28 October 2013

In Defense of Exclusive Pumping

I am disappointed today. I have only ever witnessed the “Mommy Wars” from afar and in hypotheticals. I am baffled at all the moms who live their lives on the defensive, as though every person is constantly judging and attacking them. I am still blessed to be surrounded by supportive moms (online & in real life) who are thoughtful, encouraging and non-judgmental. To borrow a line from High School Musical, “We’re all in this together,” despite any differences in backgrounds and parenting styles.

So, back to my disappointment—I found myself on the defensive this afternoon upon reading this blog post. Feel free to click over. It’s nice and quick. The author, a natural childbirth instructor, is responding to a woman’s question on how to encourage breastfeeding among this modern “trend” of pumping and bottle-feeding breast milk. While I believe that she (and the original inquisitor) had the best of intentions, the response was lacking in understanding. Both women based their view on exclusively pumping on their belief that it was a practice done as a means of “convenience” for the mom. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can tell you, from my own experience exclusively pumping for nearly a year, that it is hardly a “convenience.”

I am going to respond to several of the statements made in this post.

“The trend seems to be, and this is not limited to just my circle of friends, but pumping and giving breastmilk in a bottle. Simply because its faster or they're having trouble latching their babies.“

In my experience, pumping and bottle-feeding took up a great deal of my time. For much of the time I was pumping, I would pump for 30 minutes at a time, every 2-3 hours. Eventually, the longest stretch I went was 4 hours, and eventually I dropped my overnight pumping sessions resulting in a decrease in my milk supply. On top of the pumping, there was the act of making bottles, cleaning my supplies and then feeding my baby.

“I want to help them without overstepping my boundaries. Any tips on how to help encourage true nursing? I've suggested books and lactation consultants, but I don't seem to be getting through.”

Put yourself in her shoes. I would guess that there is more to the story than a simple decision to pump and bottle feed. In my case, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my struggles (or at least all the nitty-gritty details) with everyone I encountered. There was a lot of raw emotion involved, along with disappointment and insecurity. It felt like everyone expected me to be delighted by motherhood; I was ashamed to let it be known how much I struggled. It was a deeply personal struggle and I had neither the courage nor energy to share it with very many people. In public, I put on a brave face as I explained, “breastfeeding never caught on,” holding back tears as I recalled the intense struggle I had endured in my attempts to feed my daughter and help her grow. It’s possible that these people have read all the books, met with lactation consultants, and, like me, never achieved that dream of holding their child to their breast in that beautiful, natural, idyllic moment. Perhaps each additional piece of advice brings back the flood of emotions she has already endured. I know that was the case for me. I can’t count the amount of tears I have shed over my experiences long after I thought I had come to peace with our situation. Please don’t assume you know the whole story.

Many of the statements in this post are some of my triggers. I know that a woman who is successfully breastfeeding, is not personally attacking me, however, every time I hear of their success, I am reminded of my own insecurities. I am delighted in their success, but it still has a a bitter taste—that is usually because of my own insecurities, not because of anything they have said or done.

“*Feeling milk let down and my baby relax as milk flowed into his/her mouth was priceless.  I had a magic superpower!“

I would argue that all moms are superheroes and each has her own unique and fantastic superpowers. Seeing the popular comment, “I make breast milk. What’s your superpower?” originally made me feel like less of a mother because I struggled so hard to make enough breast milk for my daughter.  I still have to remind myself to not take it as a personal attack and celebrate the successes of my fellow moms (even when they are different from my successes).  We need to support each other.

“If you are one of these women that pump and give your baby a bottle, you are missing out on a truly unique and special life experience.”

I agree completely with that statement. I felt it deeply each time I sat down to pump, each time I fed my daughter a bottle, and many times in between.

The author seems to assume that a mother who exclusively pumps and bottle-feeds, does so out of convenience. (After re-reading the article, this may be more perceived than explicitly written.) I can tell you that exclusively pumping is anything but convenient.  The exclusive pumper will lug around a pump, storage bottles/bags, bottles, coolers with ice, along with all of the supplies required for caring for a baby on the go—and the baby too! The exclusive pumper turns down all kinds of social invitations because it would be impossible (or overwhelming) to keep her pumping schedule or to find a place to pump. While breastfeeding is completely acceptable and expected in many public spaces, it would be quite another story to pull out and use my electric breast pump in public. The exclusive pumper is not only required to find a private space in which to pump, but an electrical outlet as well (there are exclusive pumpers who use manual pumps and that’s another level of commitment altogether). I could share a hundred stories of how inconvenient exclusive pumping is. I’m proud to have been able to feed my daughter as much of my breastmilk as I could in her first year, but it was anything but convenient.

All this to say that it is important to support the mothers in your lives; to encourage them; to listen to them; to congratulate them; to tell them they are doing a great job; to offer advice when it is requested; to be sympathetic to their story and their struggles; to celebrate their triumphs and commiserate in their struggles. It is a great thing to be a breastfeeding advocate, but please do so with a spirit of encouragement and support, not with a spirit of superiority. We’re all in this together.

Please take a minute today to tell a mom, “You’re doing a great job!” Chances are she really needs to hear it.


Anonymous said...

I had a different read of the original article. I also had a different experience than you did with breastfeeding.

My take on the article is that the mother who is asking the initial question wants to offer support to mothers who may feel ashamed to nurse in public. I think the article is specifically addressing the moms who do go out of their way to pump as not to have to deal with nursing in public.

I have friends who breastfeed at home, but due to the criticism of their families or friends or communities are afraid to nurse away from home. I think the author adresses the social stigma when she mentions that some cities have very few moms nursing in public while others cities she never sees bottles. If by reaching out to the moms who maybe desire to breastfeed and encouraging them, the social stigma could be broken down in those places allowing more moms to feel comfortable nursing instead of having to pump out of perceived convenience.

Also the author mentions her own struggles with bottle feeding and pumping. I too can relate. I actually quit my job when pumping and a diminishing supply started to get the best of me.

I completely understand how the article affected you by your own experiences, but I think the author was going for supportive - albeit for a different audience. She did perhaps come out sounding a bit judgy.

Liz C said...

Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation. I agree that the author intended to be supportive. And you are absolutely right that my experiences colored my interpretation, just as your experience influenced yours. Although the author did address the stigma of nursing in public, it is still my belief that the original question addressed exclusive pumping (at least partially). Thank you, again. I value your opinions and your experience. You are doing a great job!