When I had my first baby, it seemed like all of my friends were having their first children, as well. It was great that we were all going through the same life stage together, and it seemed that all we talked about was babies and taking care of babies. There was lots of breastfeeding support, but most people thought that what I was doing – exclusive pumping – was totally crazy.
In addition, I was suddenly reading a lot of stuff online – on blogs and forums – about babies and being a parent, something I’d never been particularly concerned with before. This introduced me to Mommy Wars 1.0: Breastfeeding vs. Formula.
The thing about breastfeeding is that people have opinions all over the map on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Some people think that breastfeeding your child is child abuse and gross. Other people think that NOT breastfeeding your child is child abuse, and you’re setting them up to have a low IQ and eczema.
Now that my son is older and I have other children, I have learned to tune this out a lot of the time. But it’s hard when you’re a new mom, and being an exclusive pumper can make it even harder because most people have no idea what it is or what that means. Most of us don’t even know how to answer the question, “Are you breastfeeding or bottle feeding?”
I always used to do really long, unnecessary explanations about how I was feeding my son breastmilk! But from a bottle! Because he wouldn’t latch and I tried all these lactation consultants and it didn’t work but I’m still pumping! Meanwhile whoever asked would just sort of stare at me.
(Pro tip: If you want to, you can just say you’re breastfeeding, because you are.)
So, here are four annoying conversations that you’re probably going to have as an exclusive pumper, and how you might respond.
If you do explain to people that you’re exclusively pumping, they may have opinions on it. For example, if they are really pro-breastfeeding, you might get:
Why didn’t nursing work out? Did you try X, Y, and Z? Are you going to keep trying? You should join a breastfeeding support group!
Nothing says super fun conversation with a random stranger or co-worker than an explanation of how your nipple shield didn’t work and the fact that you don’t have $200 to pay for another lactation consultant visit.
If you think the person asking this question is coming from a good, helpful place, I think the best response is honesty followed by a swift change in subject. For example, “James wouldn’t latch! He’s sure lucky he’s cute, ha ha. Can you pass the bean dip?”
On the other hand, if you think the questioner clearly has an agenda or and is going to badger you, one approach is to respond with “Why do you ask?” This is usually a clue to people that they should probably stop asking personal questions. They might not take the hint and say something like, “Because you should really try another lactation consultant! I know someone awesome!” A good, non-committal response to advice like that is “Thanks, I’ll consider that.” Then try to change the subject to the bean dip.
On the other side of the coin, you might get something like:
Why wouldn’t you just formula feed? I/my kids/some famous successful person was raised on formula and they’re fine!
First, you obviously want to avoid saying anything disparaging about formula, as this can be hurtful to parents who have chosen to or who have no choice but to formula feed. (In addition, I would argue that formula is a perfectly acceptable infant feeding option.)
How you approach this is depends on what your reason for exclusively pumping is, as well as your audience. My suggestion is to focus on positives of breastfeeding and then quickly change the subject. This often works best if you ask a question or turn it back to something they enjoy talking about. Some ideas:
- My baby is in daycare and we’re just trying to get through this first year with as few ear infections as possible. Hey, is it supposed to snow tomorrow?
- I know, formula is great! Pumping is really helping me drop the baby weight though. So – tell me more about your new hamster!
- This is just what I feel is best for us right now. This bean dip is great – can I get the recipe?
From other moms, you might hear:
I hated pumping. I don’t understand how you can do it all the time. Blah blah blah pumping is horrible blah blah blah.
Smile and nod, while thinking “I know! I’m totally awesome!”
(Because you are!)
And finally, there are the doubters:
There is no way you’re going to be able to keep this up.
In the early days, my baby’s pediatrician didn’t seem really keen on the idea of exclusively pumping because she thought it would be too difficult for me to keep up for an extended period of time. I’m pretty sure that she thought that I would quit and start formula feeding.
The thing is, maybe you can keep it up and maybe you can’t. That all depends on your personal circumstances. If you have twins, or an unsupportive partner, or a job that doesn’t have systems in place for breastfeeding support, you might not be able to keep it up long-term. That’s okay. You most likely turned to exclusive pumping because nursing wasn’t working for you. Do the best you can with the cards that you’re dealt. No matter how long you do keep up exclusive pumping, you’re doing great.
And the fact is, many, many women do manage to exclusively pump for six months to a year. I’m one of them and there are many more out there. It is possible, so smile and nod, and – if you want to – prove them wrong.