Pumping at BlogHer ’11 Part 1: Logistics and Reflections

I returned home Sunday evening from attending BlogHer ’11, the largest female blogging conference around.  My goal was to learn new things at the numerous sessions that were held by leading bloggers and to network with/ get fan-girly over the many bloggers I follow or converse with.

I was able to do all of those things (and more) but this post has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the thing that hung over my trip like a {leaking} black cloud: My Lactating Boobs.

I chose to leave both of my children, including the nursing one, at home with their dad.  I pumped every day for a month and saved 140 ounces of breastmilk for him (my original goal was 100).  Then I had to leave him.  Unfortunately there is no such thing as a temporary “Shut Off”  valve for boobs.  They are on until the baby is finished.

I have said it before: I despise pumping. There is never a convenient time to pump.  At home it required the attendance of my husband to watch the kids so they didn’t get into trouble or the voo-doo magic of television.  Without kids, pumping is quite a bit easier in many ways but at a hectic and overbooked conference who wants to run to a hotel room and sit stationary while being milked?

I didn’t want to but that is what I did.

The journey began on Thursday.  I left for the airport at 3:30 am for a 5:40 am flight.  I made sure to nurse my son on both sides when he woke up at about 2:40 am.  I packed my Hygeia Enjoye in a purse along with clear plastic bags for parts, bags for milk, and the bottles and flanges in another bag.

Luckily the Hygeia Enjoye, when charged, can be used without being plugged in!

My first flight was only 45 minutes and by the time it was over I was so ready to pump!  The problem was that I only had half an hour between flights.  My next flight was in another terminal and required being shuttled over.  I rushed to the gate and it had just started boarding.  I had an important decision to make: Skip pumping and risk exploding all over the plane and/or trying to either hand express or pump in an airplane bathroom, or, pump in a small window of 20 minutes and risk missing my flight!

I made a rash decision and bumped my way to the gate attendants.

[box]

“Hi….. umm…..  I am on this flight.”

“Ok.”

So I need to pump.” I whispered to both attendants but made eye contact with the female.

“Ma’am I can’t hear you, speak louder.” Of course.

“I NEED TO PUMP OUT BREAST MILK BEFORE THIS 5 HOUR FLIGHT!”

The male gate attendant was the one who spoke up.

“Alright.  You better do it now.  I’m not kidding.  I’ll hold the flight for you but you HAVE to do it RIGHT NOW.  Go.”

“Thank you Thank You THANK YOU!” I said and ran away after he got my name and seat number. [/box]

A quick glance of the airport let me know that it was too busy to attempt pumping in a secluded corner so I went to the bathroom.  I have only nursed in a bathroom once in my life but pumping is not as discreet.

I packed myself, a rolling suitcase, and a giant purse into the stall and set about trying to screw in bottles, insert tubing, put on my Hands Free Nursing Bra from Pumpease, and keep the pump balanced on my suitcase.  I turned the dial to ON and relied on the quiet pump coupled with the busting bathroom to disguise what was going on.

That experience turned me into a permanent believer in, and cheerleader of, the Pumpease.  I actually stood there and was pumped while Tweeting and taking photos of myself since I wanted to share the hilarity.

Right as I began squeezing Lefty to get the rest out since he is a bad pumper I heard the intercom announce that everyone on flight blah blah needed to be on board bound for San Diego.  Shit.

I put my parts back in the bags, threw myself back together, washed my hands and ran!  The male attendant and I smiled at one another and the next leg of travel began.

I strongly considered trying to pump on the plane since my seatmate was snoozing and I had a pleasant position in the bulkhead but I held off until landing.

Once on the ground I booked it to the nearest bathroom to relieve myself.  This time I saved my milk since freshly expressed breastmilk can stay out before being refrigerated/frozen for 4 hours.

The rest of the weekend and conference I had the luxury of pumping in my hotel room.  I even took my pump to another attendee’s room (Jenn of Life With Levi) who held a Pumping Party in her room.  many of the participants also donated their breast milk along with me (more on this tomorrow, but read more about my initial plans here).  I will admit to missing out on quite a few things due to the pumping.  I don’t regret it but it is part of the package.

Admittedly, I was a bad pumper.  On my busiest days I only pumped 4 times when I should have gotten to it at least 5 times.  The first full day and night in San Diego I woke at 5 am totally engorged since my son nurses at night.  I hand expressed in the bathroom enough to let me go back to sleep until a more reasonable hour to pump!

The biggest lessons I learned from being an EP (Exclusively Pumping) Mom for 4 days:

  • Breastfeeding is Way Easier.
  • Pumping takes more Prep Time and Clean-up time.
  • Working Moms who Pump have a ton of logistical challenges, especially when faced with nowhere to pump.
  • Traveling and Flying Moms who pump have it even harder.  There is no telling where your layover will be and what facilities you will have to pump in.
  • To avoid washing parts all of the time store them in a freezer bag in your fridge between sessions (reader tip)
  • Hand compressing your breast while pumping is helpful if you have a stubborn boob that doesn’t want to drain.
  • A great Double Electric Pump is needed and a battery powered one is worth every penny.
  • A hands free nursing bra will save your life.
  • Keep a dribble cloth handy.

Pumping is HARD work when you consider the alternative of either breastfeeding a baby directly, or bottle feeding a baby formula.  In the earliest days of my first son’s life a pediatrician told me that it was OK to give up, some babies just don’t ever latch properly.  I could do as his wife did and just pump and bottle feed.  (Yes, a Pediatrician actually told me this!)

I thought hard about his statement.  My baby would still be geting breastmilk afterall, and I could skip the torturous nursing sessions that were leaving me shaking and crying from the pain.  Instead, I decided I would work with the Lactation Consultant and use a Nipple Shield until we had this thing figured out.

Even though I was about to breastfeed successfully there are certainly warranted cases of mothers who need to pump full time, and those who pump while working or away.  I already knew how admirable that was (seriously, pumpin’ mamas get my respect) but after experiencing EP first hand for 4 days I admire them even more!  Pumping gives the baby the benefit of breastmilk but requires so much more work.  It also made me understand a little more why some mothers end up switching to formula after they return to work.  I am so lucky to get to stay home with my boys and that makes breastfeeding so easy.  I honestly don’t know what would happen if I had to work for it.

Tomorrow’s Post will be about the 300+ Ounces of Breastmilk collected from over 10 moms at BlogHer to be donated.  Rock on.

Even though I’m being sponsored by these companies in some way I am telling the truth when I say that I love them!  Thanks again to Swaddlebees and Boba for their generous sponsorship that got me to BlogHer and to the other companies that made my boobies weigh lesslook perkier, and be more productive!
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