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Breastfeeding is Only Sometimes Best?

Photograph by Getty Images

After reading Pacific Standard magazine's "The Unseen Consequences of Pumping Breast Milk," I felt bummed out.

I exclusively pumped for 13 months. It’s a badge of honor that I wear proudly. Forget obtaining a degree, traveling to cool countries and having a natural birth. Those things don’t come close to my greatest achievement of all time, pumping breast milk everyday for almost 400 days straight.

While little is known scientifically about the composition of expressed breast milk, I do know that expressed breast milk is better than formula and oh, you know, a hungry baby. In America, we are still working on breastfeeding being normalized. But try being a Mom who so badly wants to do the one thing she thinks her body can do and then not be able to do it. The devastation can be overwhelming and crushing. The sad thing is, you don’t have much time to dwell on it. You have a hungry baby who doesn’t care if your breast and her mouth can work well together. This baby just wants to eat.

Call me naive, but I don’t want to hear about these so-called consequences. I don’t want to hear that my child may not have gotten enough hindmilk or that her sucking from a bottle over a breast may be the reason she could have unhealthy eating habits. Are these things important? Absolutely! However, it should be noted that exclusively pumping mothers are warriors who don’t take "no" for answer. When lactation consultants give up on us, and when our own bodies (or babies even), seem to betray us, we pushed on. We knew the value of the milk that swirled in our breasts, and we couldn’t accept the fact that our children wouldn’t be able to consume it. Trust me when I say no new mom wants to be attached to an electronic device eight to 10 times a day. We never wanted to wake up every two to four hours to milk ourselves, alone and in the dark. Exclusively pumping is not a happy decision. But it’s what we did, because we thought we were doing the best for our children. And that, I think, is the bottom line. Yes, we know that our bottle-fed babies won’t get many of the benefits that come with sucking from a boob. We can’t dwell on that. We’ve already dwelled on so much.

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What about working mothers? Should they feel bad for needing to step away from their jobs to pump? What about their coworkers? How is it okay for a lactating mom to pump for 30 minutes every four hours while everyone else has to continue working? These aren’t questions that I can answer. But I do know that my productivity wasn’t a concern when my boobs began screaming at me while at work. Look, it’s not my fault that our glorious nation doesn’t value working mothers enough to give us adequate maternity leave. No nursing mother, exclusively pumping or breastfeeding, wants to deal with having to tote a pump to work. It is never a fun experience and can make for very uncomfortable situations. Let’s just say, your male coworker can never look you in the face again after he’s accidentally walked in on you pumping.

While I continue to be an advocate for exclusively pumping moms, I will never recommend this route to anyone.

Sorry, dearest coworkers. I’m sorry that you think I’m using my “motherhood” as an excuse for why I can’t join the team for lunch. I have to pump. Yes, I know there’s a conference call at that hour, but there was a reason why I requested a later time. You see, around 4 o'clock, I have to pump. I don’t expect you to care. But please know that, despite my needing to this, my work performance will remain superior. That’s what matters, right?

While I continue to be an advocate for exclusively pumping moms, I will never recommend this route to anyone. I feel so fortunate that I had the tools, knowledge and support to do it for as long as I did. But I will always support a mom’s decision to breastfeed or give her child formula. I don’t think more mothers will run to Exclusively Pumping Land. Do I think they should?

I think moms should do what’s best for their babies and for themselves. And to me, what’s best is a happy and fed baby.

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