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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Breast Pump: Friend or Foe?

There are many breast pumps on the market from simple hand pumps to hospital grade double electric pumps.  For many modern women, the breast pump allows them to return to work while still feeding their baby breast milk.  Personally I have used a breast pump to give milk to each of my 4 babies while I was at work, and I am grateful that I was able to continue breastfeeding longer than my 8 week maternity leave.

But, in talking to women, I am getting the sense that, while the breast pump has allowed many women to continue a breastfeeding relationship with their baby, it has hurt many relationships as well.

Our consumer culture tells us that we need to buy all the baby "gear", in order to be prepared for baby.  Among the essentials is a breast pump.  Even moms that do not plan to return to work after their baby is born, still will get a pump.  It is almost unheard of that a woman would exclusively breastfeed her baby and never give a single bottle.

Breast Pump as Friend:  A double electric pump allows a women to pump both breasts at the same time, and can do so rather quickly.  I was able to breastfeed my babies anywhere from 15-20 months old, while working part time because of my breast pump.

Breast Pump as Foe:  I have encountered more and more women who start pumping during the first month of their baby's life, so that someone else can give the baby a bottle, or so she can have a break, or get some sleep, get some relief from sore nipples etc.  Pumping is not the same as breastfeeding and if a woman's milk supply is not well established, these occasional bottles can lead to a reduced milk supply.
      Babies develop a preference for breast or bottle.  Breastfeeding is work for a baby.  The baby has to use more muscles to get milk from a breast than from a bottle.  In the first month a baby can quickly develop a preference for milk from a bottle (just like in life, the easy way, is not necessarily the better way).  My babies, who have only occasionally had bottles while I was at work, have developed a strong preference for the breast, even at times completely refusing the bottle all together (they would however drink milk from a cup).

I have encountered so many women who started pumping, and then couldn't get the baby to latch onto the breast again.

Here are some suggestions to allow a mother to work, get out of the house from time to time, and not damage the breastfeeding relationship:
1. Don't use bottles (especially in the first month).  Rather, feedings can be given via cup.
2.Try hand expression, rather than using a pump.  http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/breastfeeding/faq%E2%80%99s-about-milk-supply-and-breastfeeding-challenges/hand-expressing-your-milk
Mother's who need to express milk in the first few days after birth, can express more milk using their hands than a pump.  http://group.bmj.com/group/media/latest-news/manual-breast-milk-expression-better-than-breast-pump-for-poor-feeders

Please, let the breast pump be a tool to assist you in breastfeeding and not to become a crutch!  Happy Breastfeeding!

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