What Is Exclusive Pumping and Is It OK?
Before having children of my own and entering a whole new world I had never heard of Exclusive Pumping – often abbreviated as EP. As a mental health counselor with a specialty in pregnancy spectrum I have moms in my office each week brought to tears – some breastfeeding related.
As soon as a mom mentions the thought of breastfeeding, people jump on board – with good intentions to help. Then when things aren’t going well – low milk supply, stress, tongue tie or lip tie resulting in latch issues, or baby just refusing to latch, there is the pressure to help fix the issue so breastfeeding can still be done.
There are times when feeding breastmilk from the breast is not an option – yes, baby downright refusing to latch is really a thing. I am seeing an influx of moms who have babies refusing to latch. Sure, this could be because more stubborn babies refusing to latch, for one reason or another, yet not able to communicate the specific reason(s) are being born, or because moms with babies refusing to latch are finally seeking help. Regardless, it is throwing moms for an emotional loop.
When mom has tried everything imaginable and has failed to successfully breastfeed (even though she didn’t really fail), or mom chooses to go back to work or has to leave baby for other reasons, there is the push to then have mom pump so baby can still get breast milk.
Before baby is born the OB, along with family and friends, will ask if you plan to breast or bottle feed – leading us to believe those are the only 2 options. So, where does that leave feeding pumped breast milk? Where does that leave pumping and feeding breast milk in a bottle?
Questions & Expectations
It is expected that baby will need to eat every 2-3 hours – including throughout the night. However, no one explains that if you are EPing, you will need to pump every 3 hours for about 20 minutes the first 3 months – including through the night.
New moms are also told to sleep when baby sleeps – okay, but there are only 24 hours in a day. Well how does that work if you are EPing? When a mom does decide to EP what she doesn’t need to hear is this isn’t going to work or you won’t be able to keep up. As if there isn’t already enough pressure on this mom both from the outside world and personal pressures wanting what is best for baby.
Then there are the "why" questions that come. Why would you do that? That sounds like a lot of work! Why would you bottle feed breast milk – doesn’t that defeat part of the purpose?!?! WHAT! What could possibly be defeated by feeding a baby expressed breastmilk in a bottle… how much guilt really needs to be piled on?
The answer to that question is NONE! When it comes to the mental health of mom and the wellbeing of baby there is no room for, nor a need, for guilt. The mother who has done all she can, or all she chooses to do, within the realm of normality is not a failure. A mom who is doing the best she can with what she knows at that given time is doing amazing!
My Best Advice for Pumping Moms
- Buy 1-2 extra cone sets so you don’t have to wash them when you are on the go – I mean who wants to wash their breast cones in a public restroom?
- At home, keep a big bowl by the kitchen sink (or on your bedroom dresser if that is where you pump) filled with soapy water to toss you parts in after pumping. Let them soak until you can get to them. I preferred soap that was free and clear of fragrances and dyes.
- You can also place your parts in a sealed plastic baggie after rinsing with hot water between pumping sessions and place them in the fridge – then wash once per day
- What is great for milk supply – old fashioned oatmeal, granola, LOTS of water, low stress, sleep, loose fitting bras and clothes, side or back sleeping, and exercise.
Pumping and Bonding
No one explains that our bodies produce the most breast milk between the hours of 1am-5am. This comes to no surprise since this is the time when we tend to be the most relaxed. If you were to add up exclusive pumping sessions in one day you will find that you are attached to the breast pump 3-4 hours each day. So, what do you do with baby during that time?
Did you know that you don’t have to pump in exclusion? What I mean is, why not pump with baby laying, on the floor or in a swing or rocker, next to you. Make it part of your bonding time. Why can’t pumping be enjoyable? Why can’t it be part of an enjoyable time of day?
You can also go hands-free. There are a multitude of options for moms. There are bras made to hold cones so moms can be hands-free. There are breast pumps designed to be hands-free with one-way valves on the bags so if something does go awry, liquid gold isn’t spilled all over. You can sing and interact with baby or incorporate self-care activities while pumping, such as getting caught up on the book or tv show you love but haven’t made time for.
Don’t fret, but eye contact and skin-to-skin is very important. I personally never thought about feeding my kids in any position other than in a football or cradle type position. Until one day, we were at a friend’s house and she was feeding her preemie propped up on her knees facing her – eye contact, check; skin-to-skin because the mom was wearing shorts, check. Genius! This is how she was taught to feed in the NIC-U.
Keep in mind that skin-to-skin doesn’t have to occur during feedings – skin to skin can happen other times throughout the day or night. So why not give multi-tasking a try. EPing moms could try feeding baby propped next to them on one of those many wonderful pillow type contraptions or other modern-day angled inventions available on the market today.
Do What is Best for YOU
You need to do what you are comfortable with; however, a mentally healthy mom is best for all. A stressed-out mom stating she doesn’t want a mood stabilizer because it could get in her breastmilk is not a good enough reason to not get help.
Let me explain for a very brief moment that there are stress hormones being released in a stressed-out mom’s breast milk along with her stress affecting the bond with baby as well as the milk supply. Going on an acceptable mood stabilizer sometimes sends the previous stressed-out moms into mass producing milk machines.
The societal push to breastfeed or pump can cloud our judgement. We don’t want to neglect our self, our baby, our family and friends in our efforts to do what is best. It is important to take a step back to evaluate doing the right thing(s) for the entire family.
The second you start cussing your breast pump and haven’t made time for self-care or are feeling married to your pump instead of your spouse; this should be a red flag that it is time to reevaluate EPing. This could be a sign that it’s time to have a funeral for your pump and move onto bigger and better things in life.
"When does it get easier?" I get asked this a lot – I don’t think I have ever lied and said it will get easier. The best honest truth I can give is, it will get different. My favorite phrase as a mom myself is this is temporary. I know it can be hard to envision when you are in your current phase of life, but it is temporary. So, make life fun – look at life through a rose-colored lens.
At the end of the day baby isn’t going to know how long you breastfed or pumped or bottle fed for. If you are really struggling with pumping, the time it takes away from your baby, the mental toll is setting in then it’s okay to drop pumping sessions or wean.
What matters is how you reflect on your experiences as a mother with baby. My hope for you is you will be able to reflect on this experience with patience and peace. Make your mental health a priority. The most important thing you can give to yourself and your baby is a happy YOU!
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About the Author
Michele Schroeder - Guest Blogger
Michele Schroeder, LMHC is a mom of 2 sons and a daughter, specializing in pregnancy spectrum and postpartum counseling. She resides in Davenport, Iowa.