Pumping is Breastfeeding Too

I breastfed my son for two months before I threw in the towel to a bad case of mastitis. My antibiotics upset his tummy and he slept through the night after a day of formula. I never looked back. I think fed is best and whatever way you choose to feed your baby is the best way.

My daughter was born at 32 weeks gestation and went straight to the NICU. I knew I wanted to give breastfeeding another try, and it wasn’t even a question when they wheeled the pump into my hospital room six hours after she was born. I pumped for 25 minutes to get a syringe full of liquid gold that was given to her through a feeding tube. I was so proud that I was able to give her that valuable nourishment when she was so tiny and delicate.

Fast forward two weeks and she was able to attempt a bottle for the first time. When the NICU nurses asked if I wanted to attempt to breastfeed, I jumped at the chance. Lactation consultants were called in and we tried. But she was so little. Learning to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time is a difficult skill for premature babies. Adding another new skill of learning to latch and breastfeed properly was too hard for her when I introduced it in the hospital, so I didn’t try again. I was so ready to get her home, if bottle feeding was the fastest way to do that, I was all for it.

I exclusively pumped and she was bottle-fed breastmilk. She was thriving and came home after 17 days in the NICU.

I stayed hooked to the pump. I pumped every three hours for feeding every three hours to maintain the schedule the NICU implemented. The spectra pump was my friend. I spent 204 hours attached to it with the gentle hum becoming a comforting sound at 3 am.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to clarify when people asked if I breastfed. “Well I do but I exclusively pump” was always my reply. For some reason, I felt this was less than. I felt I had to explain that I relied on a machine to help me feed my baby. Like I was lying if I said I breastfed. I felt like a phony if I didn’t clarify. But let me tell you something.

I didn’t owe anyone any explanation. Pumping is hard. Hooking up to a machine for 20+ minutes at a time every couple of hours is a job. Washing all the individual parts after each session is a pain. Battling clogged ducts, flange sizes, different pump cycles and suction strengths is part of the inconvenient process and a major learning curve. But, pumping is no less heroic and wonderful than breastfeeding directly. And if you are a pumping momma, you deserve no less support from lactation consultants and breastfeeding products than anyone else. You don’t need to clarify that you “just pump.” Because what you’re doing is hard. You’re sacrificing your time and your body to nourish your baby and it is no less beautiful, labor-intensive, or full of love than any other breastfeeding experience.

So here’s to all the breastfeeding mommas out there: pumpers and latchers and those who supplement or those using donor milk. Those starting their breastfeeding journey or ending it. We’re all amazing. And we all deserve to celebrate national breastfeeding week!


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