nursing vs. exclusively pumping

In talking with the parents before baby boy's birth, the mom expressed to me her wish for him to have breastmilk. Being a lactivist myself, I was happy to hear that, and more then happy to offer to pump for them. Not only would that provide the baby with great colostrum and milk, but it would help my body recover. Having nursed and pumped for a long time with Gwen, I thought I knew exactly what to expect, but I can definitely say that exclusively pumping is a different ball game!

30 oz of colostrum and transitional milk
Now obviously the biggest difference was the absence of a newborn in the house! Most people choosing to pump are doing so still with a baby around, which would obviously change the experience. So please read the rest of this with that big caveat in mind!

So lets start with the differences: for me, pumping meant only waking up once a night vs. 4 or 5 times a night with nursing. But that pump meant getting out of my warm bed, walking downstairs, turning on the light, putting together pump parts, and sitting there in the cold for 20 minutes. I infinitely prefer rolling over, grabbing a baby, and popping her on the breast! Even if it is multiple times a night. I was also able to cut out that pump once my milk was in, and I knew they were heading home soon.

My milk took a little longer to come in, but that might have been because of not having a newborn to remind me of eating time. Without that constant reminder, my pumping was inconsistent for the first few days, which definitely slowed things down. Once my milk did come in though, it became a lot easier to remember when to pump (my body lets me know!).

Babies are much better at getting milk out of the breast, so I did run into a clogged duct (on each side!) pretty quickly; but I learned fast to help the milk from the back work its way down to ensure that didn't happen again.

One unexpected bonus to pumping was getting to actually watch my colostrum change into milk. The CLEC in me was very interested in seeing in person the changes in color and amount from sparse, yellow colostrum to abundant, white "mature milk."

60 oz of milk in the family's fridge!

Though seeing the amount was a double edged sword. Intellectually I knew that the baby's stomach was very small at the beginning (still is!), and that they need very little milk to fill it in the first days. However, having last pumped for a 2-year old, and having been used to getting at least 5 oz, it was hard not to worry about the 1-2 oz I was getting at first.

Speaking of which, not having to be as strict about pumping helped when we wanted to go out somewhere, but one of the biggest differences between nursing and pumping was having to time feeding/pumping sessions: I was fine with nursing in public, but obviously I'm not breaking out the pump in the middle of a public space (for a million reasons!). So I do have to be aware of when my next pump will need to be to avoid massive discomfort!

This, again, would have been less the case if I had been providing 100% of the baby's nutritional needs, but it was assumed from the beginning that I would provide as much milk as possible, and they would supplement the rest with formula*. Since they were staying close enough to visit, but far enough that I wasn't up to the trip for the first few days and couldn't do it daily while recovering, I would stockpile milk for a few days, then deliver, then stockpile, then deliver. 

I was used to both nursing and pumping, thanks to Gwen, but not pumping from the start. This time it was relatively pressure-less (absolutely no pressure from the parents, a little from myself!), since they knew there would be some supplementing. However I can see that for myself with my own child, pumping from the beginning out have absolutely been a stressful thing for me. While nursing can also be stressful at first, its easy enough to pop them on the boob when in doubt. They control the flow and can comfort nurse if that's what they need (which helps with production). Comfort nursing doesn't really work on a bottle, and it certainly doesn't help up your supply.

That said, emotionally it was a wonderful way to feel connected with the baby and family. I felt like I was still supporting them in a very real and tangible way. Obviously it doesn't evoke the same feelings that nursing my own child brought up, but it still made me happy to do. And that is one of the biggest similarities!

Differences aside, I'm so glad that I could do this for the family. It was one more rewarding aspect to this whole incredible experience.

* In the end, in addition to what I pumped and fed him during the first day when we were together at the birth center, I gave them just over 120 oz 155 oz; or enough for about half the time he was here in the states.

I am continuing to pump, while I slowly wean myself down (I do not want to deal with clogged ducts or mastitis!!). I'm freezing that milk (60 oz so far) and plan to donate to a local mama in need.


  1. I breastfed both my older 2 children and EP'ed for my youngest. I think breastfeeding was much easier, I definitely had a lot less stress! If I would have been an over-producer, I don't think it'd been as hectic, tho.


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