Be Balanced: Dumping the Pump
I have been feeling really crappy for a couple of months now.
It starts in the late afternoon. I feel tired – but not sleepy tired, tired like I’ve just gone for a super long run. I can’t drink enough water. At 4:30 p.m. on the nose, I sprint out of my office, frequently having to dash back in to grab the pumped milk I forgot, pick up my daughter from daycare, drive home, try to carry a fussy almost-toddler and our 5,000 bags into the house, get the milk in the fridge, pee, console a screaming baby, say hi to my husband who is furiously trying to put dinner on the table, and finally plunk down on the couch to nurse Maddie. Once I do, there is peace. And, I am drained.
This has been my afternoon routine since coming back to work seven months ago. By the time it’s over and dinner has been cleaned up, I have nothing left. I start each day with the best of intentions – today I will be the best mom! The best employee! The best wife! But by the end, I just feel…
“Hollow?” my friend asked, when I tried to find a word for the way I’d been feeling.
“Yes!” I said. “Exactly! But not like depressed, just very physically and mentally drained.”
“I felt that way too when my son was about 10 months old,” she said. “I think it happens to a lot of women. That’s how you know when it’s time to drop to one pump a day.”
Pump once a day?! I had no idea this was something I could do. For many months, I pumped four times a day, then three. I make jussst enough milk to get away with pumping twice a day and occasionally dipping into my freezer stash, but the idea of dropping to once a day scares the heck out of me. What if I don’t make enough? What if I blow through my entire freezer stash before my daughter turns a year old?
There is so, so much written about pregnancy and what to expect during labor, delivery, and the postpartum period. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve had less time to look since returning to work, but there seems to be significantly less written about what it’s like to care for an older baby, and what it’s like to breastfeed one. The information that’s out there is also often conflicting. Some sources will tell you to not even consider weaning from the pump until your baby is a year old, while others will tell you that it’s just fine once your baby is eating three times a day plus snacks, as long as you’re still nursing when you’re together.
My advice? Pick 2-3 sources that you generally agree with and trust, and when you do your Googling, stick to those, along with advice from your pediatrician and a lactation consultant. Anything more and you will make yourself crazy! But no matter where you get your advice or how you choose to feed your child, there is something that is universally true: In order to be able to take care of others in our lives, we need to first take care of ourselves, mind and body.
As a mom who’s recently felt like pumping in particular has been sucking the life out of me (no pun intended), here are some things I’ve begun doing that have made a big difference. Please note, I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, and you should always consult your physician if you have significant concerns about your mental or physical health.
1) Keep taking your prenatal vitamin, and consider supplementing with calcium. This will make a world of difference in how you feel.
2) Eat well. Not just “oh I had a salad for lunch today” well, but “I’m eating nutrient-rich, high-protein, whole foods and lots of good fats at most meals” well. Even the best vitamin in the world can’t make up for mediocre nutrition. Your body absorbs nutrients from food better than it does from vitamins, plain and simple.
3) Drink LOTS of water. I go through at least three 30-ounce cups of water a day, and sometimes I feel like I could drink more.
4) Consider protein powder and electrolyte beverages. Two tablespoons of peanut butter, a Greek yogurt, a small piece of salmon and two hard-boiled eggs is not sufficient protein intake for a breastfeeding mom. I’m not a nutritionist, but that’s a sample of the protein-rich food I eat on an average day, and once I added a protein shake to my diet, I felt 1,000 times better. Electrolyte water, like Propel, really helps too. That “I’ve just gone for a super long run” feeling I described earlier is my body telling me it needs salt, potassium, calcium and magnesium in addition to more water.
5) Take some time for you. It may be a quick walk during lunch, or two extra minutes in the shower. If you’re a working, breastfeeding mom, there’s a good chance that’s all you have time for. But it’s so restorative and centering, that any amount of time is a good investment.
6) As you step back from pumping and nursing, if that’s what you want to do, think about the things that make you feel like YOU and do more of those. Yesterday after my daughter went to bed, I folded and put away all of our laundry, which had only been done the day before. It may seem like a small thing, but keeping a clutter-free home is important to me. Putting everything away in timely fashion felt AMAZING.
To all the breastfeeding mamas out there: give yourself a huge round of applause. Whether you breastfed for a week, three months, or six months, or you’re still doing it – what you have done is a HUGE accomplishment. Breastfeeding is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding.
And if you want to give breastfeeding up… that’s okay. All my type-A, I’ve-come-this-far-I’ve-got–to-keep-going, I-will-never-give-my-baby-formula, but-the-AAP-says-to–breastfeed-for-12-months moms – I hear you. All of those thoughts have gone through my head. All of them go through my head on a daily basis. But sometimes I wonder… would it be the worst thing in the world if I cut back to pumping just once a day, blew through my freezer stash a little too quickly, and had to supplement with formula the last month or so? If I stopped pumping and only nursed first thing in the morning and before bed, would it really solve this tired feeling?
I don’t know. But I’m okay with not knowing. I’m okay with just sitting with these questions, and doing the next right thing. As of now, that’s pumping once a day and seeing what happens. And that’s what I’d encourage all of us to do – to try and be okay with the unknown, to take good care of ourselves, and to be kind to ourselves. Whatever it is, wherever you are in your breastfeeding journey, it’s going to be okay.