Do I need a breastpump?

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

A good breastpump is a wonderful tool to have available when it is needed, but not everyone needs a pump. In fact, even for those who need to express their milk, manual expression is a good option (though it may not be the best option for a particular situation).

Who needs a pump?

You may need a pump if…

  • Your baby is not nursing well (or not nursing at all). A quality pump is the best way to maintain milk supply in this situation.
  • You need to increase milk supply or you are inducing lactation for a baby you did not birth. In these situations, a pump is not absolutely necessary but can certainly speed the process.
  • You plan to return to full- or part-time work and want to provide milk for baby.
  • You are planning occasional separations from baby for more than a couple of hours. Hand expression is another option.
  • You prefer to offer expressed milk (either part of the time or all of the time) for any reason.

If you do plan to get a pump, the best kind depends upon how often you plan to pump:

  • If baby is not nursing well or is not nursing at all, a hospital-grade rental pump is the best for building and maintaining milk supply. If this is not available, then get the highest quality pump that  you can.
  • If breastfeeding is going well, then your need for a pump depends upon your plans for separation from baby.

Here is more information on:

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Are you pregnant and not sure whether you will need a pump?

You always have the option of waiting until after baby is born and only getting a pump if you find you need one. In many communities, quality pumps can be easily found in local stores and rental pumps can be obtained from hospitals, pharmacies or lactation consultants.

What if you expect to be with baby most of the time?

If you don’t expect to be separated from baby for longer periods of time, then you probably don’t need a pump. Although many people do pump for various reasons, there are others who do not pump at all — either option can be very workable.

Many parents are told that obtaining a pump is essentially a requirement for breastfeeding. Not true!

Following are some of the reasons that you might be told that a pump is an essential piece of equipment:

Engorgement: Some parents like to have a pump available to help with engorgement after milk comes in, so this can certainly be a valid reason for getting a pump. But is a pump required? Under normal situations, a pump is not a necessity — frequent nursing can prevent or keep engorgement to a minimum and there are other alternatives for dealing with engorgement. If you do pump when engorged, keep in mind that breast tissue is more easily damaged when mom is engorged, so avoid excessive pumping duration or suction. Hand expression is always an option, is gentler on mom, and may be more effective when mom is engorged.

Time alone: Don’t let anyone tell you that if you don’t pump you cannot get time for yourself- this is simply not true. Many parents go out for just an hour or two (however long baby normally goes between feedings) and leave baby with a partner or another caregiver; the amount of time you get between feeding will increase as baby gets older. Here are more tips for finding time alone.

Separation from baby: It’s rare to run into a situation where you need to be separated from your baby without prior warning. If you find you need to be away from your baby, there is generally time to plan ahead and rent or purchase a pump.

Illness, Surgery: Is it almost always better to continue breastfeeding when you are sick (and when baby is sick). Nursing can also be continued without interruption after you have general anesthesia, local anesthesia, and most other medical procedures. Accurate information is key. If you are unable to breastfeed due to sudden illness, it is certainly helpful to have expressed milk in the freezer, but this is not that common an occurrence.

Medications: It’s very rare to run into a situation where a breastfeeding parent needs to take a drug that is truly contraindicated during breastfeeding (and for which there is no safe alternative). Again, the key here is to get accurate information. In the rare situation where you need to take a medication that is truly contraindicated, it may be possible to postpone the medication until you can pump milk for baby and make other preparations.

Baby cannot or will not nurse: Occasionally a baby will have problems nursing at birth or later on (due to illness, surgery, etc,), or will go on a nursing strike. You can rent or purchase a pump if it is needed.

In closing…

This article is not arguing that breastfeeding parents do not need a pump – there are many situations where a good pump is the best tool available. However, many parents do not need to buy a pump. I hope this helps you to determine whether a pump is a “must-have” for your own particular situation.

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