Nursing v Pumping: A Breastfeeding Journey

Mother breastfeeding her baby

Nursing v pumping – the tale of two breastfeeding journeys.

There we were, that euphoric moment after too many hours of constant contractions and active pushing. Someone put my perfect baby on my chest.  

It was breathtaking, filled with tears of joy. A Feeling I wish I could bottle up and keep on reserve and yet quickly overshadowed by the struggle to come.  

I mean, it’s natural, isn’t it? In fact, my baby should be able to scoot his way to find my nipple and take it in himself, to feed instinctually. At least this is what I thought would happen, given the video’s shared in my breastfeeding prep class. Never once considering plan B.  

At that moment and the hospital stay after, the idea of breastfeeding crumbled before my eyes, hearing my baby’s frustrated cries and thinking myself defective. I felt helpless and lost.

If I couldn’t breastfeed, how was I going to feed my baby?  

If we give him a syringe of colostrum, will he refuse to work at the boob?  

When we needed the bottle, am I dooming him to nipple confusion?  

Will my milk come in on the pump?  

Will my supply suffer from a nipple shield?

Every little decision felt like it carried the weight of defining my whole motherhood.

I’m here to tell you that there are many ways to feed a baby. Some people find it easy, others struggle. There are plenty of plan B’s if your newborn doesn’t latch on right away. Or heck, maybe you are not all that into plan A (breastfeeding), and you are looking for what else you can do.

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Feeding Baby

There are several ways to feed a baby.

  • Breastfeeding. This is what I was prepared for. I took the classes and had lactation consultants on speed dial.
  • Pumping.  At the time, I had no idea that there was a world of “Exclusive Pumpers” and that it was sustainable to pump and bottle feed.
  • Formula. I thank goodness for our scientific world producing synthetic liquid gold. Because although both of my breastfeeding journey’s were entirely different, both relied on formula at some point to sustain my child.  
  • Combination.  And of course, you can do any combination of all 3. My latest journey required formula as I pumped my milk in, then we breastfed (still going strong), and I pump at work.

My two journeys – Nursing v Pumping

I’ve now had two babies, neither of which had a conventional start to breastfeeding. 

Vinnie spent a long time in the birth canal, which caused him to have a high palate making it difficult to latch. And then a stint under the bilirubin lights didn’t give us the time to establish right away. I lacked the confidence to establish it later.

Theo was whisked away to Nicu after skin to skin and fed through a feeding tube for the first couple of days. Then under bilirubin lights and fed with a bottle.

Both times I had to build my supply with a pump. With Vinnie, I continued Exclusively Pumping (EP), and Theo went from a feeding tube to a bottle to the boob.

One son drinking my liquid gold from a bottle and another straight from the tap.

Below I’ve captured a comparison of my experience with both to date. There are evidence-based articles out there to discuss the pros and cons of each. This article, however, is simply from my point of view.

Disclaimer that I am not a medical expert or a lactation consultant.

I’m going to break down the comparison into the following 4 categories:

  • Time Commitment
  • Baby Bonding
  • Confidence with Consumption
  • Mama’s Independence

These are not the totality of the categories, I could drone on for an immeasurable amount of time about the observations I’ve made while self-navigating the hornet’s nest of “how to feed your baby.” But if there is one thing I would like you to leave with, it is that fed is best. Your mental health, the strength needed to stay positive and patient during your baby’s time of need takes precedence.  

Time Commitment

Both take an incredible amount of time (and some pain) to establish. And once established and after your milk is regulated, both get easier.

Quick aside on nipple pain. The best product that helped me here is Silverette Nursing Cups. I held out because of the cost, but when it was between giving up or giving these a go, I chose to part with my $40 and am so incredibly glad I did. I lived in these for 2 months, and it made everything bearable.  

Pumping. At the beginning of your exclusive pumping journey, you really should pump at least 8 times a day (I think I averaged 7). It’s an investment, while your supply might feel adequate if you only pump 5 times a day, it will catch up to you when your body regulates.  

Overnight pumping, for most people, is a must. This is when your prolactin levels are at their highest and reassures those boobs that milk production needs to be on the increase. (Reference article here).  

If you pump just 20 mins (trust me, the nipple damage of longer pump sessions is not worth it), it comes to 160 mins a day assuming 8 sessions. Plus, about 10 mins of prep and clean up brings you to 240 mins. This will slightly decrease when you start dropping pumps, which you can do with caution after your milk regulates.

Check out the article on pumping game-changers that I compiled through my Exclusive Pumping journey.

Nursing.  I chose to nurse Theo on-demand which means there isn’t a schedule that we follow, especially in the begining. The books all said to Sleep, Feed, Play, and repeat, but we slept, fed, looked at each other for an hour, fed, and then slept again.

At the beginning (first 2 months roughly), my little guy was latched every two to three hours for at least 30, sometimes 45 minutes. And evening cluster feeds felt like four hours non stop.

This means I was stuck to a chair nursing for a vast majority of the newborn days, admittedly binging on my latest Netflix fling.

We are currently 6 months in, and feeding is much quicker, more comfortable, and completely pain-free.

Nursing v Pumping: first 2 months I’d prefer to pump, after that I’d choose to nurse. Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that way as you have to get those nipples tough at one point or another if you plan on nursing.

Baby Bonding

Pumping. My biggest fear when I realized that I would be Exclusive Pumping for Vinnie was that he wouldn’t be attached to me. It seemed to be a perfectly reasonable assumption, babies must associate mom with nutrients.  

Oh, how wrong I was. This was proved through Vinnie’s intense need to be close to me at all times. I was mom, no doubt about it. He settled on me when fussy and looked for me when hungry, tired, or bored.

Another aspect of pumping that strengthened my bond with Vinnie was that I thought of him every time I pumped. Every ounce was for him, and I became very proud of my dedication.

I also loved watching others feed Vinnie and seeing the joy it brought to their eyes.

Nursing.  With nursing, there is a very precious bond between Theo and I. I enjoy the quiet solitude of watching him fall asleep as he feeds. The cheeky smiles he gives me when we make eye contact. It is special, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. But it is not more or less of a bond than I had with Vinnie, just different.

Nursing v Pumping: nursing with a close consolation for pumping.

Confidence with Consumption

Nursing. It takes every ounce of my will power to not freak out about not knowing home much of Theo’s Drinking. He has plenty of wet diapers and is regular enough, but I still question my supply at every fuss.  

I find myself planning a pump session “just to be sure my supply is there,” especially during the dreaded cluster feedings. But then I slow my thoughts down and listen to the little guy gulping.  

There are certainly times I felt like topping him up with a bottle just to be sure, but knowing how supply and demand works, the top-up is a slippery slope. So instead of giving in, in those moments, I let him fuss from breast to breast until he has his fill. The next day I notice I’m fuller, and the fussiness is no more.

But it is such a fine line, and I can’t promise I will always hold out, I just have so far.

Pumping. While you know exactly how many ounces your little one is getting, it’s so easy to obsess over how many ounces you are pumping.

I got far too competitive with myself when it came to pumping and focussed intently on upping my supply (which, to my surprise, was high lapse).  

This time around, I’m not even building up a freezer stash. Partly because of the high lapse and partly because I don’t want to spend more time on the pump, then I have to.

Nursing v Pumping: pumping runs away with this one

Mama’s Independence 

This one is tricky because you will be either tied to a baby or a pump. I’m definitely more comfortable nursing in public over pumping in public. But a well-timed outing where you can bottle feed the baby is certainly easier (for me) than nursing on the go.

Either way, you are tethered tightly in the beginning. You either need to feed and/or pump frequently. As time goes on, you can certainly loosen up on both, at least enough to get your nails done.

Pumping definitely gave me more me-time, although that time was attached to a pump. And I did actually come to enjoy my late night/middle of the night pump sessions because it was a time I could just zone out to Netflix on my own. But now nursing, I enjoy the speed at which I can bring the baby to breast and then lay him back down.

Nursing v Pumping: Too close to call.

Nursing v Pumping: The Single Takeaway 

If you are currently struggling with how to feed your baby. I see you. It is a real struggle that mums around the world encounter daily.  

Nature (in the form of a flood of hormones) makes us feel like shit for not putting our kid to the breast, let alone the constant pressure of the mum’s world, and the ‘breast is best’ movement.  

Sure, technically, if we isolate the simple decision of how to feed your child, taking away all other variables, because everything else is a variable.  

No two moms are the same. Our nipples are different, our breast capacity, our relationship with sleep, our confidence, our crunchiness, our wants, our needs…and no two babies are the same from the way they process the birth experience to their lips and tongues and palates and tolerances.  

When you pull all these variables into the equation, it is not as simple as “breast is best” …for what? For whom?

To clarify, if you can and if you want to nurse your baby at your breast, please remain dedicated and uncover every possible stone to get there. I know I would do this again if we have a third.  

But if nursing is not in your cards, know that there are other options. Each one houses enough benefit for you to grip onto and be proud of. Because in the big picture of being a mom, how you nourished your child in their first year(s) of life becomes a distant memory for too quickly.

Nursing v Pumping, In Conclusion

I say, do what makes you feel happy. If you are open to it, try breastfeeding. If you are set on it, don’t give up. Take it one day at a time. There are tons of resources out there amongst the horror stories.  

Whether you choose Nursing or Pumping, just know that you are an amazing mama.

Milk Minutes Online Breastfeeding Course

If you want to learn more about breastfeeding, check out Mommy Did You Know. Rachel is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Lactation Consultant. She offers both free and paid digital learning courses.  Click here for the course catalog.  

She stands out for me when it comes to breastfeeding instruction because she not only covers how to Nurse your child but what to do when nursing doesn’t go as planned, how to pump and how to bottle feed.  

Rachel was cool enough to give my readers 10% off her Milk Minutes course with discount code ‘milkminutes10’.

Wishing you the very best on your breastfeeding journey!

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1 Comment

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    Exclusive Pumping Game Changers - Meet the Wozniaks
    April 25, 2020 at 9:53 pm

    […] It is not as easy as nursing (although nursing is freaking hard as well), but it is maintainable. For more information, please read my comparison between my nursing and exclusive pumping experience. […]

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