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I have a friend who is single and finds herself pregnant unexpectedly. She and the father have no relationship at this point and don’t plan to, other than co-parenting, from separate households. It will be a joint custody arrangement from the start, with my friend, the mom, having primary custody and dad regular weekend/overnight visitation. Or so she plans.* She also plans on exclusively breastfeeding her baby, perhaps bottle feeding breast milk, but definitely wants to avoid formula (for cost and health reasons).

Anyway...

She has been asking me for lots of advice, seeing as I have 4 kids she figures I have all the answers (HA!) but especially she asks me about BF’ing (Breastfeeding) because I’m the only person she knows who’s done it and feels comfortable enough discussing it with her. I do have a lot of experience about lots of stuff, and BF’ing for sure, but one area I don’t have any experience with is how the logistics of EBF (exclusive breastfeeding) works, or doesn’t, in a situation where dad will potentially be taking the baby overnight or for the weekend, which is the situation she’s contemplating.

Obviously, advice in that scenario is going to be different than in a two-parent home, or if formula feeding, or if single parenting totally solo. I don’t want to give her advice that won’t be practical for her. Of course, a lot of what I have to offer is relevant and useful-latch techniques, engorgement, over/under supply, back pain, bras, etc-but she’s also asking me stuff like:

How will I keep up my milk supply over the weekend/night? How many bottles do I need? How will I know how much milk to send since I can’t measure intake per session?

I can attempt to answer these questions, based on my experience, but I think it would be more beneficial to her if I can provide her with answers based on the wider experience of this community.

  • I say “or so she plans” because this what she talks about with me, as someone who has no idea what the hell she’s gotten herself into. None of us did, as first time parents, even if was our plan to become parents! But, in her case specifically, she didn’t plan on having children. In her mind, with being single and all she figures she will need either the time to rest or to catch up on “everything else” and so justifies the time away from baby. I personally don’t see how this plan will be feasible, having been through the “4th trimester” X4. I can’t imagine packing up my newborn baby, breastfed or not, and sending him off for the night or weekend. First of all, because I know I’d spend the night/weekend strapped to a pump, and certainly won’t be “resting” or getting “anything else” (never mind “everything”!) done. And then there’s the anxiety/longing because of the separation. However, before I make assumptions about how she will feel (maybe she won’t miss her baby like I did when I left mine for even a few hours or consider 12 pumping sessions in 24 hrs for 3 days straight as tortuous and not “restful” at all), I’d like to know if anyone else has direct experience with this situation or something similar. I’d rather give her information that is experience/fact based than on speculation, even if it not my own. I appreciate that my friend thinks I know it all, but I don’t.

I want to be as supportive as I can, but I also want to help her have realistic expectations. I think she has some ideas (as ALL parents-to-be do) that aren’t quite...practical...in regards to this custody thing (which is still not set in stone) and breastfeeding, and how they influence each other. I am not trying to dissuade her from either the custody arrangement or breastfeeding-I really just want to give her solid advice as to how she could pull it off and then let her decide if that’s how she wants to proceed.

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(husband of a breastfeeding mom here). Insurance will pay for a nice electric pump. She should introduce a bottle on her own early with expressed milk. You can get an idea over time of how much baby eats by how much you pump (though in our experience our babies would always eat more than my wife pumps, as the baby is more efficient than the pump at extracting milk).

Pumping and using a bottle is an answer to keeping up the milk supply and knowing how much. Take advantage of a lactation consultant and ask their advice too (if delivering at hospital they'll likely have one on staff). They can help practice with the pump.

How many bottles: At least 4 of whatever fits on the pump so that you can have fresh milk in 2 of them and have 2 more to use. For bottles that will be used for feeding, theoretically one is enough if you wash it each time. I'd say it depends on her level of confidence in the father, and how easy she needs to make things for him.

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Much of the advice here is going to depend on the specifics.

First, when is she going to start sending the newborn to dad's? I wouldn't do that in the first week or two. First month? Six weeks? By that point, she should have a very good idea of how much the child eats, and be able to predict at least to some extent how much she'll need.

Make sure that she's pumping even during the first month, though; both to get the child used to bottles, and to increase her supply some. Breast milk can be frozen, in most cases, and will last for a fair amount of time (for several weeks or months). You can buy baggies to store it in; make sure to get specifically made baggies for this purpose, though, and take care to follow good sanitary practices to avoid contamination.

Make sure to test the frozen milk, at some point prior to sending the baby off, both on the baby and yourself; my wife had a condition that caused her milk to get a soporific (soap) taste/smell after a few days, even in the freezer, for example, so she couldn't pump in advance. (It wasn't dangerous to eat, but it tasted weird, and our babies didn't like it.)

As for how many bottles; this amount will vary based on age and baby, but for daycare we typically sent 40 ounces (5 8oz bottles), expecting to get one or two back, at the peak; obviously a full day/night will be more. She should have a good sense of how much the baby is eating, and then send more than that, at any given time. IF she uses frozen bags, she won't have to buy a ton of bottles, of course. We bought 24 bottles I believe, to reduce the washing burden (that's nearly a week's worth and easy to do in a few batches), but you can get by with quite a lot fewer, depending on how often you wash/sterilize.

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