read this this morning actually while pumping. I’m thrilled that my husband can stay home with our daughter and take care of her, but when I’m at work in this little sterile room, it’s hard to want to be there when I could instead be feeding her. Even if I have to occasionally fight her not to scratch her knees while eating.

  20. I read this this morning actually while pumping. I’m thrilled that my husband can stay home with our daughter and take care of her, but when I’m at work in this little sterile room, it’s hard to want to be there when I could instead be feeding her. Even if I have to occasionally fight her not to scratch her knees while eating.

  21. For babies who are groggy from drugs and won’t suckle right, there are several options that prevent nipple confusion. There is a feeding system that attaches a thin tube to your breast, making the milk flow easier but promoting SOME suckling. Gradually, the baby learns to feed at the breast. It’s an interesting geeky device to check out.

    Some parents are successful feeding newborns from a spoon or a cup for a few days. Many people don’t even know newborns can drink in that manner. This is a different way of drinking from breastfeeding, and from bottle feeding, so it prevents nipple confusion that bottles cause.

    I am glad pump worked for Jenn, but I wanted to add these options here, because they may be useful and interesting for others.

  22. For babies who are groggy from drugs and won’t suckle right, there are several options that prevent nipple confusion. There is a feeding system that attaches a thin tube to your breast, making the milk flow easier but promoting SOME suckling. Gradually, the baby learns to feed at the breast. It’s an interesting geeky device to check out.

    Some parents are successful feeding newborns from a spoon or a cup for a few days. Many people don’t even know newborns can drink in that manner. This is a different way of drinking from breastfeeding, and from bottle feeding, so it prevents nipple confusion that bottles cause.

    I am glad pump worked for Jenn, but I wanted to add these options here, because they may be useful and interesting for others.

  23. I just wrote a post about this today! My son had surgery after birth, so he couldn’t eat for a while. I had to pump for so long. But now, we are doing fine with the breastfeeding. It took a lot of practice and a lot of crying and a lot of buckling down and doing it again, but we got there, and you will, too, if you keep it up.

    Thanks for sharing.

  24. I just wrote a post about this today! My son had surgery after birth, so he couldn’t eat for a while. I had to pump for so long. But now, we are doing fine with the breastfeeding. It took a lot of practice and a lot of crying and a lot of buckling down and doing it again, but we got there, and you will, too, if you keep it up.

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. Your last sentence made me smile. I’ve been trying to figure out what the TARDIS sound reminded me of and this is EXACTLY it! I exclusively-pumped for my daughter for 12 months. She’s now a beautiful, brilliant 7 year old — and budding Doctor Who fan!

  26. Your last sentence made me smile. I’ve been trying to figure out what the TARDIS sound reminded me of and this is EXACTLY it! I exclusively-pumped for my daughter for 12 months. She’s now a beautiful, brilliant 7 year old — and budding Doctor Who fan!

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