They Call Me Mommy Series - Sarah Wells
Entrepreneur and Founder of Sarah Wells Bags, Mom of 2 Girls
Sarah had two very different breastfeeding journeys with her girls, exclusively pumping for her first and primarily nursing her second. She used both experiences to shape her business and to support every mom, reminding us all that there isn’t just one way to breastfeed.
What she told us: "Pumping is an incredible expression of love. It's not just technical. It's symbolic of your motherhood journey. It's full of emotion. It can be really hard and challenging. It’s sometimes really lonely. But it's also a community builder.”
Sarah is Mom to Maddy and Abby. When Maddy was born, breastfeeding was really difficult for them. Sarah had done a little research before Maddy arrived, but not a ton – she figured it would come naturally. “I was really surprised on day one when it was a struggle to establish our breastfeeding relationship.” Sarah had a ton of support from family, but she and Maddy just couldn’t find their rhythm.
After a few days at home, a lactation consultant came to the house to help. She confirmed that Sarah had a good breastmilk supply, and she helped her with her latch. But it still wasn’t feeling right to Sarah. At the end of the appointment, the lactation consultant said, “You know, you have another option. You can breast pump if you want.” “And from that day forward, I was an exclusively pumping mom,” Sarah said. “The lactation consultant showed me how to hook up the breast pump and how to use a hands-free pumping bra. It made me feel like the breastfeeding journey didn't just have to be one thing. It could take a different route for me if I wanted.”
All of this happened before the Affordable Care Act had passed: breastfeeding and pumping weren’t as well understood, employers weren’t required to provide space for pumping moms, and breast pumps and lactation support weren’t covered by insurance. People were just starting to talk about these topics in the workplace. So, when Sarah went back to work after maternity leave, she used her breast pump bag as an educational tool: “I’d go to meetings at other companies and I’d show up and throw my breast pump bag on the conference room table. People would kind of give me the side eye. They’d look at it and think, ‘What is this contraption?’ and I would use that as an opportunity to educate.” Although pumping wasn’t as common, Sarah found her community in airports, of all places. She traveled a lot for work and explained, “I would be at an airport lactation lounge and the woman next to me would say, ‘Are you an exclusive pumper?’ and I'd say, ‘Yes,’ and she’d say, ‘Me too!’” She valued those moments of connection with other moms and appreciated that they helped to overcome some of the isolation that breast pump users can face.
Throughout her nine-month pumping journey, Sarah found herself commenting and joking about the breast pump bag that was always by her side. A little beat up and breastmilk-stained, it was both her best friend and her biggest nuisance – a lifeline to her daughter, but one more thing to pack and carry every day. She often told other mom friends that there ought to be a better solution. One day, a friend said, “I've heard you talk about the breast pump bag a few times. Let's explore this for you as a business.” With her friend’s help, Sarah found a mentor, designed a breast pump bag, found a manufacturer, and launched Sarah Wells Bags. The business took off, validating for Sarah that she wasn’t the only mom searching for a better breast pump bag. “I could barely get my dreams to the level of where the business has gone. I really feel so lucky.”
While she was building her business, Sarah had her second daughter, Abby. Their breastfeeding experience was completely different: “I tried to pick an approach to breastfeeding that better fit my personality, which was to try to slow down and relax. After she was born, I kind of half lifted her to the breast, and she crept to the right place and just last latched-on in the first few moments. It was amazing. The (awesome) lactation professional offered to help, but I didn’t want to talk much about it, I just wanted to have this laid-back approach and just do what I felt was right. That worked out so well for us.”
Sarah nursed Abby for over a year and is incredibly grateful to have had such different, yet equally rewarding breastfeeding experiences. “I really wouldn't change either experience and I feel so lucky that I got to have both. Both girls are happy and healthy, which I think proves that no matter where your breastfeeding journey goes, all that matters in the end is having a happy healthy kid and a happy healthy mom. I was able to get there in two different ways.”
The bottom line: Sarah is proof that there is no one way to approach breastfeeding and pumping. She made it work for her and her daughters and (literally!) helps other moms carry the load as they navigate their own unique breastfeeding experiences.
Sarah’s tricks of the trade:
- Every mom’s journey matters: “Whether you're breastfeeding or pumping, whether it's one day or one year, whether you’re supplementing or not, every breastfeeding journey is special and important. Whatever you achieve, whatever makes you feel good and helps you reach your goals, and wherever your journey takes you, know that you are a good mom.”
- Keep things in perspective: “Remember that motherhood isn't defined by one thing. Breastfeeding is really important, but it's just one thing that's part of a series of experiences that add up to the motherhood journey. It's important to keep that perspective. It can be really hard when you're tired and you’re focused just on getting that latch or pump – it can feel like that's your whole world, but it’s just one chapter.”
- Pay it forward: “When you're done with your breastfeeding journey and when you get some perspective on it, if you get a chance, empower another mom. Offer advice if it's asked for. Be there for a pat on the back. Even if it's just seeing a nursing mom in the airport and saying “You're an awesome mom,” it will make you feel great and will help build the mom-supportive culture we all need.”