Breast pumps have established themselves in our culture as important tools for successful breastfeeding. Many new moms are buying and receiving pumps as baby shower gifts during pregnancy. They are often seen as a way to make breastfeeding easier for moms so they can possibly take a break from feeding their baby. These pumps can be very helpful to moms who want to breastfeed, but are not useful in all circumstances.
The most important component of successful breastfeeding is moving milk. Whether that milk is moved by a baby or a pump, milk needs to be moved from the breast regularly for good production. A baby has a very unique way of moving milk from the breast by nursing that cannot be replicated by a machine; through suction and massaging the breast with their jaw movement.
A breast pump only has the suction component, which is important but not ideal for removing the most amount of milk. Hand expression is also a very effective way to move milk from a breast. This incorporates the massage component without suction and can easily be done by a mom who just needs to remove some milk to prevent engorgement. Hand expression can be done after pumping to remove more milk if needed.
A breast pump can be used appropriately when:
- Baby is unable to nurse due to physical or medical problems
- Mom has inadequate milk supply, pumping can help but is not always necessary
- Mom and baby have to be separated for more than a few hours, or mom is going back to work or school
- Mom needs to undergo a medical procedure or take medication that contradicts breastfeeding (this is a rare circumstance)
Breastfeeding and caring for an infant can be hard work and breast pumps can be used to help moms feed their babies successfully. It is recommended that babies nurse for the first 4-6 weeks to establish a good foundation for breastfeeding before pumps are used. Be sure to talk with your lactation consultant or local breastfeeding resources if you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding or pumping.
“About Pumps” by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC
“Expressing Breastmilk” from breastfeeding.com