Do I Need a Breast Pump?

When breastfeeding is going well and if you don’t plan on being parted from your baby, a breast pump is not an essential purchase. Sometimes it is helpful to remove breast milk from a breast, however a breast pump is not the only way as hand expressing can be very effective. This article looks at situations when a breast pump might be useful and answers frequently asked questions. It is a companion article to How to Increase Milk Supply When Pumping.

Ways to express breast milk

There are many different types of breast pump such as manual, electric or hospital grade. However a breast pump is not the only way to remove milk from a breast. For more information about removing milk by hand see Hand Expressing Breast Milk and for more information about types of pump and how to choose the right one for you see How to Increase Milk Supply When Pumping.

Why might I need to express milk?

It can be helpful to express your breast milk in the following situations:

  • If your breasts are engorged—pumping or hand expressing to remove enough breast milk from the breast to resume comfort levels will relieve engorgement and avoid mastitis (inflammation of the breast).
  • If your baby is not able to breastfeed—constantly removing breast milk from your breasts by hand expressing or pumping will stimulate your milk supply and provide a supplement to keep your baby well fed until he is able to breastfeed.
  • If your baby is not getting enough breast milk—hand expressing and pumping after breastfeeds can help to increase your milk supply by thoroughly draining the breasts and stimulating more milk production.
  • If you will be separated from your baby regularly or are returning to work you will need to pump enough breast milk to feed your baby while you are away from him. Pumping breast milk can be very effective when larger volumes are needed.

Does a breast pump have any other uses?

If you have flat, inverted or dimpled nipples a breast pump can help to evert your nipples and may help your baby to latch (attach to the breast).

What about expressing so my partner can help with night feeds?

Some mothers see pumping for night feeds as an advantage. They like the idea that they won’t have to get up at night to feed the baby and can get a full night’s sleep. Although this may work for some families occasionally, this is not a very good plan for a new mother’s milk supply. Babies expect to breastfeed during the night. And your breasts expect to breastfeed too. One of the hormones of lactation, prolactin, is especially high at night. By sleeping all night instead of breastfeeding on demand, your breasts will become engorged with milk. Engorgement can be painful, will cause your milk production to slow down and can put you at risk of getting blocked ducts or mastitis. The chances are, you will wake at night anyway with uncomfortable, full breasts and need to pump to make yourself comfortable again. Waking to pump defeats the objective of a full nights sleep and, in most cases, you may as well breastfeed your baby while you’re awake. For more reading see Baby Waking Up at Night and Bed-Sharing With Baby.

Are there any disadvantages to using a breast pump?

  • Cost. Breast pumps can be expensive to buy, generally the more you pay the better the pump, but check reviews carefully as brands vary.
  • Cleaning time. Pump parts will need to be cleaned very carefully which can be time consuming.
  • Hygiene. Unless the pump has a closed system and includes safeguards for several users such as hospital grade pumps, it is unhygienic to use second hand equipment. Doing so will usually invalidate a warranty. Infections can be associated with using a breast pump. Mould and pathogens have been found inside used breast pumps e.g. within the tubing. 1
  • Breakdowns. Pumps can break or may not work properly.
  • Reducing milk supply. Exclusively pumping mothers may find their milk supply begins to drop over time due to the differences with direct breastfeeding.
  • Nipple preference. Once breast milk has been removed from the breast it has to be fed back to baby. Feeding methods include cup, bottle, or by a feeding tube on a finger. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Some types of bottle have more potential to affect a baby’s latch at the breast than others (nipple confusion) or for baby to prefer a bottle over a breast (nipple preference). For more information to reduce nipple confusion see Best Bottle for a Breastfed Baby? and Tips to Bottle Feed a Breastfed Baby.

Using a breast pump

See How to Increase Milk Supply When Pumping to get pumping working for you with answers to how often to pump, how long to pump in each session, what sort of volume to expect, and how to choose and use a breast pump.

Photo courtesy Emily Walker
Photo courtesy Emily Walker

Summary

There is no need for every pregnant woman who wants to breastfeed to buy a breast pump just in case they need one. In most cases when breastfeeding is going well you will not need to pump your breast milk. If you do need to express milk occasionally due to engorgement or because you need to leave some milk for your baby while you’re apart; hand expression can work very well. If you have a newborn baby who can’t breastfeed yet, hiring a hospital grade pump for a month or two may be all that is needed. While a breast pump can be very useful in a number of situations, mothers can decide whether they need one based on their own circumstances. For much more information on using a pump see How to Increase Milk Supply When Pumping.