Breastfeeding is more than the milk

Recently, a mother complained on Twitter about the pressure to pump and bottle feed instead of just OG breastfeeding. I had only been on Twitter a couple days at the time and I was nervous to comment and share my own story, but I wish I had. The pump-then-bottle-feed message was pushed on me time and time again during my breastfeeding journey.

“Have you started pumping so that your partner can bottle feed in the night yet?” The nurse looked at me expectantly but no words came out of my mouth. My baby was about six weeks old, but as he was born 10 weeks prematurely he was actually negative 4 weeks old in my mind. Honestly, I was still emotionally scarred from the pumping I had done while my babe was in the NICU, and I was celebrating the fact that he was now big enough to be able to be exclusively breastfed. My pump had been shoved in the wardrobe and I never wanted to see it again.

Eventually I realized I had been silent for quite some time and I stammered out “No, I haven’t.”

“Well, it’s a good idea so that you can get more sleep. So definitely think about starting that soon.”

I didn’t even bother answering. There was no way in hell I was going to do this but I didn’t have the energy to explain my reasons why. Look, I understand the idea behind it: mum sleeps while dad bottle feeds. It all sounds so modern and lovely and when I was pregnant I naively assumed this would be something I’d do. But the reality is, it’s not that simple and it disregards a huge part of what makes breastfeeding so amazing.

First, there’s the logistics of the thing. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep soundly through the night while my partner feed baby a bottle because my breasts would have become engorged and sore. So I’d have to have get up to pump anyway, and pumping takes a lot longer than breastfeeding, and I’d have to sit up to do it instead of being able to lie down with my baby. I’m too lazy for that shit. It isn’t efficient.

But even if I had been able to go all night without pumping, I still wouldn’t have done it. Your body actually produces more prolactin at night (the hormone that promotes milk production) so if you aren’t breastfeeding or pumping at night, this can affect your milk production. I had worked hard to be able to feed my hungry preemie baby and I wasn’t going to mess with that.

Then there’s the actual milk composition. One of the amazing things about breastmilk is that it changes depending on what your baby needs. During the night, breastmilk has more melatonin in it, which is the sleepy hormone. So night breastmilk helps your baby/toddler to sleep. I didn’t want my baby getting ‘day breastmilk’ during the night.

But aside from the logistics and the milk composition, there’s all the intangible stuff that makes breastfeeding really amazing. I was well-schooled in the benefits of breastmilk, but the benefits of breastfeeding didn’t become apparent to me until I was holding my son in my arms. The physical closeness, the bonding between mother and child, taking the time to just be together, loving each other, being able to soothe hurts and comfort, being able to send him off to the land of nod in the most natural way. The pump-then-bottle-feed message disregards this stuff.

I was well-schooled in the benefits of breastmilk, but the benefits of breastfeeding didn’t become apparent to me until I was holding my son in my arms.

This is probably a topic for another day, but I think having your baby with you all the time is a natural, human, instinct. We are one of the only cultures in the world that actively encourages physical separation from our children. We expect children to sleep alone even though all of their instincts scream that they are vulnerable to predators when sleeping by themselves. We put them in strollers, in bouncers, in playpens, instead of holding them. It was recently brought to my attention that there is an industry worth billions predicated on physically separating children from their parents. I don’t buy into it. For a myriad of reasons I’ll get into another day, I slept in the same bed as my baby and it made night feeding simple. I just unclicked my top, he fed, and we both fell back asleep.

Recently, a friend of mine revealed that she had been breastfeeding her son, then handing him over to a partner/parent to bottle feed while she pumped. All on the advice of her midwife, who wanted to “make sure” her baby was “getting enough”. It made me want to scream. Babies know when they’re hungry and when they’re full. This pump-then-bottle-feed arrangement was putting extra pressure on my friend and extra worries in her mind. I worried she would inadvertently start tying to force her baby to have more than he wanted, to override his natural ability to know when he was full. I was torn between speaking my mind and feeling like it wasn’t my place to judge what she was doing, so I held my tongue but thankfully, my friend didn’t keep up this regime for long.

For me, the pump-then-bottle-feed message was brought up several more times over the years as my baby grew into a toddler, and I became more and more confident to voice why I chose not to do it each time. My partner was initially a bit upset that he didn’t get to experience feeding our baby, but he got over it and one night, while I was cuddled with our son, stroking his baby curls while I fed him to sleep, my partner said “Breastfeeding is more than the milk, isn’t it?”

I couldn’t agree more.

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