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But pumping mothers may be protected, he says, since the pump simulates a baby's suck and stimulates the flow of milk. Still, since lactation has a lot to do with the mother's direct hormonal response to her child, for some women, Gallup says, pumps may not be as efficient as the real thing. "When you just have a relationship with a pump instead of with a baby, the milk supply can dwindle because the mother may not be secreting the hormone oxytocin that aids in a mother's milk letdown," he says. For those mothers, he suggests staying near their babies or looking at photos while expressing milk.
La Leche League, the world's most active breast-feeding support and advocacy group, insists that breast is best for mother and child. "We would encourage mothers to feed their babies from the breast to promote bonding," says Loretta McCallister, a spokeswoman for the organization. But she concedes that using expressed milk exclusively does not contradict La Leche League's core message: "Women who choose to pump are still providing breast milk for their babies, while doing what is best for their families," she says. "And that is much better than turning to formula."
That's about as much support as pumping mothers get, they say. When Byrd decided to stop breast-feeding her first child, she says doctors suggested formula as the only alternative and never once mentioned pumping. Private lactation consultants typically do not offer pumping as an alternative either, as their goal is to get the mother to breast-feed. Williamson was so frustrated by the lack of available information about pumping from her doctor and elsewhere that she created a website, Got Breast Pump!, in 2004, after having fed her second baby exclusively with expressed milk.
Williamson's site offers how-to's for scheduling pumping sessions and increasing milk supply and sells pumping-related products. In the past 10 years, online community boards for exclusively pumping mothers have popped up on iVillage.com and Yahoo!
That's why Melissa Brown, 31, a program coordinator who pumped milk for two children, first logged on to iVillage. "The iVillage board made me feel normal in what I was doing and gave me the confidence I needed to keep going and get on track," says Brown. In 2008, she became the community leader of iVillage's exclusively pumping board. She estimates that since then, she has helped hundreds of women get through the difficult early days of pumping.
Despite the general bias toward breast-feeding, mothers like Byrd say pumping was the only feeding option that made the first years of their newborns' lives manageable. "People need to understand that after breast-feeding from the breast and bottle-feeding with formula, there is a viable third option for feeding your infant and that's exclusively pumping," Byrd says. "And all mothers should have a right to choose this option and receive the support and care they deserve from their doctors and families."