Breast vs bottle. It’s the eternal debate that can drive even experienced mums to the brink. Nothing can prepare you for how challenging those early weeks and months are. The non stop feeds that carry on all night, the pain, the frustration, plus the fear your fragile baby is not getting enough food and is constantly unsettled because you just aren’t producing the goods.
Even if you do have angel baby who latches on moments after birth and feeds without fuss from day one, your second child could be an entirely different story.
With Bubba One I learned it’s possible to combine breast and bottle feeding, but it takes a lot of what new mums do not have – time.
My breastfeeding story with Bubba One began with a level headed approach. I would try to breastfeed and if it didn’t work out, there’s nothing wrong with formula. Being formula fed myself as a child I knew bottle feeding was a totally acceptable option. Unfortunately this sensible approach to feeding went out the window when Bubba One was born and I became, frankly, obsessed with breastfeeding her. Looking back I blame this on the countless people and articles reminding you breast is best. Your child will be healthier and smarter if you breastfeed, so why wouldn’t you want to do the best for your baby?
Sadly as I found with my first, it isn’t just a matter of wanting to breastfeed.
The first latch just didn’t happen. She opened wide, took the nipple in and then just stopped. Maybe she was tired from her 19-hour ordeal of being born (I certainly was), maybe she wasn’t hungry (doubtful knowing what she’s like now as a snack-happy toddler) or maybe she just couldn’t process what she needed to do. I expressed colostrum with help from a midwife who had no hesitation in manhandling my boobs to get the job done. I soon got used to this hands-on approach on the recovery ward as a steady stream of midwives grabbed, squeezed and manipulated my boobs in an attempt to get Bubba One feeding from the source.
By day 3 post birth I was pumping 100ml in 20 mins. My hospital bed was surrounded by bottles of pumped milk as I worked tirelessly round the clock to get my supply going while Bubba One was on strike. Meanwhile she fed from a syringe the first few hours before switching to a bottle soon after. She had no problem suckling from a teat.
When we returned home I continued to try getting her to latch and feed but it ended in tears every time (for both of us). She simply preferred the bottle.
So with my boobs responding well to the pump (by week two I could get 200ml in 30mins) I set about exclusively pumping for my daughter. With my chilled out intentions towards breastfeeding out the window, I panicked over her having any formula. I became anxious if the supply in the fridge dipped and hovered worriedly as my husband warmed up my precious breast milk, anxious he may spill any of the liquid gold.
I pumped for about five hours a day. It combined all the worst elements of both bottle feeding and breast feeding. I had the constant pile of used bottles and pump parts to sterilise along with the pressure to empty my boobs regularly enough to keep supply up and ward off engorgement. When Bubba One was hungry she had to wait for milk to be warmed up. Although I had a few glasses of wine here and there, it certainly stopped me feeling relaxed enough to drink more than two.
Even when I finally got to the point of being more than a whole day ahead of feeds with over a litre of breast milk on the fridge I didn’t relax. I always had to be thinking about the next pump. It limited me when it came to meeting up with friends and was a struggle when Bubba One didn’t want to be put down.
Finally after 20 weeks of being hooked up to the pump I decided it was time to throw in the towel. It took a week to wean off the pump. When I boxed it up and put it away for the last time it was a relief. When Bubba One gradually switched to formula the guilt finally melted away and I realised I could relax and breathe again. I was finally free and I enjoyed my baby so much more.
Although it was stressful I don’t regret giving my baby expressed breast milk. For one thing we saved a lot of money on formula in those early weeks and breast milk can be kept out the fridge for longer during feeds.
After feeling anxious about going through the ordeal a second time, I found Bubba Two latched and fed like a dream from day one. So every baby and experience really is different.
For anyone considering exclusive pumping, know that it is possible. But if you do find yourself stressed with trying to keep up with the gruelling pumping schedule, there is nothing wrong with formula. Happy mamma, happy Bubba!
Here are my tips for exclusive pumping:
Set a schedule. In the early days you need to pump round the clock 24/7. I pumped every two hours for the first few weeks then dropped to every three hours by week four. I dropped the night pumps at week eight and my body adjusted.
Get a good electric pump. I used the Medela Swing. If I were to go back and do it all again I would have got the medela double pump so I could do both boobs at the same time and halve the time spent on a pump session. I pumped for 15 mins each side.
Keep hydrated. Always have a pint of water to hand when pumping, it’s thirsty work.
Keep entertained. If your baby is napping while you’re pumping then have a decent show to binge watch. It makes the time pass quicker.
Stock up on bottles and bags for storage. Medela make bags for freezer storage. You can label these with dates.
Milk storage times. Breast milk keeps in the back of the fridge for a week. Freshly pumped milk can be left out for six hours before it needs to be discarded. Much better than formula which must be discarded after two hours. Breast milk can also be frozen for up to six months.
Don’t stress. If you have to supplement with formula because you’re low on supply don’t stress. You’re doing your best. Even a bottle of breast milk a day is great.
You can find more amazing tips at Kelly Mom