Ever since the baby’s one-month appointment, I suppose you could say that I had become a bit maniacal about researching exclusive pumping and how I could maximize my milk output. One of the things that I had read about in terms of how to maximize milk output while pumping was to do a little bit of hand expression before turning on the pump and connecting it. The idea of this is that you are priming the pump so to speak: you are warming your breasts up for the breast pump, and letting them know that hey, it’s time to start letting all the milk out. This also is supposed to produce a faster letdown on both breasts. If you are not familiar with breast-feeding terminology, a letdown is when your breasts are literally spraying milk out of them. The way that breast-feeding typically works when a baby is nursing is that in the beginning, when the baby latches on, they will do these fast, quick sucks to activate your breasts to start letting the milk flow. This initially starts out as little drips. But after about a couple of minutes of these short, fast sucks, your breasts will get the signal that your baby needs to eat, and then the let down, or the milk spraying, will start. When this happens, the baby’s sucking is supposed to change from fast and short to long and slow to then gobble up all that spraying milk. This is also how electric breast pumps operate in terms of their settings to mimic a nursing baby. Every woman’s body is different, but a let down will typically last about 10 minutes on a pump, and it may actually be shorter than that with an efficiently eating baby. I have read about babies that were so efficient on the breast that they were able to get all of the milk out in less than five minutes. That’s pretty freaking crazy, and unfortunately, I know that will never be my baby…
Anyway, I figured that it would be good to learn to do hand expression anyway, since I may not always have my electric breast pump with me, and in case I ever get engorged, I could easily let the milk out naturally with my own hands. Because as all of these websites say, you already have a breast pump that you own that’s free: those are your hands. So I learned the techniques to do hand expression, and I guess you could say I went a little bit crazy with it. I did it so much over the course of about two weeks that I ended up giving myself a semblance of tendinitis in both of my thumbs. Now, when I try to do things like cut my nails, press buttons with my thumbs, and even put thick lotion on my hands, my hands hurt. I was even waking up with all of my fingertips numb. My ring and pinky fingers have limited mobility as soon as I wake up every morning. I have to use rubber bands to stretch out my fingers in order to just reach out for my cup to drink water in the morning.
This was completely ridiculous. I had already exacerbated my cubital and carpal tunnel issues in my hands, wrists, and elbows, and now my thumbs were becoming disabled. This was all because of my obsession with increasing milk output. I kept telling myself that I was doing this to give my baby more milk, and in the process, I was disabling my own body. I can’t even put lotion on without pain! So, I decided to reduce the amount of hand expression I was doing and limit myself to a small number of times on both sides per pumping session. This way, I would still feel like I was doing the work, but doing less of it and still having all of my body parts intact.
This is a mother’s sacrifice… And obsession. I hope I do not kill myself in the process I’m trying to get my baby some damn breastmilk.