Breastfeeding

The Pros & Cons of Breastfeeding vs. Pumping

The things you should know to help you make your decision.
Rachel Hiser

Becoming a mom means having to make hundreds of decisions. One of the biggest is deciding how to feed your baby.

There are many factors that go into this decision, and it’s not one that is ever taken lightly. This guide is for moms who have decided they want to feed their baby breast milk.

There are two ways to do that – breastfeed directly or pump and serve.

Making the choice.

Some women don’t have a choice about pumping, (refusal to latch, low supply, having multiples, or returning to work) and they must pump and bottle-feed if they want to continue feeding their baby breast milk. Other moms have the flexibility to decide if they want to continue breastfeeding, exclusively pump, or mix the two.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding your baby breast milk exclusively for the first year. I wanted to continue feeding my son breast milk, so when I went back to work I had to begin pumping. However, I wasn’t ready to give up direct breastfeeding, so I chose to continue breastfeeding in the morning and night.

For me, it was the best of both worlds.

My son is five months old and this is our current feeding schedule:

  • 6AM – Breastfeed
  • 9AM, 12PM, 3PM – Pump at work (he gets bottles at the sitter at 10AM and 2AM)
  • 6PM – Breastfeed
  • 2AM – pump (dad gives him a bottle) *I want to move this feed to 10PM.

Somedays this system seems complicated, but I do not regret choosing to both breastfeed and pump. Through my experience, here are pros and cons of each.

Breastfeeding.

Pros

  • Strengthens your baby bond. There is nothing sweeter than sharing this experience with your baby. My hearts melts when my son holds onto my finger and looks into my eyes. Skin to skin contact is good for development, and it’s time during my day where I can just sit and relax.
  • No bottles. You save time and water by not having bottles and nipples to wash and sterilize.
  • Nothing to pack. When you do get to leave the house, you don’t have to worry about bottles, ice packs, and a ridiculously heavy pump. A cover-up and burp cloth are all you need and you’re ready to go the minute your baby asks for mealtime.

Cons

  • Takes more time. My son can finish a bottle in half the time it takes for me to breastfeed him.
  • Harder in public. You’re not always in an appropriate place to breastfeed if you’re on the go. Yes, there are many groups pushing back in society against people who shame breastfeeding in public, and it is becoming more accepted, but there are still times and places you can’t/wouldn’t breastfeed.
  • No help. If you’re breastfeeding, there is no one to help you. You need to be ready and available for every meal, which for newborns is usually every two hours or less. When you do need to leave for errands or appointments you have to keep your baby’s feeding schedule front of mind. You can’t be wandering around the grocery store when it’s mealtime!

Pumping.

Pros

  • Takes less time. During our middle of the night feeding, I pump while my husband feeds our son his bottle. It helps get me back to bed faster.
  • Involve others. When we’re visiting family, I sometimes offer to let someone else do the feed while I pump in another room. It’s a fun way to let dad/grandma/anyone help with feedings.
  • Easier monitoring. By pumping and bottle feeding, it’s easier to monitor intake because you know exactly how much your baby is eating at each feed.

Cons

  • Cleaning parts. It is an endless cycle of washing and sanitizing bottles and nipples.
  • Carting a pump around. That thing is heavy. And you have to think about refrigerating what you pump.
  • Isolation. When I breastfed and am with company, I can just grab my cover and continue on with my conversation. But if I want to pump, I have to hand my son off to someone else and go spend twenty minutes in another room.
  • Contamination. Your milk is not going directly from your breast to your baby, and there is the possibility of contamination along the path of pump parts, bottles, freezing, and thawing.

I will say that I personally prefer breastfeeding directly. And even though I’ve come to dread the “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound of my pump, I cannot regret it, because pumping has let me continue breastfeeding when I am at home.

Healthy talk.

There has been a lot of research about the health differences between breastfed and formula-fed babies. However, there hasn’t been much about the difference between breastfeeding and exclusively pumping.

It’s possible that many of the health benefits of breastfeeding are negated when your baby is never at your breast, but pediatricians still recommend pumped breastmilk over formula. Here are some things to keep in mind if you choose to pump.

  • Moms who pump and bottle feed need to be aware of the safety regulations of storing and serving breast milk.
  • Some research has shown that through the process of freezing, thawing, and reheating breast milk can damage its health benefits.
  • Breast milk is pretty amazing. It changes to meet your baby’s needs (calorie intake, sickness) But your baby needs to direct breastfeed occasionally to receive these benefits.

It’s your choice.

No matter what you decide, it should be what’s best for you and your baby. I have friends who are exclusively pumping, and I have friends who only breastfeed.

All of their babies are happy.

Don’t let the media, your friends, or even your previous expectations pressure you into a decision that makes you uncomfortable. Whether you strictly breastfeed, exclusively pump, or mix and match – make sure you are well-informed and enjoying the time you spend with your baby.

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