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Not All Bottle Feeding Is Created Equal

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One of the main inspirations I had for creating this blog was seeing a lot of exclusively pumping (EP) moms being treated like formula feeding (FF) moms. This is not at all a formula-bashing post. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using formula, whether it’s exclusive or just to supplement. The two methods are, however, very different. As a member of several Facebook mom groups, including breastfeeding groups, I saw a lot of EP moms asking questions, and most of the answers (except in the EP group) seemed more more applicable to FF than to EP.

For example, I saw moms being told to dump their unfinished bottles after a couple hours. That breast milk is a precious commodity! We work hard for it, and it is a legitimate crime to waste even a single drop of liquid gold! For those who don’t know: breast milk is much more resilient than formula, and can actually be left at room temperature for 6-8 hours. The best way to tell if breast milk has gone bad is by smell, or simply offering it to your baby (unless your baby has a sensitive stomach or other medical concerns).

My favorite response from my EP group is “You wouldn’t know [the answer] if you were DN (direct nursing)”. This is such a great mantra to keep in mind when you have questions about your supply. I’ve heard many stories about pediatricians telling moms that their babies should be drinking a certain number of bottles per day or a certain number of times per day. That’s great for FF when babies digest formula differently than breast milk, but you wouldn’t know how many ounces your baby is getting if you were DN. Unless your baby has medical issues, bottle feeding breast milk should be about the same. As long as your baby is gaining weight and having regular wet and dirty diapers, diligently tracking their milk intake is more of a personal preference than a necessity.

Of course some moms want to try to get their babies on a more structured schedule. If that works for you, great! Personally, I wanted to keep feeding on demand when I switched my LO to a bottle. She was only four weeks old when we made the switch, and I felt she was still young enough to follow her cues instead of trying to get her on my own schedule. I only keep track of approximately how many bottles she goes through per day because I work full time and want to make sure I send enough with her to her caregiver. I used to feel a little self-conscious about being asked how much she takes per day because I couldn’t provide an exact answer. But if I had been DN, I would have absolutely no idea.

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The same goes for any weird appearances in your milk. Pumping moms see all kinds of crazy things in their milk – clogs, blood (or strawberry milk), green or blue color, fat deposits and lipase spots. It’s instinctual to hesitate to give this milk to your baby, but DN moms have all of these in their milk too; they just don’t see it because it goes straight into their baby. As gross as it is to think of your baby drinking milk with blood or a big milk clog, it’s perfectly safe because you’d have no idea your baby was drinking it if you were DN.

There are some ways that bottle feeding breast milk is closer to FF than DN. For instance, bottle feeding of any kind usually increases air consumption, which can make babies more gassy or spit up more frequently. But the misinformation that is communicated, even by pediatricians and lactation consultants, can be a huge deterrent for moms who are struggling with their supply.

It’s heartbreaking to hear a mom say that she pumped for fifteen minutes because her doctor told her to, but couldn’t build up enough of a supply to continue. I don’t know where the idea of pumping for no more than fifteen to twenty minutes comes from. Even DN babies can nurse for longer periods of time. Some women will pump for more than forty-five minutes each session. In the future I will post some tips for emptying faster, but if you don’t pump until you’re empty, your body won’t receive the signal that you need that milk and you’ll start to produce less. The right pumping parts can also make a big difference on your comfort and supply.

Exclusively pumping is in a class all its own, and finding a knowledgeable EP community is crucial to success. It’s also important to trust your instincts. If you think the advice you’re given won’t work for you, do some more research to find an alternative method. It’s a long, difficult road no matter what route you take, but having the right information can help make pumping much more manageable.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions you’ve heard about bottle feeding breast milk? Comment below to share how you debunked them!

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