Breastfeeding is one of the most common ways to feed an infant under the age of one year old. Most mothers benefit from using a breast pump during their breastfeeding journey, but with many pumps on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is best.
We will discuss the purpose of using breast pumps, some of the benefits, and how to choose the best pump for you and your lifestyle.
Even though breastfeeding is one of the most common ways to feed an infant, and is strongly recommended by most health professionals, the decision to breastfeed is a mother’s choice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 8 in 10 mothers in the U.S. begin to breastfeed their babies at birth.
The cells, hormones, and antibodies in a mother’s breast milk can help protect a baby from certain illnesses like asthma, ear infections, eczema, and reduce the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
While breast milk offers essential nutrients to infants, breastfeeding can benefit mothers, too. A woman who breastfeeds has a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and may heal faster after childbirth. In addition to physical health benefits, breastfeeding can strengthen a bond between mother and child and is cost-effective.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed, exclusively for about the first six months after birth, but about half of babies who are initially breastfed are still breastfeeding at six months old.
Mothers may stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended for a number of reasons from low milk production to busy schedules or inconvenience. While the decision to breastfeed remains the mother’s decision (despite strong opinions), choosing the right breast pump could help a mother breastfeed more easily and for an extended period.
Benefits of using breast pumps
Many new mothers, who plan to breastfeed, may not consider purchasing a pump before the birth of the baby. While a breastfeeding mother can successfully nurse her infant without a breast pump, there are many benefits to having one.
Helping the milk supply right after birth
Every nursing mother hopes that the newborn will latch on and start to nurse shortly after delivery, but that’s not always the case. While newborns need very little milk, only colostrum, in the first few days of life, it can take about three to four days for a mother’s milk supply to come in (longer if the baby is born prematurely).
Every mother’s milk supply is different and factors, like being a first-time mom or having stress, can delay the supply from arriving sooner. Using a pump can help boost a low milk supply.
To help new mothers get the hang of breastfeeding and feeling confident when she returns home, hospitals and birthing centers often have breast pumps available and encourage mothers to pump every few hours (particularly if milk production is behind).
During this time, mothers often have the opportunity to meet with a lactation specialist who can give pointers about using a pump at home.
Supplying milk for a premature baby or one who has trouble latching
Even though breastfeeding is one of the most natural things (every mammal nurses), some babies have a hard time latching on to the breast and getting an adequate supply of milk. Babies who are born prematurely are often too fragile and underdeveloped to breastfeed, but the mother’s milk still provides essential nutrients.
In either case, pumping can provide a newborn with all the benefits of its mother’s breast milk until nursing becomes easier.
Helping relieve the pain associated with engorged breasts
While some mothers struggle to produce enough milk in the early days of breastfeeding, some produce more than their baby needs and engorged breasts is often the painful result. As the milk supply increases, but doesn’t get expressed, the baby may have a more difficult time latching on (which can make the issue even worse). Pumping may help relieve pressure and pain as well as prevent infection and help the milk supply become more normal.
To keep milk supply up while not nursing
While some mothers are able to stay at home with their infant and stick to a nursing schedule, some experience an interruption in that schedule due to work, illness, travel, or other factors.
Nursing mothers who wish to keep their milk supply up may benefit from pumping while they are away from their babies.
Provide bonding between the non-nursing parent and baby
Nursing is a great opportunity for mothers and babies to bond. Pumping milk and storing in breast pump bottles allows the non-nursing parent the chance to bond and take on some of the feeding responsibilities. Storing breast milk is also helpful for babysitters and if the baby is in daycare.
Choosing a breast pump
Whether you’re deciding to rent or buy a breast pump, you may be overwhelmed by all of the pumps available. Before you go out and buy the first one you see or the cheapest one, there are some things to consider.
It’s important to keep in mind that your fellow nursing moms, lactation specialists, and other health professionals can offer some good advice if you need help deciding the best breast pump brand or other features.
Types of breast pumps
There are three types of breast pumps. Each pump (regardless of the type) is designed to extract milk from the breasts by creating a seal around the nipple and applying and releasing suction to the nipple, which mimics a baby suckle.
Manual breast pumps
Manual pumps typically have a handle or lever, which is squeezed to create a suction on the breast. As the milk is expressed from the breast, it collects into a container which can be transferred into a bottle later.
Some manual breast pumps are referred to as a “bicycle horn” pump. Rather than a handle or a lever, a hollow rubber ball is attached to the breast shield and is squeezed to express milk. Due to its design, this type of manual pump may be the most difficult to keep clean.
Electric and battery-powered breast pumps
Electric or battery-powered breast pumps are popular among nursing mothers as it typically doesn’t require as much work or time to pump milk. These types of breast pumps have a small motorized pump with a dial which controls the degree of suction.
Having the ability to change the degree of suction can be particularly helpful to new mothers who struggle with a low supply of breastmilk.
Although electric and battery-powered breast pumps are popular in hospitals and at home, nursing mothers may also benefit from having a manual pump as a backup option.
Single or double?
As you begin to browse a favorite brand like a Medela pump and style, don’t forget to think about the pumping type you want: single or double.
A single pumping type extracts milk from one breast at a time. Single pumps are typically manual or battery-powered breast pumps. Double types can extract milk from both breasts at once and are usually only available as an electric pump.
While single pumps are a little more time consuming, some breastfeeding mothers are more comfortable pumping one breast at a time as it’s the most like breastfeeding.
Other things to consider
If you’re still not sure which type of pump would be best for you, here are some other things to take into consideration:
WHAT TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR BREAST PUMP
How often will you use the pump?
Do you need to pump away from home?
Do you have a quiet space to pump in public?
How much time do you have to pump?
Is an electrical outlet or batteries readily available?
Do you have adequate storage space?
Do you have a place to store milk or clean your breast pump?
What is your breast pump budget?
Before you make a final decision on a pump you want to make sure that you can see all the parts, you know how to put them together, and that there’s an easy-to-follow manual.
While you can’t test out a breast pump at the store, try to purchase the pump from an establishment that can answer any of your questions. Breast pumps should also be easy to clean and lightweight enough for you to transport if necessary.
Depending on your lifestyle, a manual pump may be your best option while an electric pump is your clear choice. The only one who can decide which type of pump is best. Choose the pump that will make pumping milk comfortable and easy.