Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Sucking Machine

I recently gave up nursing. That part was hard. Giving up pumping was easy.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that nobody likes breast pumping. When you're nursing, there's that wonderful bonding... but when you pump, it's just you and The Sucking Machine. It requires a tremendous amount of dedication for any woman, but I really think that it's harder for a physician-mama than most. And even harder if you're a resident-mama.

The problem with being a pumping resident is that there's no natural break scheduled into the day where you can retire into the coat room with your pump. On clinic rotations, I usually ended up working right through lunch, so no free time there. On ward rotations, there was usually some downtime, but I always lived in fear of hell breaking loose mid-pump. And ladies, is there anything more embarrassing than answering a page with your pump going in the background?

Some women I know in non-medical professions told me that I "have a right to be given time to pump!!!" (Note the use of multiple exclamation points.) Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way in the hospital, especially if you're the lone resident on the ward.

Nurse: "Mr. Smith is having 10 out of 10 crushing chest pain and shortness of breath!"

Me: "Sorry, I'm on a pumping break. Try me again in 20 minutes."

Since I had no office, most of my pumping for the first three months was done in a "family room" on the inpatient ward, which was usually unoccupied. Unfortunately, the room had a bed and several patients' families were convinced I was going in there to nap. I wish.

After that, I moved to a different hospital and I had two choices for pumping: Empty Patient's Room or Glorious Pumping Lounge. Glorious Pumping Lounge had everything but a running waterfall in the background, but it was a five mile trek in hiking books from my ward, so I usually opted for Empty Patient's Room. And routinely got walked in on by the janitorial staff.

I managed to pump until Melly was seven months old, exceeding my goal of 6 months, and I nursed quite a bit longer. I think I did good. Next time I'm going to go for the whole year.


  1. Good God, I hear you loud and clear. I just came home today and announced to my husband that I was never pumping at work again. I'm on an anesthesia rotation, and my 'pumping breaks' are currently being spent huddled in the far stall in the public washroom off the nurses lounge. I'm tired of hearing packs of nurses come in and discuss loudly where the noise was coming from (apparently they've never heard the sound of a breast pump before) and they're rather speculate in hushed tones among themselves than actually ask me what I'm doing in there.

    I'm SO done with this. My kid is 6.5 months old.

  2. I so relate - when I went back to work after my 2nd I was on a newborn nursery rotation - perfect - there was a pumping room at my disposal right on the floor - except everytime I went in there as soon as I got set up and started the delivery pager went off - and off I went usually with wet spots on my shirt to a delivery only to hear the newborn cry and worsen the situation!!!

  3. Even though I'd agree, no one likes it, and there's not a good time to fit in a pumping break, it can very occasionally serve as a break indeed. Time to think about your baby (but of course time to miss not being with him or her); time to eat; time to read; time to use the phone (perhaps a conversation with your sister who also happens to be pumping, if you can swing that semi-coincidental timing of the cousins).

    I also met several pumping working mothers at my hospital's very mediocre lactation room, shirts flapping, pumping away, and sharing parenting tips. Being the only general pediatrician in the room of techs, researchers, anesthesiologists made me the mini-expert on medical matters of allergies, colds, safety, big siblings... I felt warmly towards my co-pumpers, we shared experiences, fears, complaints, joys, sinks, breast pads.

    Having gone back to work at 4 months and having pumped through the first year times two kids, I guess now, in retrospect, I'm a breast half full kind of person!!

  4. You are so right! Pumping in residency was really tough. It wasn't that I didn't have a place to pump in my program, more like I rarely had the 15 minutes 3 times a day to do it! My daughter (1st child) weaned herself at 8 mos. and I was not super sad to see the pump go.

    In private practice it is minimally better. I pump in my office before patients, on my lunch break, and then right before bed. My 11 month old (second child) has gotten only breastmilk so far, but I am counting down the days to when I can stop pumping (1 year old for me). Sometimes, I swear that pump mocks me with its swooshy noises. :)

  5. Yeah, I'm sad I never got to experience the joy of pumping in the stall of a public restroom like many other female residents. Our one ward restroom was co-ed and the outlet wasn't close enough for me to pump in a stall, so... yeah, no way.

  6. I'm ready to throw my pump out the window when I'm done with this nursing stint. Not before I travel cross-country though and will need to pump, likely in an airport public restroom on battery supply so wish me luck.

  7. On one rare work trip I went from pumping in a glorious lactation room at the American Academy of Pediatrics' headquarters to an O'Hare airport restroom, standing up, by the sinks. And then there are those wonderful airport security agents and the issue of trying to transport the expressed milk sans baby. Not anyone's cup of tea.

    Oh, and unrelated to airport travel, but as for my car commute, I never pumped IN my car but I threw my pump around, mainly tossing it ever-so-not-gently to the floor on the other side of the car. I did it one time too many such that I cracked the pump's faceplate. Nonetheless, I (we? it?) made it to a year, duct tape and all.

  8. I gotta chime in. I was not on ward when I was pumping with my daughter, but on a research rotation. There are also no places to pump there, as there is no thought of privacy in a University Department. I was walked in on numerous times by other students, and I was very happy when I had to quit due to dwindling pump-milk.

    I got to 12 months feeding, but not without adding in some daytime cows milk.

    Gotta say I am impressed by those who are keeping up with it on busy clinic rotations. Way to go!

  9. And, when you move across country, and you have a WHOLE freezer full of pumped milk and you have to pack it in dry ice, and you are only allowed so much dried ice on the plane and you have to dump some milk out... ouch


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