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  • Writer's pictureThéa Mercado

Last Call: The End of Exclusive Pumping

Updated: Nov 9, 2018

It was almost a lifestyle as the pump had a huge influence on my daily life. Now I've decided it's time for me to stop and turn off the milk tap.

Today is a quiet but still significant milestone day. I might treat myself to massage at the Mandarin next week. But for right now a chocolate dipped rice cake and some sparkling water will have to do. Today I’ll stop pumping. And here is why it’s such a big deal for me: I’ve been exclusively pumping for over one and a half years so Dex could get all the good stuff from breast milk.

Why do mothers pump anyway? Usually it's to empty your lactating breast when there's no baby available like when you are at work or your newborn has been sleeping for six hours while your breast are on a feeding shift every two hours. Especially at the beginning when babies are young and solely depend on milk breasts need to be drained regularly otherwise they'll might face the negative consequences of excess supply and not enough demand. First the breasts get engorged, then milk ducts can get plugged which could lead to Mastitis and fever which will be treated with antibiotics during its course you cannot breastfeed your child which could lead to a declined milk supply. Tadaa! you are in the middle of the fucked up disequilibrium of your own milk economy. So to keep supply up and breasts working smoothly it’s either a baby or pump.

Exclusively pumping means that you do not feed your baby directly but first pump the milk into a bottle and then bottle feed the breast milk to the child. Why did I choose this seemingly inefficient way to feed my baby?

19 months and 22 days ago

I examined my sore left nipple which looked like a marker dragged across a sheet of sandpaper. The reason was squirming in a Moses basket on the floor slowly getting more and more agitated and therefore agitating me. Dex was just 5 days old and had lost 14 percent of his birth weight. For five days I had been trying to breastfeed but it would never feel right. He maintained a shallow latch which would only allow him to drink a minuscule amount of milk and all that effort with little reward would tire him out eventually. Whatever angle or hold I tried it was like trying to connect a chopstick with a USB port. After several visits of a lactation consultant, a midwife and many many tears I gave up. My sister Alba who watched me struggle to handle engorged breasts, hand expressing, then pumping, alternating between direct breastfeeding and syringe feeding a newborn and barely sleeping put a hand on my tight shoulder and said: “ You need to commit to one thing and be ok with it otherwise you'll fall apart. Dex will be OK.”

Exclusive pumping is a tough road to follow. It reduces your movement radius. While breastfeeding moms only have to get their boobs out an whereas exclusive pumper needs to guesstimate how much to put in a bottle. Although she always has to stay ahead of her baby’s demand she cannot bring too much milk on an outing as that milk needs to be consumed within a 3- 4 hours. On top of that she will also have to plan when and where she can pump again. She will have to pack nipples and bottles, her pump, pump gear and wipes for her pump. To keep your supply above your baby’s demand she will have to pump at a similar interval as your baby’s feeding schedule. If the baby feeds every two hours you pump every two hours. It gets better when the baby gets older. I got more flexible schedulewise once I dropped to 4 pumps when Dex was around 12 months old.

Sophie McBain, a writer for The Guardian, described pumping s follows: “In case you haven’t yet become acquainted with the ungainly contraption that is an electric breast pump, I’ll fill you in . It consists of a motor attached with tubing to two bottles with plastic cones that are designed to fit over your nipples and create a vacuum. The effect is so undignified and so evocative of industrial dairy farming that I prefer my husband not to see me use it..”

Although I had no problem pumping in front of my husband (let the him see why he owes me massages for life), I never felt comfortable pumping in public. I would have gladly popped my boob out and fed Dex at Starbucks, an airport queue or the Cheung Chau bun festival. But I preferred to having the"milking" done in private. Although it was tiresome, the pumping sessions were also pockets of times I would get to myself. At 3 months babies develop enough strength and hand eye coordination to yank the tubing off the pumping flanges which was reason enough to hand Dex over to either the husband or to my helper.

Now it’s over. Dex mainly needs milk for comfort before he goes to bed and we’re giving him diluted goat’s milk formula and I’m hoping to wean him off that as well. I have not packed away my pump yet as I hesitate to say goodbye to my ability to produce the closest thing to liquid ambrosia. The pump will remain there until the source has quietly run dry. I think I’ll finish that pack of chocolate dipped rice cakes.

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