Do all breastfeeding mothers need a pump?

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

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

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Who needs a pump?

  • A mother whose baby is not nursing well (or not nursing at all). A quality pump is the best way to maintain milk supply in this situation.
  • A mother who needs to increase milk supply or is inducing lactation for an adopted baby. In these situations, a pump is not absolutely necessary but can certainly speed the process.
  • A mother who plans to return to full- or part-time work and wants to provide her milk for baby.
  • A mother who is planning occasional separations from baby for more than a couple of hours.
  • A mother who wants to offer expressed milk for other reasons.

If baby is nursing well at the breast, then mom’s need for a pump depends upon her plans for separation from baby. If you do plan to get a pump, the best kind depends upon how often you plan to pump. Here are some links on choosing and using a breastpump. If you plan to offer expressed milk, it’s best to wait until baby is 4-6 weeks old.

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 moms do pump for various reasons, there are other moms who do not pump at all — either option can be very workable.

Many moms are told that obtaining a pump is essentially a requirement for a breastfeeding mother. Following are some of the reasons that a mother might be told that a pump is an essential piece of equipment:

Engorgement: Some mothers 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 for mom: Don’t let anyone tell you that moms who don’t pump cannot get time for themselves – this is simply not true. Many moms go out for just an hour or two (however long baby normally goes between feedings) and leave baby with Dad 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 of mom & baby: It’s very rare to run into a situation where mom and baby need to be separated without prior warning. If you find you need to be separated from baby, there is generally time to plan ahead and rent or purchase a pump.

Mom is sick/needs surgery/etc.: Is it almost always better to continue nursing when mom is sick. Nursing can also be continued without interruption after mom has general anesthesia, local anesthesia, and most other medical procedures. Accurate information is key. If mom is unable to nurse due to sudden illness, it is certainly helpful to have expressed milk in the freezer, but this is not that common an occurrence.

Mom needs to take a medication: It’s very rare to run into a situation where a nursing mom needs to take a drug that is truly contraindicated for breastfeeding mothers (and for which there is no safe alternative). Again, the key here is to get accurate information. In the rare situation where mom needs to take a medication that is truly contraindicated, it may be possible to postpone the medication until mom 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. Mom can rent or purchase a pump if it is needed.

In closing…

This article is not arguing that breastfeeding mothers do not need to pump – there are many situations where a good pump is the best tool available. However, many mothers do not need to buy a pump. The above information is intended to help mom determine whether a pump is a “must-have” for her own particular situation.

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