Mommas become exclusive pumpers by one of two ways: by choice or by necessity. Those who choose to pump might be doing it because they don’t like the idea of nursing, but they still want to give their babies the benefits of breastmilk. Mothers of multiples might prefer pumping because they can pump milk for all of their babies at each pumping session instead of nursing babies one at a time. Maybe it’s because they’ve dealt with abuse in their past that makes it difficult to nurse for psychological reasons. Or perhaps its because they prefer to know exactly how much their babies are eating at every meal. Those of us who found ourselves here unexpectedly pump because our babies had latch issues, were premature and unable to be held or nurse while they were in the NICU, were born with conditions like cleft lips that made nursing impossible, or had severe illnesses or medical needs that made nursing difficult, etc. Either way, it is a very personal decision and sometimes we get a little sensitive to what people say to us. So please, think before you say any of the following:
1. Well have you tried ___?
First of all, we probably didn’t ask you for your opinion. And secondly, whatever you’re about to suggest, we promise you we tried it. That one nursing position that is so comfortable for your little one? Yep, tried it. That expert you swear performs miracles? Saw her. Or maybe we couldn’t afford to see her. Bait and switch? Trying to nurse in the shower? Begging, pleading with our littles ones to just make it work? Yes, all of it. Trust me, if we wanted to nurse, we probably didn’t turn to pumping with open arms and without trying to make it work somehow.
2. It’s not really breastfeeding.
Oh, but it is. Exclusive pumping gives babies all of the same amazing benefits of breastmilk that nursing does. Both are different forms of breastfeeding. We may not be breastfeeding in the traditional sense, but that’s still what we’re doing.
3. You should have tried harder.
No one likes a quitter, right? Telling me that I should have tried harder implies that I failed. Or that I didn’t care enough to try harder. When Liam and I were working with a lactation consultant, I asked her if there were any babies that weren’t able to successfully nurse. Oh, we have a great success rate, she said. The only times we haven’t been able to get a baby back to breast is when their parents give up trying. Well that makes me feel good. It’s not that we didn’t try hard enough or that we quit, it’s that we chose to end the tears and frustration and reclaim some of our sanity. When I finally made the decision to stop trying to get Liam to latch, this cloud that had hovered over our momma-baby relationship was lifted. He was much happier and eventually, so was I.
4. Just put him to breast. He’ll nurse.
While some mommas and babies begin their nursing journey very easily, it’s not that way for everyone. Just because nursing is natural doesn’t mean that babies automatically know what to do as soon as they’re born. It can take time or sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. It’s a little more complex than just holding a baby next to your chest.
5. Just switch to formula already if it’s so hard.
There is nothing wrong with formula. It’s not poison. It gives babies the nutrition they need when mommas choose not to breastfeed or when breastfeeding isn’t an option. But for some mommas, breastfeeding is something that was really important to us. So even though pumping exclusively is hard and we hate it, we take pride in knowing that we’re able to provide breastmilk for our babies.
7. You have to pump again?
Does the baby have to eat again? Then yes, we have to pump again. We don’t hook ourselves up to a breast pump because we love it. Those with oversupply can get away with pumping fewer times a day, but for many of us, we have to pump each time baby eats or order to have enough for the next feeding. With a newborn, that means every two hours during the day and every three hours at night. Skipping a pump means there might not be enough milk for baby’s next feeding. Waiting too long between pumps puts us at risk for clogged ducts and mastitis.
8. Pumping is so much more convenient – you can pump on your own schedule and anyone can feed baby.
This is only partly true. Yes, anyone can feed baby. And yes, our pumping schedules don’t always have to line up exactly with baby’s feeding schedule. We can pump in the car or fit in pumping sessions during naps, between appointments or after baby’s asleep for the night. But it also means that when we leave the house, we have to remember bottles, milk, ice packs, coolers, our pump parts, pump and the car adaptor or battery pack that makes it work. When pumping at home, we’re trying to juggle taking care of our babies and anything that needs to be done around the house with our pumping schedules. Nap times aren’t always predictable. When Liam was little, he would nap anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours. There were times where I had just sat down to pump and he was awake again. Or I was only halfway through an hour-long pumping session and had to stop before I was completely empty. We don’t pump on our own schedule – that’s dictated mostly by our babies. And some days it’s hard to make the necessary time for it. Many of us do not choose to pump exclusively out of convenience and really struggle with the burden of managing it all, especially when it’s not what we wanted in the first place.
9. Poor baby…he’s missing out on all that bonding time.
If you missed my post from yesterday where I talk about bonding with baby, you can read it here.
10. At least you can breastfeed. Not everyone gets to, you know.
You’re right. We are blessed to be able to do this for our babies. We understand that there are circumstances where mommas want to be able to breastfeed and it’s not an option for them. We understand what it’s like to want something and not be able to have it happen. There will always be someone in a worse situation than ours. But that doesn’t have to void our feelings about our own situations or invalidate our grief over the loss of a nursing relationship.
How you can support exclusive pumpers instead:
- Tell us what a good job we’re doing.
- Help us find time to pump during the day, which may mean taking care of baby or getting dinner on the table.
- Encourage us to keep going because you know it’s important for us to do, despite how difficult it is.
- When we get excited about how much we pumped or how we figured out to do a certain task while pumping, celebrate with us.
- Remind us how much our little ones are benefitting from all of our hard work.
- Hug us when we cry. Sometimes that’s all we need.
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.