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Exclusive Pumping: Would You Do It?

With all the furor over public breastfeeding going on, it’s a good time to take a look at another issue: problems breastfeeding.

Some women just can’t breastfeed. The baby won’t latch, the milk never comes in, their nipples are the wrong shape. A host of problems can crop up that get between a mama and her best intentions when it comes to feeding her baby.

For women who have milk but can’t get it into the baby by the usual method, there’s an unusual option: exclusive pumping. This means you pump breastmilk for your baby all day long, and instead of getting it straight from the source, your child drinks your milk from a bottle or a feeding tube. Sounds crazy? Maybe. Exhausting? Definitely. But a lot of women do it.

In a revealing essay on Babble, Laura Moser talks about why she went for exclusive pumping, and why she stopped.

Essentially, she did it because she felt she had to. She’d made a commitment to breastfeed her baby, and she couldn’t let the fact that her baby was unable to nurse get in the way of that. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice for her so much as an act of desperation. She writes:

An article in TIME presented exclusive pumping as a “lifestyle choice,” a convenient alternative for the busy and/or self-conscious new mom. Yet almost all of the exclusive pumpers I’ve ever met have one thing in common: We pumped because, for one reason or another, we couldn’t breastfeed. And almost without exception, we felt like shit about it.

I have a friend whose first baby was never able to nurse, and she pumped milk for him for five years. Her family has a history of health problems that breastfeeding is thought to avoid, so giving him her milk was a huge priority for her. Other moms I know have pumped for weeks while their newborns were in NICU, and then struggled successfully to teach their infants to nurse at the breast.

All these women blow my mind. I nursed my kids for five years and three years respectively, until each of them was ready to wean on her own. Breastfeeding was (mostly) easy for me. I had plenty of milk, and babies who latched on moments after birth and suckled happily for years. I had my share of infected milk ducts and cracked nipples and thrush, but we got through it without too much hassle.

Pumping, on the other hand, I hated. The brief window when I needed to pump while working was so dismal I just scaled back to only nursing my toddler at night. I can’t imagine having to spend as much time with a breast pump as I did with an infant curled on my lap nursing. The latter was a joy and an act of love, the former was just a painful chore.

So, hats off to those of you who’ve pumped, exclusively or otherwise. For those who never had the joy of breastfeeding and kept pumping milk anyway, special kudos.

Have you pumped exclusively for a baby who couldn’t nurse? How long did you keep it up? What made you stop?

Photo: planet_oleary

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