Field’s method: archaeology and pumping

As promised in my last post, here is the story that my friend wrote about her experience pumping during an archaeological field excavation in Fiji. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a total badass!!   Enjoy!!


by Julie S. Field

“It was hard to imagine leaving my baby for a month, and I nearly cancelled the plans for fieldwork entirely when I was feeling particularly worried about how my son, my milk supply, and my heroic stay-at-home Dad was going to handle this absence. But I wanted to try, and I figured if it didn’t work we would just manage on formula. So just for the numbers—my son was 6.5 months when I left, and was exclusively breastfed from birth. He also wouldn’t take a bottle, so in the weeks before I left I did many sessions of bottle training. He only took it the day before I left, and I was sweating bullets up until then!

My plan was to ‘pump and dump’ (i.e., discard all milk) since I had no means of refrigeration for this month, and as I was overseas it would have been difficult to try to bring any milk back home. This was purely a ‘keep the production going’ program. I took a pump, which comes housed in an anonymous looking black tote bag, and which also includes a battery powered pack.  Both of these features were essential, as I had no electricity where I was going, and I needed a pump that could ‘blend in’ with my other pieces of luggage and equipment. I also took a large pile of batteries, some lanolin ointment, spare parts for the pump, a cloth for wiping, a plastic bag (to put wet pump parts in after pumping), a nursing cover, and also a backup manual pump, just in case the motor of the other pump died.  Where I work is dusty, so it seemed possible it could get destroyed by too much dust in its intake vent!  The other crucial piece of equipment was a timer/clock, so I could keep track of time passing in between pumping sessions.  I also brought a bottle brush, but cleaning was not a priority.  I cleaned to keep the pump bottles from getting too stinky, but never bothered with disinfection until I got back home.

I tried to pump about every 4 hours, so that usually meant pumping right before leaving in the morning, once during the lunch break, once when we got back home, and then three times during the night.  Time between pumping events was usually longer during the day, as I had to drive for several hours to and from the site.  So I tried to make up for the longer time periods during the day by doing more at night.  This seemed to work out, although it was often hard to wake up at night to pump after some very long days in the field.  Babies don’t let you hit the snooze button!

I carried the pump kit with me everywhere; in the car, to shops in town, and of course out to the field site every day. I had two graduate students with me, and with them I used the code words ‘making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches’ to refer to my needing to go off and pump.  Only one of my local field officers knew what I went off to do every day at lunch time, and he would smirk and slyly refer to my pump as ‘the secret bag’.  It is possible other people who we worked with knew as well, but nobody hinted.

My daily ‘pump site’ was near our excavation site in Fiji (this fieldwork was archaeological), and consisted of an outdoor toilet made from wood and corrugated aluminum siding.  It was perfect—it even had a small sink, and it and the toilet were fed with water from a raised water tank standing outside. This toilet was constructed for and used by tourists who came daily to visit a nearby cave, and the water that fed it was replenished by the cave’s owners, who used an ox-drawn sledge to fill it with spring water.  Having such a beautiful site made my pumping for the month possible—it was away from kids and people, had water for rinsing, and kept me secluded but not ‘missing’, so no one wondered where I was or what I was doing. If I had to pump in the bushes, no doubt I would have been closely monitored by the people around me. Where I work, people are expert ‘watchers’. Nothing goes unnoticed!  I just casually slipped off after lunch every day with my ‘secret bag’, and came back 20 minutes later. It worked beautifully.

Other pump sites were at our rented bungalow, and on the road in a variety of bathrooms.  The month passed and I came home with milk supply intact.  After some initial confusion, my son and I are back to nursing.  So we did it; and now we move on.”

Featured picture (above):  On the last day of the excavation, when we are filling the excavation back in. I’m sitting on the bumper of our truck with my faithful pump, ‘the secret bag’.

Learn more about Dr. Field’s awesome archaeological research!!

I'm a medical anthropologist and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Opinions are my own.

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