Feeding hype cycles. Winning at mom-ing. Parental leaves.
Happy (almost) New Year!
It’s funny to think back on this year because a lot happened. Last December, I was gearing up to head back to work after my 4th maternity leave.
I had even prepared by getting a fancy new breast pump.
(My last one caught fire while on a work trip to Holland. It happened the night before I had two conference presentations - what a miracle I didn’t leak on stage. Fun memories.)
Anyway, when I returned in January, our family caught Covid. My kids had ‘virtual school,’ and I tried desperately to look professional for my new boss.
So this time, pumping at work proved too much of a hassle. After about a week, I gave up.
However, I did pump at work for 2 of my babies. Finding a routine was tricky.
Mapping hype - and reality
As a first-time parent, I absorbed that “breast is best” for the baby. Exclusive breastfeeding is the US dietary guideline for infants 6 months and under.
But only 1 in 4 babies is fed this way. And the American College of Ob/Gyns notes that more than ½ of new moms wean before they had planned to.
So there’s a gap between the promise of breastfeeding and the reality many new moms face.
And when I hear about a gap between the excitement and on-the-ground experience of something, I’ve found a helpful tool for understanding it: A Gartner Hype Cycle.
Let me explain.
For background, the Gartner hype cycle is used to help strategic planners understand the uptake of new technology, like blockchain or augmented reality.
The hype cycle distills media hype from the realities of the technology’s usefulness.
Specifically, Gartner evaluates:
Expectations (x-axis): The anticipated promise of the given technology’s performance
Time (y-axis): Actual value experienced over time
From here, Gartner charts 5 phases of a technology’s “life cycle,” which I drew below, ranging from initial excitement to disillusionment to eventually finding a staple equilibrium of how the technology makes sense to adopt.
By understanding where your company is at on the adoption journey, the mapping suggests when to avoid giving up too soon. And when to stop hanging on too long because the value isn’t there.
Baby feeding: Hype vs. reality
This cycle applied perfectly to my relationship with breastfeeding and pumping.
And to find what approaches made sense for my situation.
Interestingly, my timeline and stable routine changed each time because my - and my baby’s - circumstances varied.
To illustrate, here’s how my feeding journey looked my first time around:
Trigger - Pregnant
Like most new moms, I planned to breastfeed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises exclusive breastfeeding until babies are about 6 months old.
And, of course - I aim to win at mom-ing, so I set my expectations high. I think of formula as a terrible poison that we don’t need.
Peak Inflated Expectations - Feeding starts
Two days after my delivery, I’m waiting for my milk to come in and figuring out how to latch. All while my tiny girl is too tired to eat for very long.
The nurses tell me to keep trying to feed her every 2 hours, pumping and breastfeeding. They’re the experts, and this sounds reasonable - I’ve got this.
Disillusionment - Pain & challenges set in
Fast forward a week, and I’m engorged with a painful blocked duct. I’m also scabbed over, so it really hurts to feed.
And my baby wants to eat every 90 minutes… I’ve never been so sleep-deprived.
I learn breastfeeding could take a grueling toll on moms. But that conversation is overlooked in baby guidelines like this. I ignore my concerns because I want to win at being a mom.
In retrospect, it was a terrible plan because my challenges worsened when I returned to work.
Since I had focused so much on natural feeding, my baby wouldn’t take a bottle or formula. Both were too foreign to her. Sending her to daycare was a horrible adjustment.
Enlightenment - Find solutions
I learn to recognize when my baby is eating versus using me as a pacifier so I can avoid getting too sore. I also pumped so my husband could take an evening feeding while I slept.
And we coaxed our baby into using a bottle and taking formula by mixing it with breastmilk. This relieved a lot of stress when I traveled for work.
Productivity Plateau - Stable routine
Eventually, about 5 months in, I found a rhythm. I had calendar blocks for pumping, feeding felt easy, and my baby was finally happy with a bottle.
Now, to illustrate how different each time can be, let’s fast-forward (4 kids later) to my son.
I’m confident. I find a quiet, hands-free pump (because I’ve learned the features I need), formula, and bottles.
Once my milk is in, I also give my baby formula so my husband can take some feedings - without pre-planning.
This time I avoid getting sore or engorged, partly because I give him a pacifier to soothe. This approach is probably against new parent recommendations somewhere, but whatever. He’s happy and gaining weight.
Pain & challenges set in
A week in, my son started projectile vomiting. I didn’t know babies had the muscle strength to do that - it looks like a low-budget horror movie. So now I get a towel to feed.
On my first work trip, I realize my new pump doesn’t work while charging… ugh. Now I have to pack a hand pump for when the battery dies.
I stop bothering to pump at work unless I’m traveling or desperate. My son eats ½ formula and ½ breastmilk. He’s happy, and my schedule is way less stressful.
I’ve realized that taking care of myself helps me better take care of my kid.
I have a rhythm down within a few weeks after birth. The La Leche League would hate my mixed approach - and I don’t care.
When I’m less stressed, my baby keys off of that and is more content too.
Through these experiences, I’ve learned that winning at mom-ing isn’t about total adherence to abstract guidelines - that sometimes, they’re overhyped. Finding a sensible routine is what I value.
If you have topics you’d like to see explored in the coming year, please reply and tell me.
P.S. If you'd like to know the pump brand I referenced, feel free to ask.
Dr. Jack Newman’s Visual Guide to Breastfeeding: A 30-min intro video on getting a baby to latch and basic troubleshooting. It’s a little weird, but it works.
Economic Case for Parental Leaves: Jessica Shortall’s 15-min TED Talk outlining why the US needs to create maternity leave protections. It’s smart, funny, and has 1.5M+ views.
Work. Pump. Repeat: Also by Jessica Shortall, this book is about what it’s like to go back to work pumping - it’s part guidebook, part entertainment, part therapy.