Science Mom: Pumping Away at UCSF

Graduate Division

There are many reasons to breastfeed, and it’s likely that most pregnant women have heard them all … over and over again.

Breastfeeding can be a contentious topic, but most people agree that it benefits the health of both mother and baby, saves quite a bit of money (formula is expensive) and allows you to bond with your baby in a very special way. Yet, I still have mixed emotions when I think of my own breastfeeding experience.

For me, it was stressful from the outset, and involved trips to a lactation consultant, low milk production and bleeding nipples. At one point, I even started taking fenugreek, an herbal supplement that promotes milk production and makes you smell like maple syrup.

These were things I really hadn’t planned on, or expected to deal with. I figured that since it was so “natural,” it would be easy.

I got through this early period by seeking the advice of lactation consultants at UCSF.

After I came back to work, new challenges arose. I felt guilty for being away from my baby, and guilty for not being able to put in the same number of hours at lab that I used to. My guilt about work was compounded by having to schedule two or three half-hour breaks during the day to pump breast milk.

Fortunately, there was a breastfeeding station located in my building on the Mission Bay campus. I would arrive at the room with my bulky pumping equipment and two breasts full of milk, often to discover that the room was already “In Use.”

I would then have to haul my pump — and my breasts — to another building, where there was another station that had three pumping stalls, separated by curtains.

Eventually, my milk production began to decrease, and the milk supply that I had built up in my freezer began to dwindle. When my son was four months old, I came to the realization that I would have to supplement with formula. Again, I felt guilty.

There’s a popular mantra that I had heard so many times by that point — “Breast is best.” Mothers are made to feel that if they give their baby formula, it’ll turn them into dumb, fat and unproductive adults.

We gave him formula, though, because I wasn’t about to let him starve. I quickly realized that it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Sometimes we gave him formula and sometimes I breastfed him. This comfortable routine continued for several months.

Since I was no longer the sole source of my child’s nutrition, the intense pressure I felt to produce a ton of milk had faded. I also knew that he was happy and healthy, and gaining weight, as a baby should.

Soon, pumping at work became a once-a-day deal, and I looked forward to my quiet time in the breastfeeding station. It was the one time during the day where I could close my eyes and just relax. In hindsight, even though it was difficult at times, I’m so glad that I did it for as long as I did, about nine months.

Over time, I visited many of the lactation rooms at different UCSF campuses. There are a surprising number, yet I had never noticed them before I had a child. You can find a list of the rooms by going to the UCSF Women’s Health Resource Center website and clicking on the Breastpumping Stations List: