When I was first pregnant, the thought of producing milk from my sunny-side-up cups was difficult to imagine. I’d tear up during hospital-run breastfeeding classes while listening to the fierce message: breast is best. I felt the pressure of becoming a lactivist before I’d even become a mother. I glanced through breastfeeding books to hone my skills and cast my eyes over the top-end breast pumps online. But as everyone implored pumps are unnecessary if your technique is right, I shut the laptop lid. My mum even handed me a wrapped-up tin of formula at my baby shower and whispered with a wink, "you know, just in case".
After a gruelling 20-hour labour and emergency c-section, my milk came through and with a vengeance. There I was in hospital hopped up on painkillers, greasy hair awry, one engorged boob spilling out of my singlet, while a midwife shoved the other in my squawking baby's mouth. It felt awkward, painful and stressful considering I was my baby's only means of survival. It didn’t help that my torture chamber consisted of a freight-train sleeper next to me, wrung-out midwives on duty, and a choir of crying babies, all set off by one another. While it wasn’t the most perfect mother-baby moment or as the furore put it, "the most natural thing in the world", hey, I was breastfeeding– sort of. Though I just lay there thinking, was formula really so passé?
I tried to look like a yummy mummy and somewhat sophisticated over coffee with friends: sling on, top unclipped and muslin wrap draped over my shoulder ready to go.
Our first night at home went something like this: rocking chair, crying, football-cradle position, more crying. My husband looked particularly perplexed when I attempted the lying-down position lolling around in the bed while barking orders: “I'm thirsty, no, hungry–can you grab the nuts? Oops– he's spewed, grab the rag, oh no– he's wee’d again. Crap, he’s hysterical now. Quick, what does the book say?”
When the hospital's gaggle of midwives knocked on our door the next morning, I looked like a freight train myself. I sat in our nursery facing three Fijian lactation consultants, who asked for a boob inspection. When I openly flashed my grazed set at these complete strangers, who prodded, wrote notes and exchanged advice, it dawned on me how undignified I'd become. Did childbirth permanently strip me of all humility?
My first brave attempt at stepping out in public wasn't exactly gracious either. I tried to look like a yummy mummy and somewhat sophisticated over coffee with friends: sling on, top unclipped and muslin wrap draped over my shoulder ready to go. But trying to hold a conversation while manoeuvring boob to mouth with the sounds of my baby’s crescendo of cries wasn’t exactly relaxing. I found myself thinking: the Fijian gaggle post-birth is one thing, but brazenly flopping my boobs out in public is quite another.
After a few failed attempts, I made a mad dash back to the car to feed. But manipulating bub around the steering wheel while passers-by tried to get a look-in was just as frustrating. Even chatting with the local grocer had its difficulties: I once got an odd look from the shop assistant until I looked down at my two big wet patches where milk had seeped though. My comedy of errors meant something had to give with this breastfeeding caper.
A week later, dreading each feed, I had a meltdown in the most dramatic fashion. I cried to my husband one evening- "not. one. more. feed". I rang the hospital hotline and spoke to a midwife who encouraged me to get a breast pump and fast.
So I did a frantic Google search and sent my husband off with instructions on which model to buy. After driving up and down the local hub in desperate search of a late-home chemist, he came home with a breastpump that resembled Buzz Lightyear’s good friend.
I had to giggle at this plastic machine, intermittently pulling on my udders like a cow. It took awhile to get the hang of it, but the pain was nothing like a baby sucking. It gave my nipples a much-needed break between feeds, and the opportunity for my husband to share the feeding, and ultimately the bonding, too. Sure, I felt like a dairy cow sometimes, and if wasn't feeding I was expressing, but as supply meets demand, I really got the ole girls pumping.
The instant freedom it brought was heavenly. While it was hard work, it meant I could have a supply stashed away in the fridge on days I wanted to enjoy a vino, or a latte in peace with friends. I could take a break in all senses of the word, while knowing he was still getting the best from me. There was also this reassurance I knew exactly how much milk he was getting and during his growth spurts, I’d top him up with some expressed milk to satisfy his hunger.
One night, my husband even ran the 4am gauntlet and fed our bub my expressed milk while I slept in for the first time in months. I woke up refreshed and felt like I'd had a holiday!
And of course, there were those times when my milk would run low – be it stress, poor eating, or a short supply for no good reason – so reaching into the freezer for a pot of liquid gold, as I called it, was a godsend.
While a pump can never do the same work a baby can, and some argue it jeopardises mother-baby bonding, it allowed me to nurse for longer when I might of otherwise given up. Pumping isn’t proof of our maternal dedication, nor evidence of our female trepidation. It’s a convenience that allows us to have it both ways, for a little while at least.
Looking for a breast pump? Here are a couple of our recommendations.
Miomee Double Electric Breast Pump (Tommee Tippee’s new release)
Hospital-grade pump, lightweight and discreet
Gentle flex silicone cup is designed for comfort and to replicate baby’s natural sucking action.
A double-cup system to express milk from both breasts simultaneously
Easy to assemble and safeguards against contamination
Easy-to-read digital display
Double electric pump motor
Bottle stands x 2
150ml x 2, 270ml x 2 wide neck bottles, both with wide neck slow flow teats, screw ring and caps
Wide neck medium flow teats (3+mth)
4 storage lids
6 disposable breast pads
Storage bag, plus parts for mum’s convenience
Available: November 2012 from pharmacies, Babies ‘R’ Us, baby specialty stores and online
Medela Pump in Style® Double Electric Breast Pump
One-touch ‘let-down’ button designed for faster milk flow
Built-in bottle holders help prevent milk spills
Large back flap offers a convenient work surface
Stylish bag contains everything you need to pump
PersonalFit Breastshields, 24mm, 2 each
PersonalFit Connectors - 2 each
Tubing - 2 each
Valves - 2 each
Membranes - 4 each
Collection containers and solid lids - 4 each
Insulated, PVC-free cooler bag
Contoured ice pack cooling element
9V AC adapter
Battery Pak - 1 each (8 AA Batteries not included)
Breastfeeding Information Guide
PVC-free tote back with integrated advanced breastpump motor
Available from pharmacies, Babies ‘R’ Us, baby specialty stores and online