We’re very pleased to share a guest post by Stephanie Casemore, author of Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk (just released in a second edition) and Breastfeeding Take Two: Successful Breastfeeding the Second Time Around.
I asked Stephanie to identify the Booby Traps that exclusive pumping moms face, the areas where good information and support are lacking, and for her best advice to moms trying to avoid these barriers. Based on hearing from moms over many years, and from comments she received when she posed these questions to fans of her Exclusively Pumping Facebook page, she compiled this summary of the Booby Traps faced by exclusively pumping moms.
Booby Traps when making the decision to exclusively pump
The Booby Traps moms face when confronted with the decision to exclusively pump can most easily be divided into three different categories. There are Booby Traps that lead women to exclusively pump, Booby Traps that prevent women from exclusively pumping (which usually means the woman then chooses to feed formula), and there are Booby Traps that make exclusively pumping difficult or introduces unnecessary challenges for a mother.
Booby Traps that push women towards exclusively pumping center around the type of support given for breastfeeding difficulties. Being a new mom is hard, and when you add in the stress of breastfeeding challenges many women are bearing incredibly heavy loads. When women seek help and mention that they are thinking about exclusively pumping or simply struggling and needing to make a change, some women are told that they should just keep trying to breastfeed but there is not always support given to do so. Alternatives to pumping and bottle feeding, such as using cup or finger feeding or using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), are not always mentioned—options that might maintain the breastfeeding relationship. When women feel that they are at the end of what they can endure, and no practical assistance is offered, they often feel that their choices are limited.
The vast majority of women who exclusively pump wanted to breastfeed. Offering options and specific plans and strategies for initiating breastfeeding, and support for the emotional side of breastfeeding difficulties, can help a mother see a light at the end of the breastfeeding tunnel and can encourage them to persevere a bit longer, but if support comes only in the form of “keep trying” without a clear plan of how to “keep trying” it can be more difficult to continue on.
Booby Traps that prevent women from exclusively pumping
Booby Traps that prevent women from exclusively pumping abound and are often related to inaccurate information. The first and likely most common Booby Trap that prevents women from exclusively pumping is the simple fact that women are not told of exclusively pumping as an alternative to formula feeding. Whether this is in an attempt to encourage breastfeeding or a lack of awareness for the option of exclusively pumping, many women have no idea that long-term exclusive pumping is possible. How many women switch from breastfeeding to formula feeding—or simply feed formula from the start—without knowing that exclusively pumping is an alternative to formula?
Another common Booby Trap is the warning that maintaining a milk supply with a breast pump is impossible and supply will eventually dry up. This simply isn’t true. While it is important to understand how to initiate and maintain milk supply with a breast pump, there are many, many women who pump for six months, a year, or even longer who would clearly argue it is possible. Being told it can’t be done dissuades many from even trying and also prevents women from locating accurate information early on when they need it most.
Being told it is not possible to exclusively pump often is accompanied by the encouragement to “just feed formula.” This pressure can come from family and friends, but it also comes from medical staff. Often this encouragement to feed formula is well-meaning and is given due to concern for the mother’s ability to cope with the pressures she is facing, but it can also come from the belief that formula is “as good” as breast milk, or “my kids were formula fed and they’re healthy and smart!” And of course the converse of this are those who tell the mother to just keep breastfeeding without providing the necessary support to do so—both practical and emotional support, as mentioned previously.
There is a general failure to recognize the emotional toll breastfeeding difficulties take on a new mother and the increasing stress load placed on a mother who is trying to work to initiate breastfeeding, pumping to maintain supply, and then bottle feeding to supplement the baby who is not doing well at the breast. This is an overwhelming cycle to get caught in and mothers need to know there is an end in sight. Sometimes this means providing breastfeeding support and practical support for the mother, but sometimes this means offering alternatives; and exclusively pumping can be an alternative that will allow a mother to protect her milk supply and potentially return to breastfeeding if desired. When a mother’s emotional needs are not taken into consideration during breastfeeding challenges, it increases the risk that she will break under the pressure and formula feeding will be used as the alternative feeding method. Taking the time to get to know the mother and get a sense of how she is coping is important.
A final Booby Trap that often prevents mothers from exclusively pumping is the well-meaning person who says that exclusively pumping is too difficult and it’s better to just breastfeed or formula feed. There is no doubt that exclusively pumping is difficult, but it’s not impossible, and the rewards of exclusively pumping are many. Removing the option of exclusively pumping by making a judgement of its demands and rewards for the mother is unfair. Other alternatives may be easier, but there are very few women who exclusively pump who wish they had never made that choice.
Booby Traps that make exclusively pumping difficult
And then there are the Booby Traps that make exclusively pumping difficult. The first type of Booby Trap in this category relates to poor information or a lack of information. Bad advice abounds when it comes to exclusive pumping, from how many minutes a day or how many minutes per session to pump, to information on how to feed expressed breast milk and what kind of pump to use. Unfortunately, inaccurate information received early on can set up a mother for supply troubles down the road. Far too many women are forced to try to increase their supply two or three months postpartum because of poor advice received early on about exclusively pumping—or poor breastfeeding advice. Advice given to exclusively pumping moms often relates specifically to breastfeeding or formula feeding and doesn’t take the unique needs of an exclusively pumping mother into consideration.
The second type of Booby Trap in this category relates to support—or more accurately a lack of support. Poor support can come from family and friends, or even breastfeeding support workers and support groups. Some mothers who have had breastfeeding difficulties and have made the choice to exclusively pump feel abandoned by their breastfeeding supporters when they make the decision to pump and no longer work to establish breastfeeding. When a mother is no longer actively trying to establish breastfeeding, breastfeeding support workers can sometimes end the support relationship. Exclusively pumping is disconnected from breastfeeding, and yet it is not formula feeding. Mothers who make this choice are often left in limbo.
And this limbo can affect the emotions of an exclusively pumping mom. Mothers feel not only a lack of support when they attend breastfeeding or mom groups—they don’t really fit with any of the “common” feeding options—they can often feel judged. Women have been told they should “just breastfeed” as though that was an option they hadn’t thought of, told that expressed breast milk isn’t as good as direct breastfeeding, told that they are being selfish for pumping, or that they are taking too much time away from their babies by exclusively pumping and that they won’t bond with their child. It’s a no-win situation! Many exclusively pumping moms struggle with not only an overwhelming sense of loss when they are not able to have the breastfeeding relationship they had expected and hoped for, but also feelings of guilt for what they are not doing for their baby. This emotional burden can make exclusively pumping very difficult.
There is a lack of accurate information about exclusively pumping and a lack of support for exclusively pumping mothers. Women need to know that it is possible to exclusively pump long term, and they need to know how to initiate and maintain their milk supply with a breast pump. There must be recognition that exclusively pumping is different than breastfeeding and different than breastfeeding and pumping in combination in terms of initiating and maintaining supply. It is also critical that we begin to pay attention to the emotional aspects of breastfeeding and how early breastfeeding support needs to go beyond breastfeeding management and also include the emotional needs of a new mom. Support for exclusively pumping needs to be accessible and available so women aren’t left feeling alone and in limbo.
Advice for moms facing exclusive pumping Booby Traps
Advice for moms who are facing barriers to exclusively pumping? First and foremost, stick up for what you want. If breastfeeding is still your goal, push for support and don’t let those in a position to support you off the hook—demand the help you need. If exclusively pumping is the decision you’ve made, don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t possible. Look for information and support that recognizes the unique challenges of exclusively pumping and seek out those with experience helping women who are exclusively pumping. Seek out other women who are doing—or have done—what you’re doing. There is very little research about long-term exclusive pumping, but there is plenty of knowledge and lots of best practices as a result of women who are exclusively pumping. The science of lactation is the same for a breastfeeding and exclusively pumping mom, but the practice is different and you must find sources of information that recognize this.
Finally, talk about your experience with those in a position to change attitudes and share information with other moms. Doctors, nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, pharmacists: these professionals work day in and day out with other women just like you who need accurate, supportive information. By sharing your experience and letting people know that exclusively pumping is possible, you can help make it easier for other women and help to destroy some of the barriers currently in place. And of course share your knowledge and journey with other women. You can provide a source of support and information that will encourage another woman and help provide breast milk for another baby.
Have you exclusively pumped? Did you face any of these Booby Traps along the way? How did you overcome them, and what would you advise to other moms facing the same barriers?