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Pumping and Piloting

Beth Lane
Oxfordshire Great Britain
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 21-22

Giving my son, William, the best start in life is extremely important to me. I knew before he was born that I was going to breastfeed, and I also knew it was going to be a very challenging experience because of my line of work.

I work full time as a pilot in the US Air Force and have been expressing my milk since William was three weeks old. I had to return to work when he was only six weeks old, so I wanted to have a good supply of my milk at home. Since I would be pumping every day, I invested in an electric pump. I also have a manual pump for occasional use. I began building up my supply by pumping at night. William would typically feed from only one breast at each feeding, so I pumped the other one with my manual pump. At work I pumped every three or four hours with my double electric pump.

When William was two and a half months old, we moved to the UK and had to leave the supply of frozen milk that I had built up in the US. Because I started work right away, and in order to build a supply, my husband bottle-fed William formula milk mixed with my milk for about a week while I pumped. This was extremely hard for me and I felt guilty doing it, but we needed to build up our supply of pumped milk.

I am away on trips for at least half the month; it's difficult to leave, but my husband is a stay-at-home dad so I know William is in good hands. On the road, I used to pump every four hours, which was tough while flying. Now I'm down to every eight hours (and I wonder how I ever managed to do it every four hours). I pump on the plane in the rest area while still on the headset talking to my crew. People are often walking by and I have become quite practiced at being discreet. Never in my life did I think I would be expressing milk thirty thousand feet over Iraq!

When I'm gone on long trips, I have another crew deliver the milk back home to my husband. Pumping for nine days straight is not fun. I had the wrong size breast shields for the longest time (yes, they come in different sizes). Even with the correct size, I still get sore nipples and sometimes cracks on my areolas. Cleaning my pumping equipment is a logistical nightmare and storage of the milk can be an issue. I constantly have to think about timing: when I am flying, when I am going to the gym, when my crew is going to dinner, and when I can squeeze in my pumping time.

It's a lot of juggling and it's not easy, but it's worth it. Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I've done in my life (I probably would have given up without the support of my husband), but also the most rewarding.

William is 16 months old now and we've weathered nursing strikes, lots of teeth (16 so far!), and everything else that comes with nursing a toddler. And he is absolutely amazing. I love coming home to his smiling face and feeding him in the wee hours of the morning when we're both half asleep. I hope this encourages other working mothers -- it's difficult, but it's not impossible and the rewards for you and your child are priceless.

Adapted with permission from LLL GB News

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