Claire turned four months yesterday. I can't believe it! I'll share the milestone updates tomorrow, but first I want to share a bit of what I've learned these four months about nursing v. exclusive pumping, now that I have experienced them both.
I am so, so glad that Claire took to nursing so easily and so well. We have a picture of me soon after her birth, nursing there in the delivery room and just elated that she latched right on and did so well. It saved me all that stress I experienced in Kate's first week, when she would take two sucks and then let go, never getting a lot and being what the doctor called a "lazy sucker." She lost a lot of weight in her first few days and the doc said the scary word "NICU," so while in retrospect I might have been able to teach her to nurse with a lot of help from the lactation consultant (who we visited only once after leaving the hospital), I jumped right into pumping and never looked back. I exclusively pumped for Kate's whole first year, and I am so proud of that, but there are definitely pros and cons to both ways of breastfeeding.
Making so, so much milk. Since I pumped almost from the start and was always using my super double electric pump (Medela Pump in Style), I made more than enough for two babies, freezing tons of extra and even giving a lot away through Milkshare. Matt could help feed Kate, since we were bottle-feeding her the pumped milk. That enabled me to sleep more and Matt to bond with the baby more. Extra plus: I easily lost my baby weight and more, because breastfeeding burns a lot of calories and I was making so much. (I gained some back after I stopped pumping, but still weighed less at the start of my pregnancy with Claire than I did with Kate.)
The initial disappointment of not being able to nurse when you had hoped to is, of course, a con. There's also just the hassle of having to drag the pump everywhere. Engorgement and leakage was worse because of the sheer volume of milk, so if I was going to be out somewhere too much longer than my current pumping schedule, I would have to lug the thing along, even if Kate was with me! This did make for a few "supermom" moments, feeding her a bottle while pumping the next one (and talking to a prospective author on the phone!) but overall pumping is a much bigger hassle than simply putting the infant to your breast. Then there's all the cleaning of pump parts and bottles on top of that.
As I just said, the sheer simplicity of baby-to-boobie feeding, with no pump and no bottles, is great. Both methods provide the much-touted benefits of breast milk, but I wonder what difference it makes for a child if that milk comes direct from the breast or via a pumped bottle. We'll see if Claire has any developmental advantages later on, but for now, I can say I do feel a difference in the bonding. I was bonded with Kate, of course, but I feel a different kind of bond with Claire, it seems, that I don't recall with Kate as a baby. And she has an obvious preference for me over the boobless parent. Poor Matt often can't console her; even if she's not hungry at the moment, just knowing the food source is near is enough to calm her sometimes!
The cons of nursing, for me, basically come at the intersection of nursing and pumping. That is to say, the pumping is not near so easy when it is only a part time thing, as opposed to the constancy of exclusive pumping. I have to pump in the morning and at night in addition to twice at work to make enough for Claire's four bottles at school each day. I am barely making enough for each day, only saving up enough to freeze a little bit every couple of weeks. It is stressful to be cutting it so close each day, to know that if I skip a pumping session, I might not have enough milk to send to school with Claire. This is partly because she's so snacky, eating less more often when I'm with her to nurse, but eats more in one sitting from a bottle, so the production is a little out of whack. Another con is the decreased weight loss. I still lost my little bit of baby weight easily, but haven't really dropped below my starting weight like I did with Kate.
Both methods of breastfeeding are fairly equal on cost savings. Both save tons of money on formula, which can cost $1500-$2000 for the baby's first year (what did we ever do without Google?). A double electric breast pump costs around $200, but if you work outside the home or plan to be away from your baby for any significant stretch during his or her first year, even nursing moms will need a pump.
I doubt anybody chooses to be an exclusive pumper, so this isn't intended to be informative for the basis of choosing between, but if you are having trouble nursing and still want to give your baby breastmilk, know that not only can it be done, there are pros to it as well.
I'm glad Claire nurses. This whole post was inspired by the fact that it crossed my mind for a moment, when I was stressed about the lack of extra breastmilk, to just stop nursing and pump like crazy for Claire, just so I'd make more milk and have a good stash built up. I quickly put the thought out of my mind. Despite the cons of nursing, I love the natural simplicity and bonding of being able to nurse my baby. I treasure the time I spend nursing Claire to sleep (or back to sleep) in the rocker in her room, watching the world go by outside her window and knowing I'm giving my little angel something no one else can.
I'm Jessica Miller Kelley, a working mom, pastor's wife, and editor in Nashville, Tennessee. I edit MinistryMatters.com and Circuit Rider magazine. I have two beautiful girls, Kate and Claire, and love scrapbooking, reading, wine and cheese, theological discussion, and having fun as a family.