5 Tips for Staying Sane While You Pump Milk for Your Baby

You know how to maximize your milk supply and lug your pumping supplies in style. But do you know how to keep your spirits up while doing it? Read on for practical advice on how to remain a happy and healthy mama while you're on the breast pump.

Breast pump Pavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock
It's important, sure. And loud and lonely and inconvenient. And messy and unsexy and seemingly endless. And it can make even the most levelheaded woman (hi, reader) lose her ever. lovin'. mind.

It's a bummer, this pumping business.

But after a year with the pump, I'm here to tell you that there's hope for keeping your cool.

Zoom out from the leaky boobs and storage woes and general embarrassment of pumping. If you squint a little and grit your teeth, something else comes into focus. Something capital-G Good and weird and miraculous: you are nourishing a fellow human, mama. I mean, dang.

My goal is to give you practical tools for keeping that perspective during the pumping slog—a sort of soul care kit for the woman behind those tired boobs. Whether you're using a pump now and then, or pumping exclusively like I did (my son preferred bottles from the start), it's worth considering how to do this worthwhile thing with your spirit intact.

First, though, let's get one thing straight: you don't have to pump. Seriously. Formula was invented for a reason, and maybe you are that reason. Lord knows (and also you know) that pumping isn't for everybody.

But if it is for your body, then read on. I hope something here hits right where you need it.

1. Stop hating your pump.

Notice I did not say like your pump. Just stop the hate.

Confession: I hated my pump. I hated its noise. I hated how its name taunted my maternity-jeans-wearing self. (Pump In Style? Really?) I hated how it made me feel creature-ly and caged. I plotted an Office Space-style sendoff in the backyard.

This is not the stuff you want shaping your soul several times a day.

So fight it, mamas! Fight it with good stuff. Find a simple something to enjoy while you pump. A phone call to a far-away friend? An addictive book or TV series? A thought-provoking podcast? For me, the good stuff was Harry Potter audiobooks on repeat. (Accio Milk!)

Find what brings you joy and make it part of pumping sessions when you can. Not as a treat or a luxury. But as an exercise in bending a slice of your soul away from the dark and toward the light.

2. Seek advocates.

I'm not talking about the La Leche League, though cheers to them. I'm talking about the quiet advocates—the folks who see your immediate need and meet it with pragmatism and compassion.

That wizened librarian who stands sentinel at the bathroom door that won't lock. Your partner who brings the glass of water you always forget. The colleague who shoots you a thumbs-up when you slip out of the meeting...again. The online support group that lets you talk shop without choking on the word "nipple."

They are life-giving, these folks. They make an isolating process feel a little more human.

Ok, sure: there will be people who think your decision to pump is a crazy one. They're allowed their opinion. But just for this short season, steer clear.

You're not out to change hearts and minds; you're out to feed a baby, dangit. So look for the helpers, and then remember to be one yourself. We're in this together, right?

3. Invest in the right gear.

The internet has you covered on the technicalities here. But I want to point out that the right gear is actually freedom. And freedom is sanity, especially with a newborn in the mix.

Get yourself a pumping bra, so you can email or read or play with your baby or write the next great novel while you pump. Get extra pump parts, so you're not constantly scrubbing plastic. And get a nursing cover, so you can pump in any corner of the universe and not stir up the locals. A battery powered backpack pump is a splurge, but a worthy one.

Some insurance plans cover these supplies—it's worth a call to see if yours is one of them.

4. Just do it.

Listen, I'm a classic Ravenclaw—a library-haunting, question-asking, NPR fangirl. So it's not often I recommend "stop thinking" as the best way to tackle a problem.

But you know what happens when you calculate pumping hours, and debate what Sheryl Sandberg would do, and brood over the metaphor of your clogged ducts, and look up whether "bovine" is a noun or an adjective?

Nothing, mamas. Nothing good happens.

So turn down your thinker a few notches and tune into your bod which, by the way, is doing an amazing thing. Pumping? It's a gift to your baby. That's it. No eternal significance. No need for analytics. Just do it.

5. Plan some delight when you've finished it—whatever "it" is.

There's something about the promise of a tangible reward—no matter how insignificant—that makes people kick it into gear and get stuff done. We humans, we like our carrots.

Maybe your carrot is chocolate-covered or corked or sparkly or hardback. Or a roadtrip with your best friend. Or a day of binge-watching and Chinese takeout.

The point is, whatever feels like a reward to you—plan that. Look to your pumping goal—be it a month or a year—and schedule some in-your-budget delight at the end of it.

What got me through the last few months of pumping (besides the much needed encouragement of my lactation-consultant mom) was the promise of a long-awaited dinner reservation, a few dear friends, and a huge cheese plate. That cheese plate, y'all. I had to give up dairy for most of the year, and...cheese. But I digress.

Schedule your delight: Get it on the calendar. Put it in your online cart. Make a reservation. Let that treat hanging out on your calendar remind you that there is a time after this weird, exhausting, worthwhile thing currently shaping your days. And you'll get there!

In the meantime, good luck, mamas. Go forth and nourish those babies. But also, go forth and nourish you.