Amy Silverston reports on her experiences with a breast pump

My first baby was born at 28 weeks. The long wait until he developed the suck/swallow/breathe co-ordination and stamina to feed meant I spent two months using a breast pump. I wrote about the practicalities of breast pumps in an article still floating around the internet, called ‘Being Electric Ermintrude’. (Contact me if you want a copy

The boy is getting on for six feet tall and sitting his GCSEs this summer, but some things remain inscribed indelibly on my memory, and applied also to feeding my two subsequent breastfed babies:

The books say one produces breast milk to meet demand, but were a bit vague on judging this. A hospital study of how best to keep mothers’ milk supply going while their babies are in special care found keys to success included, first and foremost, always emptying both breasts. If all you have is not used it sends a signal to your body to make less next time, creating a downward trend.

The let-down reflex comes in waves so a breast appears to dry up but then, as the pump keeps running, it will start up again. Using a clear plastic pump you see this happening in a way you cannot when your breast is in a baby’s mouth. It could explain why a baby will get cross with a breast until you swap sides, but be quite happy to go back to it five minutes later when the other one temporarily runs dry. People also find their baby seems to prefer one breast to the other. When using the pump for days on end, we mothers in the baby unit would find that one breast produced more than the other, then the situation would reverse.

How long it then takes to drain the breasts varies between individuals. I kept reading about how you should express 6-8 times a day, but it took me so long at each session (up to an hour and a half in the mornings) that there wouldn’t have been any time between. Others managed to drain both breasts in half an hour, leaving me slaving away. I managed 4-5 sessions a day between 8am and midnight.

Although I never needed to take anything to stimulate my supply, a friend recommended drinking fennel tea and a homeopathic remedy called Pulsatilla. If your milk dwindles no matter what, you can get a prescription for a short course of prolactin. This works while you take it but not forever and you should not have more than two courses.
When it came to the next babies, no. 2 was on time; the third couldn’t be bothered and was a fortnight late. I breastfed them all because for me and other mean, lazy sluts, bottles sit firmly in the ‘can’t be bothered with all that’ category. And formula milk so expensive!
It was painful in both cases at first but, having already fed one baby I knew it was not forever; it was over after a (very long) week – I joked wryly that they had worn the nerve endings off by then.

It was worth persevering. Hoiking up my T-shirt was the most effective means of shutting up a screaming baby in a public place. The Nigel Farages of the world might find breastfeeding excruciatingly embarrassing, but how do they react to an infant howling at close proximity, or in an echoing room? I was on a crowded bus when one of my babies started bawling, so I tucked it under my jumper, plonked a boob in its mouth and he stopped. The draught from the sighs of relief around the bus had the trees on the street outside bending over. Sitting opposite were two elderly Irish women. “Can you do that on a bus?” asked one. I made a great show of reading the rules and regs on the back of my bus ticket. “It doesn’t say that you can’t”
Ireland had the lowest rate of breastfeeding in Europe at the time. “I bottle fed all my babies,” she said in a superior sort of way, “you can see what they are getting, don’t you know?”
“How did you know how much they wanted?” I asked.
“Oh. I never thought of that.”

Useful books and websites:
Successful Infant Feeding (breast and bottle) by Heather Welford. A really supportive and empowering book, however you feed your baby – highly recommended – lists local drop-ins, including Archway Children’s Centre support – a relaxed way of breastfeeding 330 0700 breastfeeding counsellors/ shared experiences helpline – great courses to prepare for breastfeeding