Hi. My name is Abi, and I exclusively pumped breast milk for my baby for 13 months. (And what a long 13 months it was.) While I do think it was worth it for my baby — the truth is that it really sucked, at least for me. I was so envious of those women whose babies latched, and all they (seemingly) had to do to feed their child was lift up their shirts and hook their baby to their boob. Those feelings of inadequacy are just one of the many reasons why exclusive pumping is worst of all — in my humble opinion.
There are also a variety of reasons why moms might need to pump exclusively in the first place. In my case, inverted nipples were the culprit, but that's just one potential issue.
"For some moms who may have a preemie, their baby goes to the NICU and pumping is their first option. They are comfortable with it and stick with it," Helen Anderson, MSN, RN, and certified lactation educator tells Romper.
"Transitioning to the breast might feel challenging for both mom and baby, and exclusive pumping is working for them."
Another reason why moms might choose to pump exclusively is because they need to divvy up the parental duty workload.
"Other moms want to share feeding responsibilities with a partner and using pumping and feeding with a bottle is an easy way to do that. Moms that work long hours or have demanding jobs can commonly choose to exclusively pump to avoid nipple confusion or bottle aversion," Anderson says.
Whether you're pumping all the time or some of the time, it's important to remember that your baby is still getting all the benefits of breast milk.
"Many of the same nutrients are present in both pumped milk and breastfed milk," Anderson says.
So whether you have to exclusively pump for one of the reasons above (or another reason entirely), or if you just think it would work best for you and your family, these are some of the reasons the moms I interviewed feel like exclusively pumping is worst of all. Like I said, for me, I feel like it was worth it for my son.
But it was still the worst, y’all.
1. The Isolation
"When everyone else is visiting, socializing, or going somewhere, you have to go somewhere else by yourself to go and pump," mom Carey-Anne tells Romper.
She adds, "You're late all the time for stuff because you had to pump first. When everyone else gets to go to bed or sleep in the mornings, you’re up late or up early pumping. In the early days you have to set your alarm to make sure you pump throughout the night for however long it takes you — whether it’s half an hour or an hour. Then you’ve got to feed baby on top of that, so often times you’re up for 1.5 to 2 hours between pumping and feeding baby. And then baby wakes up again an hour later and you get to do it all again."
2. The Long Process
Before feeding my son, I first had to rinse the pump parts from soaking (oh, you also have to wash them after every session, btw). Then I had to assemble them and hook them up to the machine. And then I had to hook my boobs up to the cylinders from hell that pulled on my sore nipples, forced them to no longer be inverted, and then squeeze milk out of them like a cow. And that was just preparing the milk. I then had to pour the contents into containers, label them, and then if I wasn’t feeding him immediately, put the containers in the refrigerator to be warmed later. I also measured out each ounce, calculated how much I would need to pump at my next session, and see how much milk I’d have leftover — if any — to stash in the refrigerator if my supply dwindled for some reason. Or if I, you know, decided to have some alcohol. Would I have enough for his bedtime feed if I pumped and dumped? And once my supply started to dwindle I had to do all that and calculate how much formula I'd need to add to it and if I had enough to last me or if I needed to run to the store before bedtime.
Mom Norah adds, "I think pumping is the worst of both worlds. All the stress of breastfeeding and worrying about milk supply, plus all the logistical annoyance of bottle feeding. I find pumping to be horribly uncomfortable for my nipples, way more uncomfortable than nursing, plus you still have to deal with making and washing bottles, cleaning pump parts, making sure you have enough bottles and milk when you are out, etc., and all the time you spend on the pump is time away from baby. It’s so hard to get anything done while pumping. I only managed it for a couple of months with my first."
3. The Demanding Schedule
I had to schedule everything (and I mean everything) around a strict schedule of hooking my boobs up to a breast pump every three hours at the beginning, and then pumping at least four times a day once he got a little older. It makes me nauseous to remember at the beginning setting my alarm for 2:30 a.m. to get up and pump 30 minutes before the baby woke up at 3 a.m., feeding the baby the pumped milk, and then trying to fall asleep before doing it over again two hours later.
If I missed a session, my boobs would feel like they were going to literally explode. I worried I would get mastitis, or worse, I would lose some of my supply. There was no benefit of enjoying snuggles with your baby during these pumping sessions. Your cuddling was with a machine. An evil machine.
"I pumped exclusively with one of mine, he was born extremely premature and had to be tube fed — this was in addition to my insane work schedule. I basically was working 9 to 14 hours a day, two weeks after my baby was born, and my only option was to pump. When I was home, I'd get the screaming baby who was hungry, but had to wait for pumping. I did this for 14 months and often look back on it being one of the most difficult experiences of my life," says mom Hannah.
4. Feeling Tethered To The Pump
Mom Ava tells Romper, "I've exclusively pumped for both my children, and the hardest issues have been carving out time to pump and sticking to a schedule, despite the unpredictability of stay-at-home child-rearing. It's very frustrating to sit down and set up to pump and then the baby wakes up or your toddler needs to use the potty."
It's like the babies have a sixth sense to wake up as soon as they can feel like you're about to sit down to pump. Mine did for sure.
Mom Angelyn adds, "If you're with your kids while pumping there's a whole other set of issues. I eventually learned to give bottles, change diapers, fix lunch, and entertain two kids while hooked up to a pump half the day. There are plenty of things that you can't do while pumping though, so planning ahead to pump before or after is necessary. For instance, at social or family gatherings. I eventually got comfortable requesting a place to sit near an outlet, putting on a cover, shimmying into my hands-free bra, setting up my bottles and parts, etc., in front of everyone, but it definitely made me the center of attention. It's staggering to think back on the time I invested in my more than years of exclusive pumping."
5. The Feeling Of Failure
Not only could you not get your baby to latch or you couldn't breastfeed "naturally" (damn you, inverted nipples), but according to mom Kim, "I think when your supply isn't great, those ounce marks on the bottles is a constant reminder of 'failure.' Sometimes I felt like the sound of the pump was taunting me. I kept going as long as my body would let me because I kept telling myself a little bit of breast milk was better than none. If I didn't have a supportive partner who knew how to wash pump parts and a decent place to pump at work I never would have gotten that far," she tells Romper.
"For me it was the disconnect," mom Tiffany tells Romper. The desire to feed my baby breastmilk but not be able to do it from the breast. Even though the reason I exclusively pumped was because of an issue my daughter had, I still felt like I wasn’t doing my job right. I felt like I was supposed to use breastfeeding as a time to bond and I couldn’t do that."
"It was hard for me because I felt the pressure of always needing a freezer full of milk, and my only competition was myself," says mom Ashley. "I pumped in the car, and that was hard traveling with a cooler at all times. Being exhausted with a 2-year-old and a newborn was my reason for exclusive pumping. I felt like my 2-year-old needed my attention as well, and I of course needed help from my husband with feedings. Moms need a trophy for making it through the first year!"