Embracing the Realities of Exclusively Breastfeeding (EBF)

Exclusively offering your baby breastmilk is an admirable goal, but let's be honest—it's incredibly hard. Whether you're nursing, exclusively pumping, or trying a combination, the challenges can feel overwhelming at times.

While we are here to support every parent's feeding goals, we also want to be forthcoming and honest about what it can take to exclusively offer breastmilk to your baby. We find this topic isn’t addressed often enough, but feel it’s important to inform parents about the realities of doing so to best prepare them to meet their feeding (and sleep) goals.

Exclusively breastfeeding, while natural and beneficial, comes with its own set of challenges and realities that parents may face:

    1. Time and Energy Demands: Exclusively breastfeeding requires a significant time commitment from the parent, especially in the early weeks and months when babies feed frequently. This can be physically and emotionally demanding, particularly when combined with other responsibilities.
    2. Cluster Feeding: Babies often go through periods of cluster feeding, where they feed more frequently and for longer durations. This can be exhausting for the parent and may lead to feelings of frustration or inadequacy, especially if they are experiencing sleep deprivation.
    3. Latch and Milk Supply Issues: Some babies may have difficulty latching properly or establishing a good breastfeeding rhythm, which can lead to sore nipples and concerns about milk supply. Seeking support from a lactation consultant or healthcare provider can help address these challenges.
    4. Isolation and Limitations: Exclusively breastfeeding may limit the parent's ability to be away from their baby for extended periods, as they are the primary source of nourishment. This can lead to feelings of isolation or difficulty participating in activities outside the home.
    5. Nutritional Needs and Self-Care: Parents who are exclusively breastfeeding need to prioritize their own nutritional needs and self-care to maintain their energy levels and milk supply. This may require additional planning and support from partners or family members.
    6. Breastfeeding in Public: Some parents may feel uncomfortable or self-conscious about breastfeeding in public, which can limit their mobility and social interactions. Building confidence and finding supportive spaces can help alleviate these concerns.
    7. Supply issues. At some point, your baby’s demand may exceed your supply, and if you don’t have a good milk stash, this may mean supplementing your baby with a breastmilk alternative, which is totally okay. Many parents face supply issues as their baby gets older, so if you are dealing with this, please know you are not alone. The best strategy to combat this is to start pumping within the first month so your supply regulates to the “demand” of 1+ extra feeds per day.

Despite these challenges, many parents find exclusively breastfeeding to be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, fostering a strong bond with their baby and providing numerous health benefits for both parent and child. It's essential for parents to recognize and seek support for the realities they may face while navigating their breastfeeding journey.

When my daughter was born, I had this preconceived notion that I would exclusively nurse her for a year. Maybe it was societal pressure or influenced by what I'd seen my mom and sisters do, but that was the expectation I set for myself. However, I had no idea how challenging this would actually be.

I managed to exclusively offer my daughter breastmilk for 15 months, but let me tell you, it was a journey filled with ups and downs. As a full-time working mom, I had to introduce the bottle early on. By the time I returned to work at 14 weeks, it was a necessity. So, I started pumping and offering a bottle once a day when she was just three weeks old.

On top of that, I struggled with postpartum depression, and nighttime feedings became a significant trigger for me. It became evident pretty quickly that nursing her at night was not feasible. Instead, I found myself waking up to pump while my husband would handle the bottle feeding.

I was fortunate enough to pump frequently and build up a freezer stash to sustain my daughter for the first year, but it caused a lot of extra stress on myself and my family. From pumping at every feeding she had to carrying pump parts to and from work every day, it was a constant juggling act.

Here's a glimpse into what it took to make it work:

    1. Pumping at every feeding
    2. Pumping before bed, even after we stopped the dreamfeed
    3. Pumping at 4am before my morning workout to ensure I could feed her at 6:30 before heading to work
    4. Making lactation cookies for a daily snack and to increase my supply
    5. Taking breaks throughout the day to eat and drink enough water to maintain my supply

Looking back, I realize I didn't fully comprehend just how challenging it would be to exclusively offer breastmilk. Mentally, it took a toll. The pressure I put on myself to produce enough milk was immense.

But here's the thing—I made the decision that was right for me and my family at the time. However, I'm not sure if I would make the same decision if I had another child.

Exclusively offering breastmilk was mentally taxing, and I think it's crucial for parents to understand that they have options. It's okay if you don't want to offer breastmilk or if your body doesn't have enough of a supply. It's okay to choose formula or a combination of feeding method.

Ultimately, how you feed your child is a deeply personal decision, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Whatever path you choose, remember that you're doing what's best for yourself and your child. Your journey is valid, and you should never feel pressured to conform to anyone else's expectations.

We highly recommend starting before birth to develop a feeding plan that meets YOUR family's needs and supports your feeding goals through at least the first year of your baby’s life. It is so important to have a practical and realistic feeding plan in place from birth, so you can be prepared to meet your feeding goals.

Whether it’s exclusively offering breastmilk to your baby, bottle feeding, or combination feeding, we can help you via our Online Programs and 1:1 consulting to support your family and how you choose to feeding your baby.

To book a 1:1 Lactation Consultation, email hellomilk@fullerfeedings.com to schedule a 30, 60, or 90-minute call with our Certified Breastfeeding Specialists® or if you prefer to work at your own pace, our self-guided Breastfeeding Basics and Bottle Feeding Basics are great ways to support your feeding and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

And if you are looking for a more comprehensive approach to support your baby (including feeding), we offer Online Infant & Toddler Sleep Programs that teach you a simple, 3-step, needs based, NO CRY IT OUT approach to sleep that can be safely implemented from birth and alleviates the need to sleep train.

Questions? Email hellosleep@fullfeedings.com and ask us anything!!!