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[Design & Parenting] My Sleepless Postpartum Nights with Breast Pumps


There’s a saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” However, for expat parents who don’t have their “village” within their reach, what else can help to ease the burdens of parenting? Raey Y. Kim, a first-time mother living in Delft, is a design specialist with a background in industrial design. Every few months in the Delft MaMa blog, Raey will be sharing her insights about products and technologies related to parenting. From personal experience, she will lend us her critical eye and discuss the positive and negative aspects of these products, looking at whether these technologies improve the quality of life for parents or cause disruption.

Part 1 of a Series


“Did you breast-pump every three hours last night?”

It was the first remark my kraamverzorgster** (Dutch maternity care specialist) made to me as she came inside. It was the third day of her shift at my place, as well as of my newborn’s life. As a first-time mom living abroad, I didn’t have anyone to ask for any help. My kraamverzorgster had been a saint; besides my husband, she was the only person I could rely on during the toughest time in my life. When she asked me about pumping over the night before, I confessed everything, a bundle of nerves like a student who hadn’t finished her homework on time.

“No, I didn’t.” I answered. I’d had a terrible night due to the infamously grave constipation that often follows delivery of a baby. When the suppository worked on the second try, I was completely worn out, drenched in sweat, with a runny nose and exploding tears. Eventually, I was able to fall asleep for the first time since contractions had started 3 days before. I didn’t manage to nurse my baby at all, let alone breast-pump. I felt so ashamed.

My kraamverzorgster, who always prioritized my health and condition, replied, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. If you don’t feel like breastfeeding or pumping, you can stop anytime. It’s your choice.”

What? If I don’t feel like it? Wait. I was the one who most wanted to nurse my 3-day-old baby. I felt in my heart that I had to. But it was just the situation that didn’t allow me to, not my will. Why equate my physical condition with my will to breastfeed?

However, I was unable to respond out loud to her.

My (Arduous) Journey with Breastfeeding and Pumps

My kraamverzorgster’s duties concluded after eight days. After this, I began my breastfeeding journey by myself. At first, my baby and I made a great collaborative team and breastfeeding was successful. However, the real story began when my baby hit his first growth spurt around three weeks old. He became much hungrier than before and never stopped crying all day. Even after his first growth spurt, he never seemed to be satiated with milk that I could provide. We began to supplement his feedings with formula, but mostly, I wanted to provide him with the nutrient-dense, antibody-inclusive breastmilk that I felt was best for him.

Far From Home As An EXPAT And Needing Assistance

If I had given birth in my home country, I would have had familiar help within my reach for increasing milk production, such as my mother’s nutritious Miyoek guk (Korean postpartum seaweed soup) and Oketani massage. However, these were not available to me in The Netherlands, nor was my extended network of family and friends. Thus, I sought advice that was accessible, and did not hesitate to try everything advised: anise-scented lactation tea, warm breast compresses, and, as the most efficient method, breast pumping.

Putting down my iPhone (my connection to my familiar world) and picking up the set of brand-new breast pumps, I began to collaborate with this weird, bulky machine twenty-four hours a day. Ultimately, though, it was the breast pumps that allowed for some semblance of normalcy. Not only did they allow me to save breast milk in the fridge and go out for a beer, but they also provided a way for my husband to have “nursing experience,” giving my breastmilk to our baby via a bottle. Having my husband do some of the feedings helped me sleep at least 5 hours each morning.

Difficult Choices

My desire to satisfy my newborn’s appetite and provide him exclusively with breastmilk had gotten stronger from day to day. I came across one pumping technique that my kraamverzorgster recommended: hour-long “power pumping” sessions, alternating between 10 minutes of pumping and a 10-minute break for an hour, seven or eight times per day. It became my routine. However, I soon recognized that when pumping, I couldn’t hold and cuddle my baby at all because the huge bottles and pumps completely occupied my breasts. As I watched him fuss and cry, but could not pick him up and comfort him because I was tethered to a machine I thought: What a ridiculous choice to be forced to make: cuddle and console my baby or increase my milk supply to satisfy his insatiable appetite?

Breast pumps
Mother and baby
Breast pump design
This photo depicts a scene that is not possible when dealing with a newborn who cannot yet hold his head up. Even as the baby grows and develops strength, it is still a rather unrealistic and idealistic posture.
Photo: A commercial image for breast pumps / Photo credit: Medela

Although the pumps were helpful in many ways, they also created additional emotional and physical chores. My mood was easily swayed by the productivity of my breasts as measured by the amount of pumped milk. I’d also face a constant mountain of milk bottles and pumps in the sink every feeding time. I’d look at my fussy, tired baby, always aware of my engorged breasts, the messy kitchen waiting for my attention, and the wet nursing cushion on my waist. Despite all of this chaos, I said to myself: If I can just keep going and give my baby 30 ml more of breast milk… No, only 20 ml more! No, only 10 ml more! At the time, I felt that the breast pumps were the only thing that could save me from reaching the end of my rope.

The Invention and Evolution of Breast Pumps

So, had the breast pumps encouraged me to feed my baby or only caused disruption? Were they the culprit burdening me with sleepless nights?

Since they were first brought to market in the late 1980s, breast pumps have made a great contribution to bringing mothers back to the workplace while still allowing them to be able to feed their babies breastmilk. However, it would be wrong to say they were introduced with the ambitious intention of bringing liberation to women.

When breast pumps were first invented 150 years ago, their purpose was to help premature babies and moms who were incapable of nursing by themselves.1 They were initially marketed for use by medical professionals, not for at-home use by mothers. The initial mechanism of the device had imitated cows’ milk extraction machines. Thus, there’s no doubt that it fell far short of the so-called ‘rich user experience.’ When the male-dominated research groups cared to understand how women’s breasts work, which is by no means the same as how cows’ udders do, the design of breast pumps finally began to improve.2

Breast pump
Original patent
The First Patent of Breast Pumps: Patent No. 11,1353

Since then, breast pumps have gone through a remarkable evolution by implementing all the anatomic knowledge we have about the bodily dynamics of women and babies, including latching, sucking, flowing, and expressing. The pumps also contributed to making breastmilk measurable and eventually tradable. Without being labeled as food, discharge or blood, expressed milk is actively traded online.4 Breast pumps have certainly taken up an extraordinary position in modern parenting.

Could Breast Pumps Be More Innovative?

Despite the huge impact breast pumps have had on the lives of mothers and babies, there is still room for improvement in their design.5 Their noisy, vibrating sound and dull, bulky design may make some mothers hesitant to pump in public or in the workplace. Although enhancements to breast pumps continue to appear6, such as their connecting to an app that logs the frequency and duration of pumping, one wonders if someday, the pumps could be as innovative as the iPhone or as quiet as a hybrid car.

Breast pumps and bottles
 My Breast Pumps–Medela Swing Maxi and bottles

Unforgettable Postpartum Nights With Pumping

When my little one turned seven months old, I introduced a range of solid food to him, and he eagerly savored all of the new flavors and textures. One day, I found that my breasts stopped producing milk. And I accepted the fact that I should take it as a signal that it was time to wean. My seven-month breastfeeding and pumping journey was complete when my baby began to escape my arms with unbridled energy. The breast pumps now languish in the corner of my bedroom with no purpose. I will have to throw them out or give them away. However, breast pumps are technically categorized as medical devices, so we are not allowed to sell or buy them through second-hand markets.

Whenever I notice the pumps, now quiet in a corner, the memories of sleepless nights of pumping overwhelm me. I think of all of the routines, the frequency, and the places where I’d pump. Whether it was at home in the middle of the night, at the dinner table, or in a bathroom stall of bars, I’d close the door, put the breast pumps on, press the power button, start the stopwatch, spend several minutes, and worry if the noise would be bothering anyone. To throw out the pumps would mean confronting too many postpartum memories. Still, I’m not ready to let go of them yet.

**Kraamverzorgster: a maternity care specialist who provides Kraamzorg. Kraamzorg is a service in The Netherlands that provides postnatal care for a new mother and her newborn in the first week to 10 days after a baby is born.


  1. Lepore, Jill. “Baby Food.” The New Yorker, 12 Jan. 2009,
  1. Garber, Megan. “A Brief History of Breast Pumps.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 21 Oct. 2013,
  1. Needham, Orwell H. Breast Pumps. 20 June 1854. 
  1. Drummond, K. (2013, October 21). Breast intentions? new study spurs debate over online breast milk sales. The Verge. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from
  1. Rasmussen KM, Geraghty SR. The quiet revolution: breastfeeding transformed with the use of breast pumps. Am J Public Health. 2011 Aug;101(8):1356-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300136. Epub 2011 Jun 16. PMID: 21680919; PMCID: PMC3134520.
  1. Martin, Courtney E., and John Cary. “Shouldn’t the Breast Pump Be as Elegant as an Iphone and as Quiet as a Prius by Now?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Mar. 2014,

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