Breastmilk - breast feeding, or exclusive pumping, or both?

Author: Weiting Bollu | July 2022

How it started for me

When we brought baby Kian home for the very first time, I spent every 3 hours breast feeding him. Over the course of 2 weeks, Kian’s milk intake grew from 5mL on Day 1 to 60mL by Day 14. My milk production seems to be keeping up. This is great progress. I was, and I am still, shocked at what I can produce.

How it started at the beginning week of mainly colostrum. I was getting really nervous here.
Read more.

Mid-way production when I made a mixture of colostrom and milk. I made over 100 ml and I was over the moon.

Over the course of the 50 days, I produced enough to freeze more than a mini freezer. This is just a portion of it.

How it progressed for me

During that second week, I was attempting to breast feed Kian. Each time we tried, it felt like he wasn’t getting enough milk even though I know I was producing enough for him. I knew because I also pumped after he breastfed and I was making more than 60 mL on both breasts.

The pattern that resulted was that he would feed and then fall asleep at the 20 minute mark. We did this for a few days and over multiple feeds. At this time, we were doing a combination of both breastfeeding throughout the day and bottle feeding with pumped breast milk at night. This gave me some sanity so I can sleep a few hours while Vishal or my mom did the night feed.

Because Kian kept falling asleep, I wasn’t exactly sure how much he was getting. All I knew was that he was getting antsy before the 3 hour mark. We had to calm him down after each breastfeeding session at the 2 hour mark just so he can last up to approximately 3 hours. When he fed on the bottle, he was much more content and lasted the approximate 3 hours until the next feed.

Overall, this pattern made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job in providing sustenance for Kian. With that, I researching until I found something called ‘Exclusive Pumping (also known as EP)’. I didn’t see or hear a lot about it throughout my 9 months of pregnancy. It didn’t show up in webinars or books I read. All these prenatal resources just told me the benefits of breastmilk.

OK, maybe I didn’t do enough homework to prepare for Kian’s arrival (but come on, will we ever be fully ready?). Maybe it was there and I just completely missed the concept.

How I researched and chose a method that works for me

Anyhow, as I was researching, I came across many moms who decide to do exclusive pumping to feed their baby. The best news I got was that it was an excellent way to feed baby.

After reading it all, I was still thinking whether I’d be a ‘bad mom’ if I didn’t breastfeed. In all honesty, it made me second guess myself. I sat down, took out my notebook, and wrote down the benefits and worries I had if I was to go this route.

I read over what I wrote and called Vishal over to run through my list. I said that I am going to go EP. He was all in. He had no concerns whatsoever and really loved the idea because he can be involved in the feeding more.

Without a doubt, I sighed with relief and felt REALLY good about my decision.

How I experimented after I chose to do this

Breast Milk Production Tracker

Takeaway: First 6 minutes provided the most milk production. Online articles recommended to pump for at least 15 minutes, or to pump / rest / pump again, I decided not to. I followed my own routine and went with 10-13 minutes on average where I produced ~200 ml or more every ~4 hours.

A simple Google form I made to track my progress after every pump.

The Google Sheet to examine how I'm doing each day.

Over the last 3 weeks since I went exclusive pumping…

  • It’s been an extremely predictable pattern of pumping every 3-4 hours (though, sometimes I cheat and go up to 4.5 hours).

  • It’s also extremely predictable when Kian needs to feed and we know how much he wants to drink. We have increased it slightly over 3 weeks, almost like an experiment. He now takes about 125mL on really good feeds.

  • I can catch some ZZZZZs while Vishal and/or my mom takes care of Kian throughout the day.

  • We know exactly what Kian drinks every single feed. Gosh, the beauty of knowing the numbers. Data rocks!!!

  • I spent more money to purchase additional pump parts and bottles to ensure I have enough on rotation without having to wash every single time after a single pump.

  • We all end up doing dishes with so many parts on rotation. However, it’s been great.

  • I learned about the different sizes of breast pump flanges. Ensuring I got the right one reduced the aches on the breasts and nipples. I did not know I had to measure and get specific sizes until I researched why it hurt to pump.

  • I learned that there are different baby bottle nipple flow rates. We were constantly feeding on the Number 1 flow rate which meant it was dripping very very slow to replicate the breast. We then realized there’s a Number 2, and 3, and 4! Knowing that, we ended up switching to Number 2 when Kian just about reached Day 30.

  • I produce enough breast milk each day that I can freeze approximately 2 breast milk bags for future use. Now that I am 40 days postpartum, I have about 65 bags in the freezer. I need more freezer space and more milk bags real soon.

  • I record all of my pumps and I chart them to see my breast milk production rates.

The Exclusive Pumping Price in 2022

Depending on the brand you choose, prices will differ. I wouldn't call it a 'cheap' route, at all.

So far, my cost breakdown is as follows:

Stage 1: One default Medela Pump Set (Sonata)

Stage 2: One extra valve and alternative flange set - I got this when I didn't want to wash the default set in the middle of the night.

Stage 3: One more extra valve and another alternative flange set - I got this after I was out at a wedding and was panicking that I didn't have a clean set to pump with when I got home.

The Medela Sonata Breast Milk Pump Set - it comes with 21mm and 24mm flanges as default

Compatible flanges - remember to check for your size!

My thoughts on societal pressure to “breastfeed”

Overall, I really wish that people spoke about the exclusive pumping option.

It’s interesting that I keep getting asked by various people whether I’m breastfeeding and I had to tell them that we’re doing exclusive pumping. I seem to always follow up with an explanation of why I chose to go down this route. I would say “Oh no, I don’t breastfeed. I pump and we bottle feed him. That way Vishal can take part in it too.” But thinking back, why the heck do I say this extra bit as if I’m backing up why I chose to pump so others wouldn’t judge me? Yes, I need to stop that, and I will stop this.

As a first-time mom, when I hear or see other moms who choose to do non-breastfed milk, it almost seems like there’s shame or guilt behind it. Honestly, whether someone breastfeeds, pumps milk bottle feed, feeds with donor milk, feeds with formula milk, or feeds with a combo of it all; it’s all a great choice!!!

Which method should one choose then?

It doesn’t matter! A doctor friend said to me the other day “a FED BABY is a HAPPY BABY no matter what option you choose”.

I love it.

We need to stop shaming mothers or caregivers just because they choose to care for their baby a different way. Some moms don’t have the option of producing enough breast milk. Some moms can’t get their baby to latch onto the breast well. Some moms are working their butts off, making ends meet, so they can’t spend time breast feeding their baby. Some moms want to share the emotional, physical, and mental load with their partners.

And none of these mean the moms don’t love their baby just as much. Or, that the moms don’t want the best for their baby.

OF COURSE WE DO.

The best choice is the choice that works for both mom and baby.

How long then will Kian drink breast milk for?

Whether I can keep up with 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years of breast milk for Kian - I don’t know yet. People have recommendations but that doesn’t mean it’s best for me. Whatever I choose to do, I will be proud of it. As long as Kian is fed and happy, I’m already over the moon happy too.

Last words for moms, caregivers, and/or partners

Kudos to all the moms and partners out there. You got this!!!