When I first started pumping, it was purely out of necessity. We were working hard to get Liam to nurse, so pumping was the only way I could keep up my milk supply up in the meantime. It never occurred to me that pumping exclusively was even an option. I’d never heard the term before and didn’t know anything about pumping long term. Once I really started focusing on pumping instead of nursing, I knew that I needed to learn whatever I could to ensure we’d make our 6-month pumping goal. It’s difficult navigating life as an EP’er, because it can be uncharted waters for even some of the best lactation consultants and pediatricians. We’re still breastfeeding our babies, but we’re doing it with a bottle. It’s not nursing, but it’s not formula feeding either. So sometimes the rules to either don’t apply. Here are just a few misconceptions about pumping I’ve come across during our pumping journey:
Myth #1: Mothers who pump exclusively will have supply issues.
False. Just like with nursing, some moms have a low milk supply, some have a tremendous oversupply and some get just enough to feed their babies. With pumping, there’s a lot of added stress that can affect milk supply, especially since we can count exactly how much milk we’re getting, but that doesn’t mean that every pumping mother will have low milk supply. They say that babies always empty milk more efficiently from the breast than pumps do. That is true for lots of people. Some mommas don’t respond well to pumping. But it’s not true for everyone. Some of the pumps on the market today are really good at removing milk efficiently. I’ve seen mommas pump enough for triplets, to donate thousands of ounces to other babies in need and to fill freezers full of milk. If you pump, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically struggle with your supply.
Myth #2: Exclusive pumping is not possible long-term.
False. I started dropping pumps after Liam turned 6 months because it was the best decision for us. But pumping well after a baby is a year old is definitely possible. I’ve met mommas who are still pumping for their toddlers and mommas who continue pumping for an older sibling even during a second pregnancy and new baby. As long as your milk supply is cooperative, there’s no reason why you can’t pump for your baby as long as you want.
Myth #3: Babies who are bottle-fed breastmilk don’t get the antibodies that nursing babies do.
False. There’s a thought that your body will only make antibodies in your breastmilk when your baby has latched and their saliva touches your breast. When a baby comes into contact with germs, she’ll pass them on to her momma during nursing. Then, the momma’s body will know to make the right antibodies baby needs to prevent illness. While this is true, contact during nursing isn’t the only way this happens. Physical contact with our babies of any kind can help prevent many illnesses. Hugs, kisses on the head, breathing in their baby scent – all of these different ways we interact with our babies will help create the right antibodies in our breastmilk. Our bodies are perfectly wired to know what our babies need. Disclaimer: Breastfeeding doesn’t prevent every illness, but studies have shown that it can be a successful preventative measure in many instances.
Myth #4: Pumping is not breastfeeding.
False. Breastfeeding is the act of giving your baby breastmilk. Nursing is breastfeeding by having baby latched at the breast. Mommas who pump and bottle-feed any amount – whether it’s exclusively, part-time because of work, or just once in a while to have a night out – are still breastfeeding their babies. Breastfeeding advocacy should encompass all forms of breastfeeding, not just the traditional way as we know it.
Myth #5: You can’t bond with baby if you’re not nursing.
False. I actually really struggled with this one early on because I was spending so much time pumping, I was recovering from surgery, exhausted from the lack of sleep and depressed about our nursing issues. I would get so jealous when I’d go downstair and find Liam sleeping on J’s chest after having a bottle. That was supposed to be me after nursing him to sleep. But those of us who bottle-feed our babies, whether it’s breastmilk or formula, can bond with baby in so many ways too. We can do skin-to-skin contact, gaze at and interact with our babies while they eat, feed on demand instead of on a schedule, etc. Pretty much anything that we would do nursing, we can do with bottle-feeding, except the actual act of latching. Liam didn’t nap well the first couple months, so I figured out how to wear him in our Moby wrap and pump at the same time. I craved those minutes he was held snug against my chest. As he got older, he would just stare at me while he ate. I imagine it was the same gaze he’d give me, latched or not. Even though I hated the double feeding (time to feed Liam a bottle and time to pump), I hated letting anyone else give Liam his bottle. That was our time to just sit and be with each other. He still needed and wanted me, even though he was drinking from a bottle.
World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7. During this time, and National Breastfeeding Month, is when we celebrate and support mothers who are breastfeeding their babies and to promote awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding. I fully support mommas giving their babies the nourishment they need by whatever means they can, whether by choice or circumstance. This is not meant to be a breastmilk vs. formula debate, because I believe that healthy babies AND mommas trump the pros and cons of either. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing pieces of our breastfeeding story and my experience of pumping exclusively.