By Kimberly Grotto
When I was pregnant with my first child, it was important to me—and everyone else in the world, it seemed—to decide how I wanted to feed my son. The first thing I considered was breastfeeding, but off the bat I wasn’t sure it was for me. Providing breast milk was important but I was unsure and insecure about committing to the delivery process. It felt overwhelming to be the only food source, required to be responsible and present for each and every feeding. I also planned to return to work, so I knew a breast pump would enter the relationship at some point (but when, and how? And would there be bottle rejection or nipple confusion?). It was important to me that my husband could participate in feedings, both for bonding purposes as well as my sanity at 3 am. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, the idea of feeding a baby from my breasts didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies, it just flat-out weirded me out.
Like many first-time-moms-to-be, I sought advice from those who came before me. It wasn’t hard to find moms who exclusively breastfed or those who moved on to formula rather quickly. I heard many stories from working moms who enjoyed breastfeeding in the morning and at night with pumping sessions throughout the day. But none really felt right. I finally struck gold when I confided my fears and desires to my older sister. When she shared her choices and experiences with me, I realized for the first time there was another option, and one that was the answer for me: exclusively pumping.
Exclusively pumping is a feeding method that I don’t think is talked about enough. (To be fair, technology has only afforded moms this option fairly recently.) From personal experience, it also seems to inexplicably confuse the world. On one hand, the baby is receiving breast milk (yay!). On the other hand, it’s coming from a bottle (boo!). So where does it fit into the breastfeeding conversation? Unfortunately, I think because people don’t really understand it and because the “breast is best!” mantra is so ingrained, it’s often ignored or worse, dismissed.
For me, pumping and bottle-feeding empowered me to provide my baby with all the goodies and antibodies that breast milk offers but with the freedom to be present for feedings or not. I loved that anyone in my baby’s life was able to feed him—not just because it gave me a break (I could leave the house for more than 2 hours at a time and not be home for bedtime!), but because it also allowed others to experience a different dimension of bonding with him. There are other benefits, too: I knew how much he ate and if he was still hungry, there was always more to give him. I never had to live with him hanging on my boob every hour for 24 hours straight. And because my body learned to respond to the pump rather than his cries, I never experienced one of those embarrassing leaks—a godsend considering some of the professional situations I am in!
As with any feeding method, exclusively pumping is not without its challenges. It’s so important to be disciplined with a pumping schedule and with a busy career, making time some days can be difficult. Just as difficult can be finding a private place to pump. Since I’m not one to whip ‘em out in public, I’ve pumped in some interesting locations: cars, closets, a Cracker Barrel bathroom…you name it, I’ve probably done it. If you don’t make the time or find a place, it can get really painful really fast, leading to engorgement and sometimes clogged milk ducts. And, at least in my experience, it is true that a baby sucks out a clogged milk duct much better and faster than a pump ever can. There’s absolutely some double work involved with this method, but on the other hand, I only pump four times most days. In my opinion, though, one of the worst things about exclusively pumping is all. the. bottles. Washing those bottles and all their parts every night feels like a punishment that will never end. Until, as with most things baby-related, one day it does.
I’m on my second go-round now, with a new 4-month-old. I considered feeding from the breast more often with this one and, after about a month of feeding here and there, I settled back into the exclusively pumping routine. I’ve learned many helpful things along the way, like the first thing you should do is get yourself a double breast pump and a hands-free pumping bra because you’re nothing without it. Also, when you’re driving and really need a ½ cup of hot water to warm a bottle, go straight to a McDonald’s drive-thru. They’ll give you one for free. In the airport, Starbucks will not only give you hot water, they’ll also give you a baggie of ice to keep your pumped milk cold if you, say, forgot an ice pack for your eight-hour estimated travel time. It’s also critical to get a travel battery for those times when you can’t find an outlet. Most importantly, though, relax and have confidence in the decision that exclusively pumping is the right choice for you and, like most things mom-related, you’ll figure out how to make it work for you and your family along the way.
Kim lives in the Chicago, IL area with her husband Justin and their two sons, Will and AJ. She is a marketing consultant and business owner who prides herself on being honest with anyone who asks about the truths of pregnancy and motherhood as she knows it.