Breastmilk, Straight From the Pump

As the Agent of Chaos passed her fourth-month birthday, we found ourselves turning to a new chapter in the baby books (literally). She’s moved out of the 0-3 demographic and into the 4-7 months, where parenting actually gets kind of fun. No longer are we Momaton and Dadaton tending to the needs of Newbornaton; we are Mom and Dad, tending to the needs of a pretty darn cute baby. She’s babbling and laughing and playing with toys, rolling over, and able to entertain herself for up to 30 minutes at a time. She is also, as of this early morning, waking up every hour on the hour just to say hi, which leads me to believe that you’ll be reading a blog about sleep training in the near future.

While the content of the development chapters change, one thing hasn’t: the lingo regarding feeding. There’s breastfeeding, and there’s bottle-feeding. Online, there’s EBF: exclusive breastfeeding. I assume there’s an acronym for formula-feeding—FF?—but I haven’t seen it yet. (There’s also NIP, LO and FB; I’ll let you do the research on those.) What isn’t clear, in any of these names, is whether the breastfeeding involves bottles, or whether the bottle-feeding involves breastmilk.

In my experience, bottle-feeding, in most books, articles and online references, actually refers to formula feeding. Breastfeeding, for the most part, refers to feeding from the breast. You can find loads of resources online regarding the problems and benefits of both methods. Problem is, in my own peer group, some exclusively feed from the breast; some exclusively feed formula; some feed from the breast and formula in a bottle; some feed only breastmilk, some from the breast and some from the bottle. And a few, like me, feed breastmilk exclusively from the bottle.

So here’s my two cents’ worth on bottle-feeding breastmilk, which I know can’t be as rare as the internet would lead me to believe—there are far too many working mothers out there. Disclaimer: I have no idea how much of my experience is similar to parents who formula-feed, or parents who exclusively nurse. I don’t have a basis for comparison; I just want to share some thoughts in hopes that another frustrated breastmilk-bottle-feeder might not feel as adrift as I did at first.

Pumping on the go!

How often should I pump?

As often as your boobs tell you to. For me, it’s been as short as 2.5 hours and as long as 6 hours (although I wouldn’t recommend that!). Generally it’s every 3 – 4 hours, 15-20 minutes per session, and lately I’ve been trying to extend that to closer to the four-hour mark. My milk production is strong, so we won’t run out of milk, and with any luck I’ll get an extra hour of consecutive sleep.

One concern: when I’m pumping, I’m pretty well locked in. If she starts crying, I’d have to detach myself from a few tubes and wires, mop up dripping milk, etc., so RocketMan knows that when I say the magic words (“Gotta go pump!”) I’m out of commission for at least 15 minutes. Make that clear to your partner—along with the fact that if you wait too long, your breasts actually ache and harden.

How do I juggle pumping and feeding with my partner?

Our solution: Work in shifts. Some parents trade off nights, some days vs. nights, but shifts worked brilliantly for us. He’s a night person, and according to my grandmother, I wake up with the chickens, so we divvied up the night from 10 – 4 and 4 – 10. Because I was pumping so frequently, we had plenty of milk for his share of the feedings. The downside for me, of course, was that I still woke up every three hours to pump, while he managed to get a blissful six-hour stretch of sleep after 4 AM. There’s a part of me that thinks about that six-hour stretch of sleep with the kind of wistful resentment that a man feels watching the train go by Folsom Prison. In any case, we began to see our shifts as true work shifts, down to the side work of changing the diaper, prepping a new bottle, cleaning the old.

What kind of pump?

Most books recommend that if you’re pumping a lot, spend the cash on a high-quality pump like the Medela Pump in Style. The backpack makes toting it around easy, it’s a powerful pump, and it’s the one most likely to drain your breasts properly. (It’s a GREAT registry item.) In addition, I’d recommend getting a hand pump for outings. The electric pump is convenient for home and work, but the hand pump fits in the diaper bag, and it’s great for relieving pressure on the go. I also use a nursing cover by Bebe au Lait to cover up—it works just as well for pumping as it does for nursing in public.

What kind of bottles?

I went with my favorite research method: I asked a friend. She recommended Dr. Brown’s bottles, and after some quickie internet research, we registered for the 3.5-oz glass Dr. Brown bottles. Supposedly they’re the closest that bottles come to mimicking the action of a real breast, and they also reduce colic. I can’t speak to either of those claims, as we’ve only used Dr. Brown’s bottles and can’t compare them to any other brands. That said, she seems to like them just fine. My only complaint is that they have five parts to clean, which can be kind of a bitch, but when it’s all you’ve ever worked with, you get used to it. I do recommend, though, that you get the 7-oz. bottles right out of the gate. She grew out of the 3.5 oz within the first month, and we could’ve easily just filled the bigger bottles halfway and saved the money on the smaller bottles. To protect the glass when we’re going out, we wrap it in your basic thermal water bottle cover—it’s padded, insulated and much less of a pain to deal with than the glass bottle covers. Bonus: it has a carabiner to hang from the diaper bag or backpack.

How many bottles should we own?

For my shower, I inherited at least two dozen bottles, and despite assurances from my friends that we’d need them—”Nothing worse than needing to wash a bottle in the middle of the night!”—I couldn’t imagine how anyone would go through all of them, no less where we’d put them. After a week or so of mulling that over I realized: Oh, right. Dishwashers. When you have a dishwasher, I assume you use the bottle, stick in the rack, and keep doing that for seven or eight bottles. We, on the other hand, have four bottles, kept in constant rotation, and our method’s pretty efficient; we’ve never needed to wash any bottles immediately before a feeding.

Use a water bottle cover for travelling with glass bottles.

What we do is this: We have two sets of bottles in the refrigerator. One, her filled Dr. Brown bottles; the second is the backup of breastmilk in the pump bottles. I pump about 10 oz. per session, which fills about 1 1/2 Medela pump bottles; those go to the back of the rotation. When a drinking bottle is done, it’s washed, filled with the first pump bottle in line, and put to the back of the rotation. The pump bottle is either washed or tossed in a bowl of warm soapy water that’s always waiting in the sink (we don’t want to spend ALL day washing bottles!). She’s always drinking the oldest bottle of milk first—not more than two days old—and the freshest milk goes to the back of the line, grocery-store style. We usually have at least two drinking bottles in the hopper, waiting to be warmed, and one active bottle that she’s working on. Thus far, the only time I’ve had to wash a bottle in the middle of the night was when we were visiting family and only brought three Dr. Brown’s bottles and three Medela pump bottles. Four bottles, for us, is the magic number—but that’s in addition to about eight Medela pump bottles.

(A word about spoilage: Breastmilk begins to spoil after about six hours, so I usually give the bottle a sniff if the contents are in doubt. When she has slurped some bad milk, the worst that happens is throwing up. No biggie. Usually she just won’t drink it.)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what about the bonding?

No doubt, nursing from the breast fosters a wonderful bond between mother and child. In the last few weeks, I’ve gone from nursing once a day to almost not at all—where she used to nurse reasonably well, now she lies there, grinning at me, and plays chase-the-nipple until Mommy finally gives up—and I’ll be the first to admit that I miss the full-on nursing. I don’t miss extra lost sleep. Bottom line, nursing is wonderful for bonding, but you can bond in other ways to make up for it. (As I read in one article, if every nursing sessions ends with both of you in tears and one of you hungry, that’s not bonding.)

But the obese babies! THINK OF THE FATTIES!

Many studies seem to show that bottle-fed babies are more likely to grow up with an obesity problem. I’ve seen post after post on message board saying just this… even when the bottle in question is filled with breastmilk, not formula. In reality, the studies are formula vs. breastmilk, not breast vs. bottle. Of course, none of those studies show definitively if it’s the bottle or the breast that does it, or the formula or the breastmilk, or just the eating and exercising habits of women who formula-feed vs. women who breastfeed. Bottom line, teach your kid good eating and fitness habits, and even if the formula or bottle puts her at slightly higher risk for obesity, she’ll make the right choices.

But isn’t nursing the best thing you can do for your baby?

According to just about everyone, yes. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that she eats and gets the necessary nutrition. You could be breastfeeding her midichlorian-spiked breastmilk through a Jedi wet nurse, but if she’s not gaining weight and getting what she needs to grow, she’s not going to thrive. In an ideal world we’d all have the time and ability to nurse successfully around the clock. But in the world we live in, babies are born with cleft palates and can’t breastfeed, moms have severe anemia for months after childbirth, and women work for eight hours a day. Breast is best, but food is required.

With that, I’ll climb off my soapbox. I hope I offered some help to folks. Whether you’re exclusively pumping, breastfeeding, or bottle-feeding, just remember that happy parents make happy babies. And with all of four months of experience behind me, I’m in no way qualified to offer any kind of parenting advice, so forget everything you just read and head on over to Regretsy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I promised I’d get back around to posting about the RocketDigs soon. but this was my first week back at work, and RocketMan’s first week as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD to the internet folk), so tweaking the apartment has not been at the top of the priority pile.

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3 Responses to Breastmilk, Straight From the Pump

  1. christine vaflor says:

    hey jody. like your post. i thought i was the only one feeding breastmilk exclusively from the bottle. glad to find out i actually know someone else that is doing the same thing as me :). i started out renting the medical grade medela symphony for one month and then we bought the medela freestyle. it is sweet! it works just as well as the symphony but is so much better because i am not tied down to one spot anymore. the actual pump is the size of a walkman and is really light. because it is hands-free i can get chore-like stuff done while pumping- washing bottles and parts, fold laundry, etc. i can even feed my baby. i have not been able to figure out the proper burping technique while pumping however. i have a hands-free bustier that makes things much simpler. the freestyle comes with all these hooks and straps so you can use it with your nursing bras but that whole system seemed too complicated and i just bought the bustier. it also comes with a velcro belt so you can wear the pump around your waist. the belt is only ok though. the pump has fallen out a few times on me. it seems to me that the pump could hook in better to the belt somehow. we are handwashing all bottles and pump parts even though we have a dishwasher. if you want to see some lively chatter about all things breastfeeding, check out http://www.breastfeeding.com. it gets pretty interesting….

    • rocketgirlsf says:

      I didn’t realize there was one that could travel! That’s a fantastic idea. I have the Easy Expressions hands-free pumping bra, but I’m still tied down to the pump machine itself (although if I took it out of the backpack and hooked up the battery pack, I could probably walk around with it).

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