Exactly How Exclusive Is Exclusive?

I’m always stumped for a moment when I get asked – by the doctor, for example – if I’m “exclusively breastfeeding.” Um. Can you define “exclusive” for me?

It’s not that I don’t know what the word means, its just that in this context it seems to mean different things to different people. If I were going by the strict definition of “exclusive” I would say it means that baby is fed only at the breast. But what if you pump breast milk and put it in a bottle for dad or grandma or the babysitter to feed baby with? Ok, I can see how that still counts as “exclusively breastfeeding.” It is still breast milk after all.

What about after they start solid foods? Even just rice cereal, made with breast milk. Does that count as “exclusively” breast feeding, if you’re not giving formula?

I know some things it does mean. It means losing the first big chunk of baby weight really quickly, but then holding onto ten pounds of water and “milk weight” for the next year. It means being exhausted from getting up for night feedings but not really minding because of the sweet baby snuggles you get when you do. It means cheap, portable feeding for your baby but always feeling hungry from sharing half your caloric intake each day. It means always keeping in mind how much wine you can have, which foods you have to avoid because they make baby gassy and always questioning whether a new medicine is safe to take while breastfeeding.

I’ve been so proud to breastfeed my two girls. I know that it can be incredibly hard for some moms to do, and I’ve had to work hard to keep it up at times. With Zoey I had supply issues, thanks to the fact that she would only ever nurse for about five minutes, every hour or two. Talk about a snacker! She still prefers to eat like that, by the way. Eleanor does quite a bit better, nursing for five or ten minutes every three or four hours. I used to worry so much about the length of time my babies spent (or didn’t spend) nursing. Aren’t they supposed to nurse for at least twenty minutes? Then I finally realized that, while that’s a nice guideline for many moms, breastfeeding is not a “one size fits all” situation. It turns out I have a very strong “let down” and almost all of the milk is out and gone within the first five minutes. No wonder my kids didn’t want to spend twenty minutes nursing – it’s a waste of time and energy when there is nothing there!

All of this is a long, rambling lead-up to say: we gave Eleanor a little formula for the first time this past weekend. (Seriously, how many “firsts” can this kid cram into one weekend??). It’s really not a big deal. We’ve been supplementing a little extra breast milk in a Zoli cup at dinner time for a few weeks now (did I mention we finally found a cup Eleanor will drink from? Yay!!!) , but my freezer stash is rapidly dwindling. I donated most of the supply I had pumped in the first three or four months because of Eleanor’s soy/dairy intolerance and then refusal to take a bottle. So now we’re down to the last couple bags. While I still make enough milk to nurse her each day, there isn’t much extra for pumping. Or time to pump, for that matter.

So, again, a little formula, not a big deal. Except. Except that it signifies the beginning of the end. Of nursing my sweet baby. Of my baby being a baby. It’s just all going so quick, it’s hard not to feel a little sad. And now when my doctor asks, “are you still exclusively breastfeeding?” I’ll know the answer right away.

What do you think? What does it mean to exclusively breastfeed? Did you breastfeed, use formula, or a combination of both? What milestone first made you realize how quickly you were nearing the end of babyhood with your little one?

6 thoughts on “Exactly How Exclusive Is Exclusive?

  1. I can’t believe I just read an entire post about breast feeding! Lol. My oldest wouldn’t “take the breast” as the nursing specialist called it, so my wife pumped several times a day. It was a royal pain in the ass for her, but she stuck to it. It was nice, because I was able to help with the feedings (dads deserve a little snuggle time too). She had soooo much milk left after Ace was done with breast milk that we needed a stand alone freezer! I wish we’d have known about donating it back then, because we tossed a lot. The boys were better about taking to the breast (go figure) but momma didn’t make as much to freeze. The boys got some formula because at some point, it’s just easier, but my wife did her best to get them breast milk for the first year of their lives. After a year, she decided no way, that’s too old! Even though there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s still something creepy to me about a toddler breastfeeding. Let it go, lady! He can eat real food now!! Oh well, I may get bashed for saying that I suppose, but it’s just an opinion.

  2. I’m no expert but I always thought “exclusively breastfeeding” meant ONLY breastmilk (no formula or food). I live in Canada and because of our 1 year maternity leave here, I don’t know many moms who pump breastmilk to offer in a bottle. i hear of lots of American moms doing this but don’t know what it means for this “exclusive breastfeeding” label!

    As for signs that a baby is growing up, I’m pretty sure that my almost 2 year old is saying “bra” when he wants to nurse. Hearing that come of out of his mouth is going to take some getting used to, even for a breastfeeding advocate like me!

    1. One year?!?! That’s it, I’ve heard enough convincing arguments – I’m moving to Canada!

      Bra! That’s gotta be fun when you’re out shopping 😉. My 2 year old started rubbing my chest in the grocery store last week and saying “You have nice breasts mommy.” It was slightly awkward.

  3. I’m having the same issue with supply now that C is eating solids. It makes me sad to think that breastfeeding will be coming to an end, signaling the end of babyhood. I remember how exciting it was when G started eating solids. This time I find myself thinking “oh no, she’s eating too much food and won’t want as much breastmilk.” I know it’s the natural process but I still can’t let go. Yet.

  4. You are so lucky to have been able to breastfeed! I couldn’t with either of my girls. Mine just don’t work that way, despite my best efforts. As far I know, “Exclusively breast fed” means breast milk only- no formula. But I’m not sure if that’s a term that becomes obsolete once they start on solids… Good question!!

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