Do you really need a breast pump?
Ultimately, all that you need to breastfeed is a baby and a boob! And if all is going well, and you are not going to be separated from your baby for any length of time for the first year or so of life, then the answer to this question is ‘probably not’.
However, if you are going to be away from baby for longer periods than a quick grocery run, or if for any reason your baby is unable to latch and feed, you will need to express breast milk, either by hand or by using a breast pump.
So what is wrong with hand expressing?
Absolutely nothing. Some women hand express with so much success that they choose this method above using a pump. It is a skill worth learning, because there may well come a day where your pump breaks or its battery dies, and you need to empty your breast without your breast pump. Your hands are available to you at no cost, and you do not need to sterilise their parts.
In general though, most women find expressing with a good quality breast pump to be faster and more convenient than hand expressing.
What is the purpose of expressing?
The purpose is three-fold:
- To express milk for your baby to drink.
- To stimulate your supply – your body makes milk on demand, and proper stimulation and breast emptying are the two main factors responsible for breast milk production.
- To prevent engorgement, blocked milk ducts and mastitis – if your baby is not feeding and you are not emptying your breasts, you are bound to develop fullness problems.
For an occasional evening out or a feed missed you may well be able to express by hand or with a hand pump or silicone suction pump.
But moms in the following situations would really benefit from choosing a good quality breast pump:
- The first and most common reason would be a mom who needs to go back to work and express milk to leave for her baby. Going back to work and breastfeeding is a topic on its own, and support for this option forms a big part of what we focus on at All Things Breastfeeding.
- A mom whose baby is not able to latch and suck in the early days after birth. There are many reasons why babies have latching difficulties, and you will really benefit from seeing a lactation consultant. However, expressing breastmilk and establishing supply will ensure that you can successfully continue feeding once the latching problem has been sorted.
- If baby is premature or sick and admitted to NICU after birth it can take days or even weeks before baby is able to latch. A mom would need to express to establish her supply and to provide milk for baby.
- Moms who are exclusive pumpers, meaning that baby do not feed directly from the breast, but are fed mostly expressed breast milk.
- Mothers who struggle with milk production (supply), or babies who are struggling to gain weight. Slow production/slow weight gain are almost always interlinked, and there are many contributing factors. Expressing to boost supply and to provide baby with extra expressed breast milk is part of the management of both.