As a new mom considering breastfeeding, you may have seen pictures of breast pumps, numerous pumping accessories, and a freezer full of frozen milk as you scroll through social media pages on motherhood. The thought of pumping in addition to taking care of a new baby may seem overwhelming.
I get a lot of questions from new moms about pumping. When? How? Why? The truth is pumping is not a one-size-fits-all activity. If you plan to exclusively breastfeed with on-demand feeding, a breast pump may not be necessary right away—if at all. This is because babies are much more efficient and effective at removing milk than a pump is. The first breast pump wasn’t even patented until 1854. Women have successfully breastfed their infants for thousands of years before the pump was invented.
However, the pump is a useful tool for modern mothers and a necessity for infant and maternal health in some scenarios. Here are the top eight reasons why you may need a breast pump during your breastfeeding journey.
1. Baby is not able to effectively breastfeed
Pumping is the best way to maintain your milk supply if your baby is not actively removing milk from the breasts on his or her own. This could be due to a traumatic birth, injury, or infant condition like prematurity.
Every missed feeding at the breast should be replaced with a pumping session—even at night. Remember that most babies feed 8-10 times every day! Pumping sessions should last about 15-20 minutes while simultaneously pumping both breasts. Pumping will allow you to maintain your milk supply and breastfeeding relationship when your baby cannot be on the breast; when your baby is ready to try the breast again, there will be milk ready for him or her.
2. Baby is not getting enough breast milk
If your baby is not gaining weight appropriately, your pediatrician may recommend supplementing breast milk or formula through a bottle. Moms who wish to provide breast milk can pump after feeding their baby at the breast. Since milk is made on a supply and demand basis, demanding more milk from pumping and putting baby to the breast frequently will cause an increase in milk supply. In other words, leaving milk in the breasts after a feeding can tell your body to make less milk while fully emptying milk from the breasts after each feeding triggers the body to create more milk. Situations like these are often benefited by adding an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) to work alongside your pediatrician.
3. You and baby are separated regularly
Maybe you are going back to work or are separated from your baby for another reason. Pumping is the most efficient way to maintain your milk supply and provide breast milk for your little one when he or she cannot latch. Husbands, partners, family and other caregivers will have the ability to feed the baby through a bottle. To moms who are returning to work, keep in mind there are laws in place in all 50 states that allow you time at work to express milk.
4. You have inverted or flat nipples
Pumping for a few minutes before putting baby on the breast can help to evert nipples. This will make latching onto the breast an easier experience for the baby.
5. You have a forceful letdown
Pumping just until you let down and then latching the baby is a great way to help babies that struggle, gulp or choke with a forceful letdown.
6. You have engorged breasts
Engorgement can lead to plugged ducts or even mastitis, a painful infection of the mammary glands. Massaging breasts, taking warm showers and pumping or hand expressing only enough milk to maintain your comfort will reduce the risk of developing further conditions. It’s important to note removing too much milk from engorged breasts with a pump will continue the rampant production of milk since milk is made on a supply and demand basis.
7. You chose to exclusively pump
Some mothers choose to exclusively pump and not feed at the breast for personal reasons. This can still meet the CDC’s recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continued breastfeeding for 12 months or longer. Pumping breastmilk is still breastfeeding!
8. You donate breast milk to a milk bank
Because of breast milk’s amazing health benefits, some moms choose to pump extra breast milk and donate to local milk banks. Milk banks supply human milk to many babies but particularly medically fragile babies in the NICU. Your donation can save lives! Here’s the closest NC milk bank, but there are online donation options as well.
You've Got This!
Your breastfeeding and pumping journey will look different than anyone else’s—and that’s ok! The goal is to find a sweet spot where your needs and goals as the mom overlap with your baby’s nutritional needs. While a breast pump can be advantageous in some breastfeeding scenarios, each mom should consider her unique circumstances. Do your own research, talk with your baby’s pediatrician, and partner with an IBCLC when you are looking for help with breastfeeding difficulties. You’ve got this, mama!