In defense of pumping moms everywhere

As a person who has complained in the past about the lack of resources for moms who exclusively (or mostly) pump breast milk, I was intrigued this week when I came across an article about pumping.  When I saw the title, “The Unseen Consequences of Pumping Breastmilk,” I was hopeful.  It seemed like my incredibly difficult decision to pump for my daughter when breastfeeding was just not happening was finally being recognized as just that – an incredibly difficult decision that had a number of consequences for me and my family that I never could have foreseen at the outset.

Unfortunately, I was wrong about this article.  I strongly encourage everyone to read it, though with The Rage bubbling up to my eyeballs, I’ll admit that it was difficult to get through.  Though there were a few sympathetic remarks made toward pumping moms, the article cites scientific research and a number of “experts” who basically offer up the “news” that pumping isn’t the amazing miracle we all thought it was (sarcasm alert).

To be clear, I don’t write this post to be hateful.  I am writing it because I think that the article makes several assumptions that are just plain incorrect, and I feel the need to set the record straight on behalf of pumping moms everywhere.

You feed me pumped breastmilk?  What kind of a mother ARE you?? (image credit: Microsoft Images)
You feed me pumped breastmilk? What kind of a mother ARE you?? (image credit: Microsoft Images)

Assumption #1: That pumping is easy, convenient, or a bandwagon that anyone really desires to be on.  I know there must be someone out there who loves getting half undressed and hooking themselves up every few hours, but I think the general consensus is that pumping is a huge commitment, a ton of work, and actually very inconvenient to say the least.  I don’t personally know anyone who chose pumping as the easy way out.  Rather, the stories of moms who pump when they go back to work or who pump full time are those of women who fell into something or made a choice because something else didn’t work out.  They are stories of sacrifice and compromise.

Assumption #2: That pumping moms aren’t already aware of the “inferiority” of pumping.  As a brand new mom, I was researching on the internet constantly, practically every moment of the day when my daughter was asleep and I wasn’t.  The inferiorities of pumping are well documented – you don’t get the bonding with your child, the health benefits aren’t quite the same for either of you, you don’t empty your breast the same way… I knew this when I decided to pump.  We all know this.  Believe me, that first time I put a bottle in my baby’s mouth, the “inferiorities” of it rang in my ears like a freaking train whistle.  Seriously, don’t patronize me.

Assumption #3: That a bunch of academics and their young, childless graduate assistants could design and conduct research that actually applies meaningfully to me and my child.  I’m sure this will make me sound totally bitter (I AM CAN YOU TELL), but there is a large part of me that just does not care if a bunch of scientists think that my kid might weigh slightly more or have a slightly higher risk of getting an ear infection than a breastfed (from the breast) baby.  I’m not measuring those things.  My priorities: Is she happy?  Am I happy?  I’m not sitting around tallying my daughter’s colds and shaking my fist at the sky like, “Whyyyy didn’t I try harder to breastfeeeeeed??”

Assumption #4: That improving pumping conditions/technology would be somehow damaging or a step backwards.  The point came up that advocating for better pumps and improved pumping conditions (that awesome MIT breast pump hack-a-thon was mentioned) could harm the fight for paid maternity leave.  As if there are legislators out there going, “Women don’t need better maternity leave – just look at those fancy breast pumps!”  Sorry, but any argument against improving conditions for working moms is just anti-feminist, in my opinion.  Plus, the same argument could be made for formula – so should we stop working to make better formulas in order to strengthen the argument for paid maternity leave?  Sigh.  If only the maternity leave issue was so simple.  (And by the way, pumping technology sucks and has barely improved in like 30 years, so – wish granted.)

I looked up the author of this article on Twitter, and she is a mom.  Her Twitter bio says that she writes about maternal-child issues.  I’m sure she is a lovely person.  I just really didn’t enjoy this article.  It made me feel angry and insulted, and it made me feel like I needed to jump to the defense of pumping moms – especially the new mom reading all that in the middle of the night during a pump session.  Feeding a baby is hard work, no matter how you have to/choose to do it, and we all deserve to feel supported, no matter our circumstance.

4 thoughts on “In defense of pumping moms everywhere

  1. Thank you for this article. My daughter is almost a month old now and I am now exclusively pumping, after trying and failing at direct latch for almost two weeks. I felt guilty for deciding to pump rather than sticking it out and working harder to get a correct latch (flat nipples and my baby’s mouth was small). I still feel some of that guilt from time to time. To top it all, I was in my “baby-friendly” hospital a couple of days ago for my daughter’s check-up. Baby was hungry so I took out her bottle with my milk on it. The guard came up to me and told me that bottle-feeding is not allowes in the hospital. I literally want to throw the bottle (and my pumping gears) to his face.

  2. I love this. Pumping is one step above the lowly formula my second child got (sarcasm). Things they don’t mention. For the full year I pumped to feed baby #1. 1) I made it a full year, 2) for a full year I had the metabolism of an olympic athlete bringing me to pre-baby weight in record time, 3) my son may have gotten ear infections, but he wasn’t colic-y and didn’t get my husband’s asthma or severe allergy issues, 4) Pumping was much less painful, easier to schedule and when I pumped my husband did baby-duty (adding bonding time for him and peace for me). Best decision ever.
    Even if paid maternity leave becomes a reality that doesn’t last long enough to make breastfeeding matter. The bigger issue is pumping moms at most workplaces have to pump in bathrooms or other horrible places (my car was a favorite). I did work somewhere that had high-grade breastpumps in lactation rooms (actual designated rooms only for pumping, not a shared conference room). Even hospitals don’t offer lactation rooms to nurses or patients – actually almost sad. You get so much advice about ‘the best’ way to raise your children. At the end of the day, I took the advice that sounded right to me, or worked and threw out the rest.

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