Is It OK to Pump and Bottle Feed Instead of Breastfeed?

Reasons for pumping

Verywell / JR Bee

If you believe that breast milk is the best food choice for your child, but you are not able to breastfeed, or you don't want to, what can you do? That's where pumping comes in. It's absolutely OK to pump your breast milk and give it to your baby in a bottle. Pumping is a great way to provide your child with your breast milk without putting her to the breast. You can choose to pump exclusively or give your child both breast milk and infant formula. Here's what you need to know about pumping for your baby.

Reasons for Pumping and Bottle Feeding

You may make the decision to pump before your child is born, or you may breastfeed for a while then move on to pumping as your child grows. There are many reasons women choose to pump. Here are a few of those reasons:

Combining Breast Milk Feeding and Formula Feeding

If you've decided to feed your baby both pumped breast milk and infant formula, that's great, too! Any amount of breast milk that you can give your baby is beneficial. You can pump for some feedings and give the formula for others. Or, you can provide both breast milk and formula at the same feeding.

Offer the breast milk first if you give your child both breast milk and formula in the same feeding.

By giving the breast milk first, you will be sure your child gets all your milk. Then, if your baby wants or needs more, you can finish the feeding with formula. If there's any leftover, it's the formula that you will throw away, not your precious breast milk.

Exclusive Pumping and Bottle Feeding

Exclusive pumping is also called EPing and breast milk feeding. It is when you pump at regular times throughout the day to give your child your breast milk as her sole source of food and nutrition. Your child may get your milk through a bottle, a tube feeding or another alternative feeding method.

Exclusive pumping isn't necessarily an easy thing to do. It can be time-consuming and exhausting. Plus, it can often be challenging to continue to pump exclusively for a long period of time.

How Many Times a Day to Pump

How often to pump depends on your child's age. A newborn will take a bottle of breast milk approximately every two to three hours around the clock. So, during the first few weeks, you should try your best to pump at least every two to three hours - about eight to twelve times a day - to stimulate your body to produce a healthy milk supply.

As your baby grows, she will take more at each feeding, but go longer between feedings. As long as your milk supply is plentiful, you may be able to go longer between pumping sessions, as well.

How Long to Pump at Each Session

At each session, you should pump for at least 15 minutes on each side. It can take a few minutes for your milk to begin to let-down, so give yourself enough time. You also want to try to empty your breasts fully. Emptying the breasts is an important part of stimulating the production of more breast milk.

After you drain your breasts and no more milk is flowing out into the collection container, continue to pump for one to five minutes longer. Since breast milk is made based on supply and demand, the extra stimulation will tell your body to make more.

You don't have to go longer than 20 minutes, though. Pumping for 15 to 20 minutes more frequently throughout the day will generally produce more breast milk than pumping less often for more extended periods of time.

How Much Breast Milk to Pump for Your Baby

Pump as much as you can at each pumping session. Then, put the breast milk into bottles or storage containers in the amount that your child takes at each feeding. When your baby is a newborn, he will drink less breast milk than an older child at each feeding, but he'll eat more often than an older child will. Here are some guidelines for how much breast milk to pump and put in the bottle for your child:

  • Colostrum is the first breast milk. It's concentrated and very nutritious, so a tiny amount is all your baby needs. During the first few days after the birth of your baby, you will only be able to pump and collect a small amount of colostrum. On the very first day, in fact, so little will be expressed that it can get stuck in the tubing of the breast pump, which is why hand expressing colostrum is the preferred method to get it to your baby during that time. After you have expressed a few spoonfuls' worths, pumping for a short while in addition to hand expression is a good way to stimulate milk supply until your milk fully comes in.
  • After the first week, you should be able to pump two to three ounces every two to three hours, or about an ounce an hour or 24 ounces in a 24 hour period. You would need to double this amount if you have twins, triple it for triplets, etc.
  • After about one month, you will need approximately three to four ounces every three to four hours, or about 24 to 32 ounces a day.
  • By the time your baby is six months old, he or she will need about six to eight ounces every four to six hours, so approximately 36 to 48 ounces a day.

It's easier to overfeed your baby when you're bottle-feeding in place of breastfeeding. So, be sure you're giving your child what he needs every day and in each bottle. There's a simple 3-step formula you can use to calculate how much breast milk to put in a bottle. The equation is the child's weight in ounces divided by 6 divided by the number of feedings per day.

Pumping and Your Breast Milk Supply

It can be tough to maintain a healthy milk supply when you're exclusively pumping. It requires a good deal of dedication because you have to pump regularly and, if possible, during the night. Here are some tips for maintaining and increasing your supply:

  1. Invest in Your Breast Pump: Moms who pump exclusively spend a lot of time attached to a breast pump. So, think about buying or renting a high-quality pump designed for long-term, daily use. A double-pump will serve you well and save you time and energy since it can collect milk from both breasts at the same time. Whichever pump you choose, be sure it's comfortable and the pump shields to fit you well to prevent pain and damage to your breast tissue. If you maximize your time and comfort, you're more likely to pump regularly to maintain a healthy milk supply.  
  2. Pump Frequently: Frequent pumping stimulates the production of breast milk. While your child is a newborn, try to pump every two to three hours. As your child grows, you can usually pump less often. However, if you're struggling with a low supply, pumping more often can help to increase it.
  3. Try Some Galactagogues: A galactagogue is something that helps a breastfeeding mother make more breast milk. There are plenty of breastfeeding superfoods, herbs, and teas that you can add to your daily diet to support and promote lactation.

Pumping and the Return to Work 

Many moms who have been pumping since the beginning have a very easy transition when they have to go back to work. There isn't the stress of introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby or having to teach your body to accept a pumping schedule. However, if you find that your production is dropping a bit from work stress, don't worry. There are many ways to increase your breast milk supply.

Pumping and Family Planning

When it comes to the prevention of pregnancy, exclusive pumping is not the same as exclusive breastfeeding. The lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) of birth control may work during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding, but it is not considered effective with pumping. Therefore, if you do not wish to become pregnant again right away, you and your partner should use another form of contraception. Be sure to let your doctor know that you are exclusively pumping, though. Some types of birth control contain estrogen which can cause a decrease in your milk supply.

A Word From Verywell

Pumping your breast milk for your child can be rewarding, but it can also be time-consuming and demanding. Fatigue and stress can make you rethink your decision to pump, and they are known to decrease the supply of breast milk. So, it's important to take care of yourself. Try to eat well, drink plenty of fluids, get rest when you can, and relax with your feet up while you're pumping. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, and friends. A little help and support can make all the difference when it comes to how long you continue to pump for your child.

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Article Sources
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  2. Bottle Feeding Basics. American Academy of Pediatrics

  3. Meier PP, Patel AL, Hoban R, Engstrom JL. Which breast pump for which mother: an evidence-based approach to individualizing breast pump technology. J Perinatol. 2016;36(7):493-9. doi:10.1038/jp.2016.14

  4. Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM).

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