What You Pump is What Baby Eats (Myth)

Dear Daughter,

One day you will be nursing your own child. One day you will inevitably be told that you should pump to see what your baby is getting from the breast. It will sound like very good advice. I will give you better advice: Don’t do it.

Unless you also open up the refrigerator and assume that what is in there is what you need to eat for the day. (And go hungry on the days where there isn’t much there, and stuff yourself on the days when it is full.)

Breasts are not pre-fab meals that are filled up at the beginning of each feeding as though they have ounce markers. They are not containers. They are not measured by what is in them, but by what baby gets out of them. What baby gets from the breast is what baby has gottten out of the breast at that feed when the baby stops nursing and pops off. That amount is unknown and does not NEED to be known. And if that amount is something that you are curious about, then pumping is the WORST POSSIBLE WAY EVER to know that mysterious number.

Pumps are ineffective. They mash your breast into a hard or soft plastic thing and use a vacuum to push the ducts up against the plastic thing while sucking and trying to extract milk with all the grace and ease of an elephant dancing the ballet. The pump goes fwip-fwip-fwip-fwip in letdown mode then FWIIIIIIP-FWIIIIIIP-FWIIIIIIP-FWIIIIIIP in pumping mode. It is a robot.

A baby nursing is a combination of many things. The tongue works the breast, the jaw compresses the breast, the baby applies variable suction. When the milk flow changes the baby’s nursing patterns change. Depending on what your breast is doing at the moment baby might go fwi-fwi-fwi-fwiiiip-FWIIIIIP-fwi-fwi-fwi-FWIP-FWIP-FWIP-FWIP-FWIIIIIIP or baby might go fwip-fwip-fwip-fwip-FWIP-FWIPY-pause-FWIP-FWIP-FWIPFWIP.

Your baby is not a robot. Your baby has a body that has needs and a brain that processes those needs real-time as the baby nurses. Milk coming too fast means baby slows down. Milk coming too slow means baby works harder.

The pump is dumb. The pump does not know your body’s rhythms and patterns. The pump simply repeats a pattern of ineffective nursing in the hopes that your body will release milk. For some women it will cause milk to be released, for others it will fail miserably as it can only do two of the dozens of things that a baby does in order to get the milk out of your breasts.

Not only is it horribly ineffective, it  has very different needs than your baby does. The pumps “need” is whatever size bottle you have attached to it, with however many ouncey-lines it has. Got a gallon bottle attached? Got a 4oz bottle attached? Those are the needs of the pump.

Babies are biological critters whose needs vary across the day. Just as you might want a tall glass of water after you’ve been outside jogging on a hot day.. Or a huge breakfast if you’ve slept a long time and woke up ravenous. Imagine if you were given a huge breakfast of dry toast after you just ran three miles. Or if you were given a glass of water when you were REALLY FREAKING HUNGRY. Baby knows what baby wants, and knows how to get what baby wants, and will communicate that to the breast.

The pump will just go fwipfwipfwip FWIIIIP FWIIIIP FWIIIIP no matter what. Because the pump is a dumb robot.

There are sometimes problems with supply, but they are NEVER EVER EVER something that you can diagnose with a breastpump. Just as you can’t diagnose cancer with a psychic.

Your oldest brother nursed exclusively until he was 6 months old, never had a problem. I couldn’t pump more than a half ounce most of the time. (He nursed for three years and never had formula.) He needed more than what I could pump, and he worked for it and got what he needed.

Your middle brother nursed exclusively until he was five months old. I had no problem pumping but he had weight gain issues. Turned out he was tongue tied and needed to have the tongue tie released. (He nursed for 18 months and never had formula.) He needed more than what the pump could get, and he needed for his tongue tie to be released in order to get it. (He would vomit when he used a bottle, as his tongue tie would not allow him to effectively eat from a bottle either.)

You nurse wonderfully and I can pump enough to feed three of you. It’s called oversupply and it makes you miserable sometimes. If I were to gauge your needs by the pump instead of by your behavior then you would easily consume upwards of 48 ounces of milk per day and be miserable and unhealthy rather than consuming what you need. Whatever it is that you need. I don’t know what you eat. I’ve never measured. Instead I look at the number of wet diapers you churn out with enough frequency to cause me to have a never-ending source of cloth diaper laundry. You need much less than what I can pump. And when you  nurse, you nurse for what you need.

The pump is a pump. Your child is a baby. What you can pump is exactly that: What you can pump. Don’t extrapolate from that.

What you need to know is that your child will not make enough messy diapers each day if your child is not “getting enough”. You will see a diaper count that does not reflect a baby whose needs for “amount” are being met.

And if the messy count is good but there are other issues such as weight problems? The problem is NOT “amount”. It is something else that the breast pump cannot see. It is an allergic baby, or a tongue tied baby, or a baby with reflux. It is an undiagnosed baby.

The breast pump will tell you nothing other than “This is how much you can pump today at this time with this pump.” Don’t base your success or failure at breastfeeding on what the pump tells you any  more than you would happily accept failure as predicted by a fortune cookie.

Those who suggest the pump mean well, but they are repeating a myth. Success is in facts, never in myths. And the measure of your supply is in your baby, never a  pump.

<3 Mama

 **Please note: This is NOT about moms that are exclusively pumping. This is about the myth that a mother who is exclusively breastfeeding should pump, see what she gets, and that is what baby eats per feeding. (Ie: if mom pumps 9oz in a session, that’s what baby is getting each feed. If mom pumps a quarter of an ounce in a session, that’s what baby is getting. That is a myth.

If anything, I hold Exclusively Pumping moms in high esteem. Pumps are annoying and cumbersome, so for a mom to EP when that is the only way to provide her baby with breastmilk.. I am in awe. They work much harder than either EBFing moms or formula feeding moms.)

15 thoughts on “What You Pump is What Baby Eats (Myth)

  1. I am glad it worked for you. Some of us are not as fortunate. I know many of you just say try harder and I did. I did EVERYTHING to get my breasts to produce and they wouldn’t. This post makes me feel bad.

  2. I’m exclusively breastfeeding my four month old, what a time we’ve had. Over here in England we have “health visitors” who weigh your baby to check he’s gaining weight O.K. At 3 weeks he dropped an ounce or two and I was told to supplement him with forumla, I asked them to give me a week, and see how he was doing. REluctantly they agreed, but still told me to go and buy some formula “just in case”. I ignored them, and carried on feeding my son “on demand” that week he put on 5oz, the next 6oz, then 7oz…I gave them a miss for a week and in a fortnight he’d put on 1lb 1oz! He’s a thriving happy boy! I’ve started pumping at night after his night feed (as he only feeds off one breast), I’ll get between 3-4oz in 20-30 mins before I give up. My husband feeds him that small amount of milk, skin to skin, each night after bathtime. He then comes to me for his final feed and some skin to skin time with me. He’ll usually latch off long enough for me to dress him quickly before latching back on and falling asleep at my breast. Once settled and having latched himself off I’ll pop him in his bed where he’ll sleep soundly for upto 8 hours.

  3. Wow. Way to marginalize everyone who has ever had trouble breastfeeding. And EPers like myself. And women who work and have to pump. I could go on….

    1. Exclusively pumping is a different story, and is a job that I admire tremendously and do not envy in the least. It is HARD WORK. This post is about the idea that an exclusively breastfeeding mother can use a breast pump to determine how much her baby eats, or use a pump as a diagnostic measure. Most moms that EBF can only get a half ounce to three ounces with a pump, but their babies can get much more.

      An EPing mom has to maintain an oversupply and train herself to let down to a pump. I am in awe of moms that EP.

      For an EPing mom, what she pumps is what she has available for her baby

    2. I have no idea why you would see this is marginalizing to EPing Moms. Between 2 kids I EP’d for 2.5 years, and I’m not at all offended by this article. All it’s saying is that pumping output is not a good indicator of nursing output. Ironically enough though, after pumping so long, I respond much better to the pump (sometimes just getting a letdown from simply looking at it) than I do an actual baby/toddler.

      1. 2.5 years deserves a medal. :) EPing is hard, I love hearing the success stories. What helped the most? The forums get a lot of questions by moms that are having to EP for a variety of reasons, and I’d love to have more advice to pass on to them.

  4. I agree, my babies always get what they need when I feed them. When I pump I barely have patience to sit long enough to get 3-4 oz out.

  5. It’s fine and good for you to say this – but it’s damned painful and hurtful to a mother like me who tried EVERYTHING and spent thousands of dollars out of pocket on IBCLCs and medical breastfeeding doctors trying to get and keep my daughter to breast. It wouldn’t work. She had medical issues and we just were not able to make it happen. Formula was NOT the answer for us – and I exclusively pumped for her for 16 months. My daughter was able to get breastmilk exclusively from the time she was 3 weeks old and could stop supplementing with formula and she STILL gets breastmilk at 19 months from my freezer supply.

    Some women have no other way to provide their children with breastmilk – and how dare you try to tell them they’re doing wrong. I do the best I can for my daughter – and I did a damn fine job.

    1. This is not a post about exclusive pumping. It is a post about the myth that a mother who is exclusively breastfeeding can pump to see how much a baby gets with each feed. I hear this “test” recommended constantly by people who do not understand how the pump works. “Just pump and see how much you get with the pump and that’s what your baby needs to eat.”

      Exclusive pumping is an entirely different topic altogether. Although this applies as well in some ways. If an exclusively pumping mom can pump 9 ounces in a session that doesn’t mean that the baby needs to eat 9oz bottles at every feeding.

      I have nothing but admiration for moms that exclusively pump. The amount of work and dedication that an EPing mom puts into providing food for her baby is awe inspiring.

  6. Hi Sarah, im sorry there are EP moms who misunderstand what your article is trying to achieve. i hope those who are offended will read and re read the intention behind your article and see that youre not trying to put them down.
    anyway, for me, this article is reassuring. I am ebf a four month old and she never nurses for more than 5 min now and im very worried about how much she is gettin because i think about how much i get from a pump in 5 min – hardly anything and feel she might be getting nothing at all too in 5 min! but your article is helping me to be more comfortable and less anxious about how long she is nursing for. thank you. x

  7. I wish the NP at the NICU could read this. Except I can pump just as well if not more than the baby could eat. They were trying to gauge how much he was eating by how much I pumped afterward. Instead they should have weighed him before and after he ate but their scales weren’t that sensitive.

  8. I just burst into tears reading this; I’ve been wracking my brain and in tears constantly because I cannot pump more than 2 oz. My baby is 3 weeks old and is now 8 pounds even (when he was born he was 6lbs 9oz) I’m getting so sick of people saying I should supplement just because I can’t pump like many others. He has plenty messy diaperas and his weight gain continues. Thank you so much for that reassurance, thank you so very much.

  9. Thanks Sarah, this is a very well-written article. I too have received the advice to pump to see how much I am producing when I first gave birth. It was very demoralising. Coupled with the fact that my baby kept crying and pulling off whenever i tried latching her, i truly thought i had a low supply and feared starving her. I even got depressed then. It was only after a while when i did much reading up on the internet that I realised i probably had an oversupply of milk (baby had reflux, plenty of gas and green poop). The only problem was that the pump didnt work for me. I will pass on this advice to the other new mums in my life. And to the EP moms, Sarah wasnt insulting you. I pump during working hours as welll, honestly, it did cross my mind to stop working so that i can bf directly because pumping is just so tedious and tiring. You have my utmost admiration too. :)

  10. My son is 9 months old and is loving baby food much more so I dont breast feed as often. At beginning, i would pump 9 oz in less than 5 min no problem and my son weighs 23 lbs now . I stopped using pump and this week i decided to give it a try once more . Nothing comes out and if i try hard enough like 4 oz after 20 minutes ! its exhausting ! i started getting scared that mayb i should start supplementing but now reading this i feel a little better because he seems to eat enough and latch off when hes done so not going to even care what I pump

Leave a Reply