Breast Milk Without Breastfeeding

This week, Time Magazine published an article talking about a growing trend of women who choose breast milk for their infants, but choose not to breastfeed. Several reasons were cited in the article. Some women simply don’t like the feeling of breastfeeding, which from experience is indeed a unique sensation. Other women thought they could be more efficient if using a pump to expel breast milk as they could pump both breasts simultaneously whereas breast feeding takes twice as much time. The third reason cited was that some mom’s “are a bit neurotic” and felt better knowing exactly how much milk their babies were getting-an impossibility with traditional breast feeding. The fourth, and final reason had to do with difficulties breast feeding due to poor latching by infants, inverted nipples or other such anatomical problems.

I had a lot of difficulty breast feeding my first two children due to repeated breast infections resulting from a poor latch by both my tongue-tied children. (We did have their frenulum clipped, but it didn’t seem to help the issue). Because most of the breast milk that my first two children received pumped and then fed via bottle, I can relate to breast feeding in the untraditional sense. Breastfeeding was uncomfortable, if not painful. Their inefficient suck made it hard for them to get the milk from my breast, and I always wondered if they were getting enough.

According to the article, doctors and lactation consultants warn that pumping can’t produce enough milk to feed an infant and can interfere with maternal/child bonding. I was never able to produce enough milk via pumping and had to supplement with formula, but some women have no problem pumping enough. One mom cited in the article said that she produced so much milk by pumping that she had enough breast milk to last until the baby’s first birthday, but what the article didn’t talk about is exactly how long breast milk can be stored before it goes bad (up to three months in a conventional freezer). For me, producing breast milk via pump became a meditative exercise-it just didn’t work out well if I was stressed or in a hurry. However, I never felt that I didn’t bond with my children because they received milk another way. I feel this is a dangerous and elitist thing to say to a new mother who certainly doesn’t need one more thing to worry about or feel guilty about.

I will say though, that choosing to exclusively pump breast milk will most likely result in breast feeding for a shorter amount of time over all. As someone who returned to work just weeks after my third baby’s birth, even though I worked as a nurse at a labor and delivery unit at my local hospital, I was met with resentment from some of my co-workers who felt that I spent too much time pumping with my single breast pump. (I had to pump for at least 20 minutes every two to three hours) Even with double breast pumps, it is time consuming, and makes one feel some what like a cow. Without the added feature of holding your baby while feeding, you spend your time pumping, bottling, and then feeding your baby. No time saved there-unless someone else is feeding your baby (which one could argue interferes with bonding).

The article also touches on other issues. Breastfed babies feed until they are full- so there is no chance of overfeeding. The obesity epidemic is often cited in relation to this argument. The theory is that breast feed children develop healthier eating behaviors as a result of self-regulating their intake. The flip side to that coin is when babies are enjoying growth spurts, they often feed twice as often as to build up moms milk supply. This can be time consuming for a modern mom, especially if she has older children to care for.

Evolutionarily and biologically, the article also states that alternatives to breast feeding did not exist for 99.9% of human history therefore choosing not to breastfeed may have some hormonal implications. The most likely reason that a women didn’t breastfeed was probably because of the death of her child-and bottle feeding could mimic that loss and lead to greater instances of postpartum depression. Although this argument is interesting, the issue we are talking about here is not the absence of breast feeding- just breast feeding in a different way. Women who choose to pump/bottle feed are still stimulating milk production and producing the subsequent hormones. I would also like to point out that there was indeed alternatives. They were called wet-nurses (women who breast fed other peoples children), and goats (or cows). Historically, there have always been women who could not (or didn’t want or need to) breastfeed, and those societies had alternatives-just not artificial ones.

With my third child, breast feeding was a breeze from day one. Breast milk, coming from a breast, is the perfect temperature, it’s fresh, there is no need to worry about spoilage. I still pumped, because I was working, but breast fed my child whenever possible. My child received breast milk until he weaned himself at 19 months. I felt that traditional breast feeding was infinitely easier than exclusively pumping.

Obviously, there are many issues surrounding the issue of breast feeding and modern women- especially for women working outside the home. Although I agree that we as health care professionals need to inform women of the best way to feed babies, I think it’s important for us to recognize that breast feeding isn’t always easy or simple. We need to be sensitive to each woman we encounter, and listen intently to their needs, concerns and fears and do our best not to force ideals on them. Breast milk is the best thing you can feed your baby, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and women can still be excellent mothers who can and will bond with their children as well as women who choose, or find themselves needing to approach feeding in another way.