They can’t or don’t want to always breastfeed, so they rely on their breast pumps instead. They are “the breast pumpers,” and they gather to help each other in a closed Facebook group with over 8,300 members.
France, like the United States and Ireland, has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates among high-income countries. But pumping is still a relatively uncommon baby-feeding method there. Women who choose to do this express their own milk using a manual or electric breast pump and then give it to their infants in an appropriate container.
And they’re able to find some support in “Les tire-allaitantes” (French for “the breast pumpers”), the largest French-speaking group devoted to this subject. The Facebook platform is run by 10 women who respond to different questions according to their specialty.
Rébecca is an expert on nipple confusion. Céline has solved the mystery of the size of flanges, the little plastic pieces that must adjust to the shape of the breast for optimal expression. Joëlle wrote the group’s famous breast pumping 101 documentation. Calypso specializes in latch-on positions. The list goes on.
The group’s moderators are social workers, nurses, teachers, chemical engineers and saleswomen who have been compiling information on their own to provide comprehensive guides on a subject sorely lacking in literature. They use their free time volunteering to help mothers who don’t want to give formula to their children and find themselves face-to-face with a breast pump without any clue about how to use it.
“I’ve lost count of the mothers who came to us after being misguided by professionals,” said Céline, who is being identified only by her first name to protect her privacy. “The last time, a lactation consultant told a mother that ‘her lactation was over,’ after a three-minute interview. Well, the mother did her best for it to work and we helped her a lot. Two months later, she went back to this consultant to tell her, ‘It’s not thanks to you but to a Facebook group that I’m breastfeeding my daughter again.’ We have many testimonies of this kind.”
All Kinds Of Women
Every woman who leaves the maternity ward in France is asked if she wants to purchase or rent a breast pump. It’s up to her to choose how to use it.
The members of “Les tire-allaitantes” come from various backgrounds and have different circumstances. There are those who cannot breastfeed for medical reasons, those who have had a premature baby, those with a baby allergic to the proteins in cow’s milk, those who see breast pumps as a complement to breastfeeding, those who have been unable to breastfeed, those who have excessive breast pain.
You shouldn’t think of breast pumping as a sort of holiday. Céline, the administrator of the Facebook group
Then there are those who don’t want to breastfeed at all and have made the choice to pump exclusively.
Some women choose this method because they have been a victim of sexual abuse or because they have a complex relationship with their bodies. Other times, the reasons are simply practical: They don’t want to breastfeed on the street, they want the father to be as involved in feeding their baby as they are, or they’d like to store their milk in case they aren’t able to produce more later.
Exclusive pumpers have to express milk eight times every 24 hours ― at least for the first month.
“It’s tiring,” said Céline, the administrator of the Facebook group. “You shouldn’t think of breast pumping as a sort of holiday. It’s something you have to do every day, and there’s no ‘I’m not getting up,’ because the more you express, the more milk you have.”
Frédérique Manevy, a pediatric nurse and lactation consultant, is of the same opinion.
“Breast pumping is more tiring than breastfeeding,” she told HuffPost France. “You need to express milk, clean the flanges, put the milk in the bottles, clean the bottle. ... That’s twice as much work.”
Making Up For A Lack Of Information
Many “Les tire-allaitantes” members use the Facebook platform to share their experiences. One member tells of her struggle to resume breastfeeding, another of her fight to not give up. Another member suffers from nipple pain, while someone else has an infection. They exchange photos of wounds and ask how to treat them without stopping breastfeeding or pumping.
And then there are women who have lost their babies at birth or a few days later. Their milk is flowing but they don’t understand why, because no one explained to them what was happening to their bodies. These women typically share their experiences only in private messages.
“I work two hours a day answering questions through this channel,” Céline said.
“In these types of situations, women don’t know where to turn,” she added. “They leave the hospital without information. We try to support them as best we can.”