Earlier this month Time Magazine carried an article about moms exclusively pumping. The article discusses the reasons why moms exclusively pump, and different views on whether this trend represents a good or bad thing, and how mothers who exclusively pump don't get much support.
The article begins with the story of one mom:
Although there is no official tally of the number of women who pump exclusively, numerous conversations with mothers suggest that the practice is not uncommon and perhaps even growing. Their reasons for doing so are varied: some mothers say they dislike the feeling of a suckling baby. Others say it is painful or that the baby fails to latch on. Some want to avoid the uncomfortable possibility of having to breast-feed in public...
La Leche League, the world's most active breast-feeding support and advocacy group, insists that breast is best for mother and child. "We would encourage mothers to feed their babies from the breast to promote bonding," says Loretta McCallister, a spokeswoman for the organization. But she concedes that using expressed milk exclusively does not contradict La Leche League's core message: "Women who choose to pump are still providing breast milk for their babies, while doing what is best for their families," she says. "And that is much better than turning to formula."
That's about as much support as pumping mothers get, they say. When Byrd decided to stop breast-feeding her first child, she says doctors suggested formula as the only alternative and never once mentioned pumping. Private lactation consultants typically do not offer pumping as an alternative either, as their goal is to get the mother to breast-feed.
At a few points in the article things get a little mixed up. The author, for example, implies that exclusive pumping wouldn't confer the same health benefits to a mother as breastfeeding (it would, all things being equal), and in another section makes it sound as if you can't have a partner bottlte feed unless you're exclusively pumping.
Some of the reasons why mothers exclusively pump amount to cultural and policy problems which many of us would love to fix. One mother, for example, said that she felt isolated breastfeeding because every time she did so people would leave the room. Others quoted probably didn't get good initial help.
But other reasons, such as a deeply felt need to know how much milk a baby is getting, physical discomfort (meaning squeamishness, not pain), or past sexual abuse, are highly personal. And sometimes, in spite of good support and mountains of commitment, pumping is the only thing that works. A few years ago I posted a great story about what that experience is like.
So I think that our responsibility, as friends and helpers of moms who exclusively pump, is to listen to what mothers really want, make sure they have good information and help, and then support whatever decision they make. What's the point of doing anything else?
Since the key issue here is informed decision making, I do think it's important for mothers to understand a few things when making a decision about whether to exclusively pump:
- For most women - but not all - it can be hard to maintain a full milk supply with a pump. The article profiles women who had no trouble doing so, but this isn't always the case. So getting help on developing a good supply is key.
- It's important to get good help establishing a bottle feeding routine that doesn't involve over-feeding. Recent research has linked overweight and obesity not just to what is in the bottle, but the act of bottle feeding itself.
Photo by planet_oleary via Flickr