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My Breast Pump Speaks to Me: how do breast pumps talk to new mothers?

How breast pumps talk to new mothers

By Melissa Sher |

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve never been abducted by aliens. I don’t see dead people. So I’m a little reluctant to admit the following: My breast pump used to talk to me. Well … it didn’t exactly talk to me. I never had a conversation with it. I don’t know if it was a Cubs or a White Sox fan. But when I used my Medela Pump In Style, I heard words.

Shortly after I gave birth, a lactation consultant recommended that I pump in order to give my low milk supply a “jump start” – which really is the perfect term to describe hooking one’s breasts up to a machine using what look like teeny-tiny jumper cables.

I pumped my sleep-deprived little heart out, but my cup – or, more accurately, my BPA-free bottles – did not runneth over; instead, they collected small puddles of milk. And it was about a week into this frustrating routine that I first heard from my portable, supposedly inanimate companion. An observer – and thank goodness there weren’t any given the eye-wrenching circumstances – might have thought it was simply the pump’s repetitive wheeze. But I heard things like this:

“Uh oh. Uh oh.”

“No way. No way.”

“Stop it. Stop it.”

And I won’t even go into the swearing.

Once I started making out what sounded like words, I was taunted on a regular basis. And as if the harassment wasn’t enough, that little sucker made me feel like I was losing my mind. Who else besides a crazy woman believes her breast pump talks to her? I had to know: Was it me, or did other people hear from their pumps, too?

At first I couldn’t bring myself to ask, but eventually I summoned the courage to post the following on my blog:

“For those of you who have used electric breast pumps: Did the suction noise ever sound like words to you?”

I winced after I hit enter. What if I was the only one?

Minutes later, a woman named Phyllis commented: “YES!… It sounded like my baby’s name sometimes & other times it sounded like it was saying ‘relax’ or ‘anytime.’”

How I loved Phyllis!

There were others, too. Katie’s pump said, “whack-a-mole,” and Stacey’s whispered, “beautiful one.” Other women heard “apple,” “let go” and “we pump.” Two different women heard “nipples.” Carmilla heard, “Jean Nate” – the once-ubiquitous perfume – from her ’80s-loving pump. And Joanie couldn’t tell if she was hearing, “bullsh*t” or “hush now.” I not only wasn’t alone, I was part of a sisterhood.

Now that I had proof that I was in good company, I wanted to know what was going on. To find out, I spoke to Diana Deutsch, a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, who’s an expert in audio illusions and phantom words.

Deutsch explained that the whump-whumping of my breast pump is a rhythmic and vague noise, similar to a washing machine or a moving train. “When there is ambiguity in sound, we try to make sense of what we hear,” Deutsch said, comparing the creation of phantom words to finding shapes in the clouds. “And what people hear reflects what’s on their mind,” she added. I guess I didn’t have puppy dogs and rainbows on my mind when I pumped.

The good news? It turns out that my talking breast pump was really just my brain doing its job. And although I never became the Dairy Queen I dreamed of, I did, over time, drip drop more milk into my bottles. The bad news? My unconscious swears a blue streak.

I do have a suggestion for Medela: I think the company should include a warning label for new mothers on its packaging. The warning should say all sorts of good, encouraging stuff – that it gets easier, that you’re not alone. And to reassure women everywhere, it should also say, “You’re not crazy. No matter what your breast pump says.”

What does your breast pump say to you?

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About Melissa Sher

bcmelissasher

Melissa Sher

Melissa Sher is the creator of the blog Mammalingo.com, which had been featured in the New York Times' Motherlode column, DailyCandy Kids, and in emails from her parents to their friends. She's written for Babble.com before and has been a frequent contributor to The Chicago Tribune as well as her junior high newspaper.

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93 thoughts on “My Breast Pump Speaks to Me: how do breast pumps talk to new mothers?

  1. Amy L. Keyishian says:

    Oh! I thought it was only me! Mine would say “Again, again, again.” I know it said some other stuff but I’d have to search back through my blog. It was VERY spooky.

  2. Rosana says:

    Hahaha!! OMG!!! I always hear mine talk and I will unconsciously repeat what I hear (I have the same breast pump you have Melissa). However I never thought I was crazy but I thought that it was odd how clear the words matched the rythm as I went with it. I mean, I used to pump for 15 minutes for my son in the bathroom at work and now I go in 10 minutes sessions for my daughter. 15 and 10 boring minutes of my life, what else could I do besides playing with the sounds of my breast pump? And it always says something different.
    I cannot recall exactly what it used to say when I pumped for my son but now for my daughter it says things like “watch out” or “ding dong”. The most bizzare thing is, mine breast pump is bilingual :)

  3. Rosana says:

    Sorry, last sentence should have read “The most bizzare thing is, mine breast pump is bilingual”

  4. Rosana says:

    Uggghhh!!!!!!! “My” instead of “Mine. My gawd I might be crazy after all :)

  5. Michelle Horton says:

    YES! This is so funny!! I used to think the same exact thing when I used my Medela! I really just thought I was nuts lol

  6. Lindsay Fletcher says:

    Hilarious essay! Very entertaining and makes me feel less crazy.

  7. mary says:

    I thought I was the only one! Mine used to say “baklava.”

  8. CJ says:

    Thanks for this! Mine talked to me, too, during that very tough time. Heard “when I pump” over and over and over again. My aunt (hearing my pump) heard “whacko”. :)

  9. Naomi says:

    Love this. I’ve discussed this with friends.
    I hear “Wake-up! Wake-Up!” Also “whack a mole” “no way”

  10. mmfreeland says:

    This is awesome! I started to comment, but then I just couldn’t stop writing, so my comment became a post on my blog (with a link to your article). Suffice it to say that yes, my medela did talk to me–sassily. We had a complicated relationship and, in the end, had to agree to disagree, but I think we worked through some important things along the way. You can read the full story at http://www.throughtheminefield.com.
    Cheers!
    Michelle Freeland

  11. Melissa Sher says:

    I love reading what everyone else hears! Thanks to all of you for sharing. How funny that there have been at least a couple “Whack-A-Moles” (from looking at Babble.com and my own blog)! (To CJ, do you think maybe your pump is saying “Whack-A-Mole” too?)
    Are you familiar with the Feeding-Pee-Poop diary that many of us keep when we have newborns? I’m about to have another baby and might have to add a column for “things my pump said.”

  12. Janice Lynn Dixon says:

    Mine always said “what a pull, what a pull”. Though I also heard nipple at times. :)

  13. SE says:

    The big one I used briefly said “cinnamon roll,” and the little hand pump seemed to say “sweetpea”–or sometimes “eat me”!

  14. K says:

    Mine said “black goat”. I’m not really comforted by the suggestion that that reflects what was on my mind…

  15. LaraK says:

    It totally talks to me! It says “Let down” over and over at the start, and then sometimes “let go” or “let’s go” depending on the day (or my mood?).

  16. The Little Hen House says:

    Wow. This post is SO similar to one I wrote for Baby Gizmo ten days ago. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Is this why intellectual property rights exist? Check it out for yourself: http://www.ratedbymom.com/2010/11/i-think-my-breastpump-is-trying-to-tell-me-something/

  17. Margaret Wheeler Johnson says:

    @The Little Hen House, Your post (and all of the comments below) point to the commonality of this experience. Our piece was filed in October, so this is a coincidence.

  18. Melissa Sher says:

    Dear Morgan,

    Id like to address what you wrote. I did, as Margaret mentioned, send the piece to Babble.com early in the fall not in the last 10 days. But, that said, Ive gotten quite a bit of feedback on this essay today, and Im finding out that lots and lots (and lots!) of other mothers experienced the same talking pump phenomenon. I cant imagine that we are the first two mothers nor do I imagine that well be the last two to write about this. (In fact, a friend just told me that Elizabeth Hasselbeck talked about this on The View years ago. I havent verified it, FYI.) When I write about parenting, I often try to cover universal experiences in hopes that others will identify with the topic. So, if Im fortunate enough to write for Babble again, I am not going to claim to be the first to cover a subject, such as sleep deprivation or the amount of times I use the word poop in a day. Ill just try to do my best to write about it from my point of view.

    I did just read your post and think the hands-free pumping bra is a great idea. Im about to have another baby so Ill look into it. : )

  19. kc says:

    my 5 yr old son used to sway from side to side to the rhythm of the pump

  20. Lucky says:

    When I saw this headline I thought to myself ‘if my breast pump talked it’d be swearing a lot!’ I HATE pumping. I won’t do it. It’s discouraging. I’d rather not leave my daughter’s side for a year than use a pump.

  21. Ariane Allen Green says:

    YES!!! I had the same experience last summer! This was my note to friends on Facebook:

    The Liquid Gold Standard is the name of my new (rented) breast pump. I don’t like it very much but I am forced to use it every three hours, eight times a day (at least) for unpleasant reasons I won’t get into here. The only reason I’m writing about it at all is to share the things it whispers to me. Yes, that’s right, the whooshing breast pump actually talks to me as I sit around reading “The Complete Book of Breastfeeding” or attempting to check email or poke around on Facebook in between hot, moist compresses. One might hope such a device would have words of encouragement for a young Bessie, but the reality is a bit more grim. Or, in my opinion, a bit more snarky?
    Say these to yourself over and over in a husky breast-pump-like whisper to gain the full effect…
    “WE ATE THE HAM, “WE ATE THE HAM, “WE ATE THE HAM” intermittent with, “AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN, AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN, AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN”
    or “AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN–WE GAVE BLOOD, AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN–WE GAVE BLOOD”
    and very often this is all I can make out, “VietNAM! VietNAM! VietNAM!”
    or on a more gentle setting, “RIO GRANDE…”
    even on the lowest suction, I hear, “ANGRIER, ANGRIER, ANGRIER”
    and my personal favorite, the one that really speaks to me (ha!) :::
    “BE A MAN, BE A MAN, BE A MAN!”
    …Stay tuned. Maybe more to follow as I train myself to look (and listen?) on the bright side…

  22. Anonymom says:

    Hysterical. I thought it was just me….

  23. Jennifer Simpson Mays says:

    OMGosh!!! I have found a home!!! After pumping for two and on my third, I’m SO glad to know there are others out there who hear the “pumpest word”!!! Love it!!!

  24. Anonymous says:

    My husband was a witness, my pump said “Make a face. Make a face.”
    All of the variations that other folks have heard are hilarious!

  25. Angela says:

    Mine was totally abusive! “Bad mom, bad mom, bad mom” and “no milk, no milk, no milk.” I hated that thing! Good to know that I wasn’t crazy!

  26. Roshanne says:

    My 3-year-old niece told me that her mommy’s pump says “Good MORning, good MORning, good MORning…”

  27. Pete says:

    I swear mine said “You’re the ho.” Very cruel. :)

  28. Ali says:

    mine says “di-et coke, di-et coke” or “now, now, now, now”

    The rhythm really messes with my brain. this is a great post- glad I am not alone with my pump voices.

  29. Laura says:

    My pump said “Black Gold. Black Gold” or “Corey Feldman, Corey Feldman” depending on how strong I set the suction to.

  30. Mary An Ryan says:

    i swear mine says in a hurry,in a hurry.because the first time i pumped i was in a hurry,had to get my kids ready for the babys first drs appt that was in an hour..ironic i was in a hurry an my pump was reminding me i was in a hurry.lol..

  31. Petunia says:

    Mine said “donut hole”

  32. Elizabeth Skalinski Peters says:

    Lol, Marrie!

  33. Melissa Sher says:

    Donut hole… Corey Feldman… And, make a face… These are SO much better than my lame pump.

  34. Robin Shore says:

    Redrum. Redrum. Over and over. My husband heard it too.

  35. BeccaBee says:

    “Bootie call, bootie call” for the first kid. For the second kid, same pump, it says something unintelligible, but it could be “whack-a-mole.”
    My 3 year old is fascinated by it and put two suction cups from the bath toy net on his breasts and said, “I’m pumping too!” Oy! Pumps!

  36. Cay says:

    My husband swears mine said Brett Favre. I think it was more like uh oh.

  37. Kara H says:

    Mine says, “my baby boy, my baby boy” repeatedly. I cannot for the life of me remember what it said when I had my daughter!

  38. marrie says:

    Mine said “mama mama mama mama” over and over whenever I pumped at night. Totally creeped me out and made me think I was going crazy!

  39. Jennifer says:

    Oh my god, this is so weird. I heard that creepy thing talking to me all the time. I am laughing so hard right now. It actually freaked me out a few times.

  40. Jennifer says:

    LOVE it! Cracking up because I am not the only one now…I always hear “Give it to Jack. Give it to Jack.” (My son’s name =)

  41. Anonymous says:

    Mine said, “You rock, You rock” during the first phase, then, “Cincinnati, Cincinnati.”

  42. Lauren says:

    Glad to know it’s not only me!!

  43. Blue says:

    “Whack-a-mole!” That’s what mine said!

  44. Meghan says:

    I can’t tell you what my pump said. It was impolite.

  45. anarchist mama says:

    Mine just said “Whickety Woo, Whickety Woo.”

  46. Anonymous says:

    Blue – we must have the same pump, because mine says, “Richard Mole. Richard Mole.” (that guy from Night Court).

  47. Eve Tryals says:

    OMG!!! I’m not alone. I can’t stop taking the zoloft…

  48. ayo says:

    Mine says “Black hole. Black hole. Black hole.”

  49. Krista Swan says:

    That is so funny! It’s been 2 years since I’ve used the Medela Pump in Style, but I remember hearing “Re-run,” “Re-wind” & “Relax”. I liked relax. Thanks for posting!

  50. Wanessa B says:

    Mine says ” niple, niple” and my dad says he hears it say “USA”
    can’t believe I’m not alone in this!!!!!! LOL

  51. jlm says:

    ‘very nice’ just like borat, over and over…hubby and sister heard it too :-)

  52. Anonymous says:

    Mine would say my husband’s password to all his online accounts! I was on leave as an IT analyst and also remember it telling me progaming code! It bugged me so much that I had to look up the code and see what it was used for. I even called a coworker and asked about the code. My coworker wanted to know why I would be asking about this cde while on leave. I didn’t dare tell him my breast pump keeps saying it to me! LOL

  53. Anonymous says:

    I wiill Show You How to permanently Cure Your Yeast Infection http://bit.ly/et6l2r

  54. ikesmom says:

    My first pump said, ” give me, give me.” The second one was nicer, “lickety-split, lickety-split.”. I thought it was just me!!! :)

  55. Laura says:

    Mine said “Good job. Good job.” I thought it was just me too!

  56. Anna says:

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one! Mine said something different all the time, but it was definitely crazier early on. I often wish I had written down all of them.

  57. anne says:

    I freaked when I saw this post title! I thought mine was saying “milk cow” over and over. I can’t believe this is a common thing! Lol!

  58. Callie says:

    I heard it too – Let us go, let us go, let us go!

  59. Mere Mere says:

    My husband swore my pump said “RuPaul.”

  60. Anonymous says:

    Mine totally said “whack-a-mole” too. Except sometimes it said “tweety-bird.”

  61. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully said! My Medela says “Let go!” and “Oh-prah”! Shell http://www.romancingthestone.wordpress.com

  62. jcw says:

    Mine says “leave her alone”

  63. thanks says:

    I haven’t pumped in years – but can still hear it. lets go, lets go, lets go. I tried to get other people to listen… but alas no one could hear it’s whispers. So funny!

  64. EmDu says:

    Mine said, “Wall Paint, Wall Paint, Wall Paint.” A year later my son’s lead levels came back elevated. I should have listened!!

  65. D says:

    Mine says, “Whack on, Whack off”

  66. RKBC says:

    “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

  67. Alisha says:

    Mine says: Mooo Moooo

  68. Nessie says:

    “Little…nipples…Little…nipples”

  69. deb says:

    water cooler….water cooler….

  70. Christine Long says:

    Mine repeats: “Me don’t know!”
    It totally freaks me out.

  71. Jennifer Byrd says:

    So glad I’m not the only one, I was starting to feel a bit nuts.

  72. Jana at AnAttitudeAdjustment says:

    Wow, you’re all over the place, Melissa!

    And yes, my Medela spoke to me, too. But we had such a tumultuous relationship that I don’t want to go there. It’s too hard to face those memories. I’m so glad we’ve parted company.

  73. Kelly says:

    whack-a-mole – LOL! That is awesome :) I did hear words from mine too but I don’t remember…next time I’ll probably be hearing ‘whack-a-mole’ though!

  74. Lauren says:

    It’s not just new mothers…my pump talked to me all during my first child, and now with the second, it’s recently been repeating “rum and coke.” Clearly, mama could use a drink!

  75. Dynamentope says:

    Too funny! I have a manual pump that never got used much, although the sound it made was probably closest to “whack-o”. I got to use electric pumps a few times here and there over 3 children but I can’t say I remember them talking to me.

  76. Lindsay says:

    I have a really old breast pump that sounds more like an A/C Compressor, but the white noise machine? That’s a different story. I wake up several times a night *knowing* that I hear a song in my son’s room, trying to figure out what song it is, and what toy is going off. No song, no toy, just the white noise making me crazy, I guess :)

  77. Fit Bottomed Mama says:

    I was going to google this because seriously, YES YES YES. I hear “dinner at home” and “winter coat” all the time from my pump.

  78. Wacko Mom says:

    OMG yes my breast pump would say over and over “wacko! wacko! wacko! wacko!” I really thought I was going crazy! In tears I called my husband into the room to make sure I wasn’t loosing my mind and he heard it too, but maybe he was just agreeing with me so that I would feel better. In the beginning I would get so much anxiety when I would have to turn that thing on but eventually it went away and it didn’t sound like it was saying wacko anymore & I could finally laugh about it. Scary what your hormones are capable of!

  79. TatoeMama says:

    Pumping right now, and my Medela Mini Electric is saying “hello”. Milking someone may just be the most inappropriate greeting ever. :)

  80. kamalyn says:

    mine says ‘vacation’, but in French… yup, I hear my pump pleading with me for a little time off. In the French countryside, no doubt.

  81. Meggo says:

    This is hilarious. I used to think mine said “Let’s pump.” Over and over again. I thought I was alone.

  82. Sandhya Jain Patel says:

    Lately mine has been saying “wack-a-mole…” I don’t know what’s the connection…

  83. Rebecca says:

    Mine never said anything, but it did sound like it was pee-ing as the milk squished into the bottle.

  84. Brittany Mcclain says:

    My baby was in the nicu for two months so I spent alot of time with my pump. Day and night every two to three hours I would pump. I heard different words and noises every time but I just passed it off as being sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted. Who would of thought that I wasn’t the only one with a talking breast pump!!!!

  85. Jackie Joyce-stevens says:

    i feel so much better and less insane!!!! my pump talks to and not always the same words…thank you for posting this!!!

  86. Anonymous says:

    Haha! Love it! Yes, I hear things from my Medela as well! I feel so much better now. Too funny!

  87. DMN says:

    Hilarious! I have had many conversations with other breast-feeding/pumping friends as I thought I was losing my mind too. My Medela says a few things, including “black hole, black hole”, “michael, michael” or “rock on, rock on”. It’s very temperamental. Thanks for writing and posting what we all are thinking!

  88. Leah says:

    Mine used to speak to me too, damn that was over a year ago and i cant remember what the damn phrase was but it was awful. And I have erased it from my head, well until i have my next baby. Breast pumps suck. You imagine it will work like a gas pump instead its much more like a squirt bottle but not even as good.

  89. Anonymous says:

    I have a work pump and a home pump; my work pump says “Submari-ine, submari-ine,” or “aquamari-ine, aquamari-ine,” or sometimes it speaks Farsi: “Afareen,” which means (roughly) “Very good.” My home pump says “Good morning, good morning.”

  90. Kelly says:

    OMG!!! I remember the first time mine spoke to me! Mine said “Milkin’ it. Milkin’ it.” Among other things…haha!

  91. Sucker Punch says:

    This is too funny! Mine says “suckerpunch”. As a matter of fact, that’s become code at my work amongst my lady friends… I tell them it’s time to suckerpunch and they understand! lol

  92. Anonymous says:

    And here I thought I was the only one!

  93. Ipump says:

    I can’t stop laughing from reading this comments and pumping at the same time. I think my pump now reads as well. It has “said” everything below as I’m scrollIng to read it. Lol

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