Booby Traps Series: Exclusively pumping moms face unique Booby Traps

ExclusivelyPumpingWe’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?


8 thoughts on “Booby Traps Series: Exclusively pumping moms face unique Booby Traps

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing your experience. I am thinking, we have a lot of work to do in this area. I am RN who just passed the IBCLC exam, I am in Midwifery school too and I have a bachelors degree in speech communication. I was just thinking today that we need to investigate what types of communication are helpful and which are not.


  2. My daughter pumped exclusively with our first grandson who was born (a twin whose sister died) far too early. There was no possible way she could be at the NICU around the clock for all feedings. Plus the bottle was easier for him to recognize, being a firm nipple to thrust into his mouth. There were several attempts to nurse him. He simply did not recognize her breast as a source of food. By the time he came home he was doing well with the bottle, but did not know what her breast was for. They tried using a nipple shield to give him more feedback, but it wasn’t working. I contacted La Leche League to get a hold of her, but that never happened. For over a year she pumped at work and at home. I helped out however I could and followed her wishes to the letter and I am very proud she was able to stick to her guns and stay the course.

    Her brother was born ten weeks early. I never planned on nursing him until his neonatologist recommended breastfeeding, at which point I was past the easy part of lactating. I rented a pump from La Leche League, the leader of which helped me relactate through pumping. When Ryan came home I was partially nursing, partially formula feeding him. Finally she said just to stick with nursing only until my milk supply was meeting his needs. I nursed him until pregnancy. (Unplanned.) I nursed his sister (the daughter above) until she was 16 months.


  3. I have been exclusively pumping for 9 months. I am a bereaved mother so all of my milk goes to a HMBANA milk bank for critically ill and fragile infants. I went into this with more knowledge than many mothers have (I am accredited in breastfeeding support), but I was still surprised at how much I did not know that is unique to EPing. I would never have made it this far without the support I have found online from other EPing mothers.

    I think this experience will help me in supporting mothers in the future. I am grateful to still be getting the many benefits of lactation for my own physical health, as I heal emotionally too. And I love knowing that I have improved the health and possibly saved the lives of hundreds of other babies out there.


  4. I exclusively pumped for both my daughters. The first had an undiagnosed posterior tongue tie, and while I was able to get her to latch with a nipple shield, she ended up being a very sleepy baby and what they thought was her not getting enough milk wound up being me not feeding her enough because I didn’t know to wake her. By the time we figured all that out my lactation consultant had me pumping and bottle feeding, and she just wasn’t having breastfeeding. My second daughter had a tongue tie as well that was caught, but her first revision wasn’t done far enough back so she still had trouble transferring milk so I was nursing, bottle feeding, and pumping. After she had a second revision that healed closed, she was unable to transfer any milk at all, and being 2 months old at that point had the wherewithall to completely refuse the breast. Her third revision was successful, but was at 6 months old and by then she didn’t recognize the breast as a means for food. I feel I had better support the second time around, and I also had the knowledge about pumping on my side, however, now as a mom who has exclusively pumped for over a year twice I’m wanting to support other moms and have been rejected from becoming both a Le Leche League leader and a Breastfeeding USA counselor. There aren’t any wide-reaching support groups for moms who exclusively pump, and that’s too bad.


  5. I was an EPing mom for my oldest was born with a tongue tie the ENT refused to fix. I think one of the problems with exclusive pumping is differentiating between mothers who CAN breastfeed and need support to make it happen and those who must do it because of some issue (cleft pallet, etc.) I think it can be a difficult balance to support the women who CAN breastfeed but are thinking about EPing because they wrongly think it will be easier and those who MUST EP because of a physical problem. I was on an online support group and often women who were frustrated with nursing for whatever reason would come to the group and say they wanted to EP wrongly thinking it’s an easier choice. They would often get upset and feel unsupported when members of the group would try to steer them back to nursing from the breast and away from pumping.


  6. I pumped exclusively with my first daughter as she did not latch on. My supply was so much that the pump just could not keep the milk ducts unclogged. I had no choice but to stop pumping. Luckily I had stored a bunch of milk and was able to give her just breast milk for a few more weeks or so and then a bottle a day through the winter. It was a very hard decision and really strained my early bonding with her. While I was pumping, my husband was getting all the quality time feeding and snuggling her off to sleep. Until I confessed that I was not making the connection with my child because I was spending all my time with the pump, I was totally distraught. Once I admitted this out loud, I was finally able to relax into being a mom. Luckily for me, my second child latches just fine and the breast feeding has been easy and successful.


  7. I run a Facebook page and private group for exclusively pumping moms for exactly this reason. There are lots of booby traps out there. I’ve been through it. I pumped for my son fora year when weeks of breastfeeding were unsuccessful. Lactation consultants told me I would not make it to three months if I chose to pump. I felt alone. So I researched and researched, learned through trial and error, and now my friends call me a pumping guru. Lol!

    If any of you ladies would like to like the page or join the extremely private group, we would love to have you. or you can look up the private group, Exclusively pumping moms PRIVATE GROUP.

    Happy pumping, mamas!
    -Rachel Giuntoli


  8. I pumped full time for a year and sure wish I had the support this has provided. I was a first time mom working a full time job. I knew how important breast feeding was after all the thousands of articles and books I read to prepare for such an adventure. I never felt like anyone understood all I heard from others was how easy breast feeding came to them and this special bond they created. I made my bond different ways and never let anyone tell me different. I was proud of myself for sticking to it. Now my second boy is almost seven months and the first four months I went to pumping full time. It was what I knew and what I was comfortable with, after the four month I gave breast feeding another shot and it’s been amazing. Took me a while to be comfortable with myself but I wouldn’t take back my experience with my first boy.

    For B&C



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