This question came up over the weekend when I was teaching a breastfeeding class at Kaiser San Francisco. A sweet dad-to-be approached me during the break and said that he was under the impression that breastfeeding wasn't really possible unless a mom had access to a pump. I talked him through some of the common uses of a breast pump:
I didn't think he was silly. We live in a culture dominated by technology and commercialism. Reliance on electronics has become second nature for most of us. New parents are marketed so many new products: breastfeeding apps, seats and swings that can be programmed to bounce and make noise, baby monitors with cameras, forehead scanning thermometers, and on and on. How are we supposed to know what we really need?
A lot of people see the breast pump as a must-have, and it goes on the baby gift registry automatically. I learned this a few years ago when a dear friend was expecting her first baby. Her registry included a heavy-duty electric double pump, as well as sets of bottles, several packages of milk storage bags, extra flanges, and pump cleaning supplies. We hadn't been in touch for much of her pregnancy, so looking at her registry, I assumed she was planning to return to work. Turns out, she wasn't! But all of her mama friends had told her that she needed those items, so on to the registry list they went. She ended up pumping a few times for date nights, but most of the supplies went unused and were passed along to a mom who worked outside the home. My friend probably could have gotten by with hand expression (or using an inexpensive hand pump) and a couple of bottles.
I devote a good portion of my breastfeeding classes to talking about hand expression. There are many good videos, and I show this one by Maya Bolman. It's always fun to see the reactions of the students, many of whom didn't even know that it was possible to remove milk this way! In my private practice, I teach hand expression to every mom who doesn't already know how to do it. In many cases, skilled hand expression is as effective as a high-quality pump, and it's certainly cheaper. Perhaps this is why hand expression is still not widely trusted as a good way to remove milk; there isn't much money to be made in telling people to use their hands.
A parting thought that I share with all breastfeeding families: a breast pump is not an accurate gauge of milk supply. Many moms worry that if they don't pump out a certain amount of milk that they are not making enough. Or perhaps they have been pumping for a while and notice a decrease in their output. It may appear as though their supply as dropped. Yikes! But as my wise lactation consultant mother once said to me, "Before you doubt your body, doubt the machine." Our bodies are very well designed to make milk, and our babies are good at getting it out. Pumps, however, can vary in quality. They can wear out. They can be defective. And yet new parents continue to put their trust in electronics to help them navigate the uncertain waters of infant care and feeding. I invite them to turn that notion on its head, and trust themselves instead.
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One lactation consultant's musings about milk.