Breastfeeding is a learnt skill. It often takes 4 – 6 weeks for a new mum and baby to master breastfeeding and feel confident. In the early weeks it is usually helpful to just focus on breastfeeding and recovering from the birth. For mothers that want to express and provide their milk so someone else can feed the baby, we suggest you first allow your milk production to stabilise (around four weeks) before introducing pumping.
However, there are some occasions in the early weeks where a mother may be advised to pump.
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If a woman has very sore and/or damaged nipples that are interfering with breastfeeding, she may choose to ‘rest’ her nipples by expressing her milk with a pump rather than directly breastfeeding. Some women want to rest for just a few feeds, while others feel a longer break of 24 hours or longer is needed. While resting the nipples it is very important that milk is still regularly removed from the breasts – at least 8 times in 24 hours – to ensure establishment of a healthy milk supply.
When a baby is born preterm, is very sleepy at the breast, or is unwell, he may not be able to latch effectively and remove enough milk to meet his needs and stimulate mum’s milk production. While the baby is maturing/recovering, a pump can help to adequately drain the breasts and stimulate milk supply.
Sometimes there can be a delay in the milk coming in, or a slow start to milk production – usually as a result of a medical or pregnancy complication. Early and frequent milk removal is essential to stimulating a healthy milk supply, and so breastfeeding and some additional pumping may be advised in the first two weeks to boost milk supply.
A hospital grade pump has been shown to be much more effective in removing milk than hand expression, especially when both breasts are pumped at the same time (“double pumping”). A hospital grade pump is quiet and many women report them more comfortable and effective than smaller personal use pumps.
The pump allows you to choose the most comfortable level of suction or vacuum – and you can change it if it becomes too strong while pumping. It is ideal for women that need to pump in the early weeks after birth, and for women that need to pump regularly over a longer period of time.
Smaller electric pumps and hand-operated pumps are available from retail outlets, however there is a wide range of quality and cost. Silicone hand-held devices such as the Haaka apply a constant vacuum and can make it difficult to comfortably position baby when used to ‘catch milk’ during breastfeeding. These do not replace a breast pump and are best avoided while breastfeeding is being established.
For women that plan to pump so that someone else can feed the baby, we suggest you wait several weeks after the birth so that:
- Your supply has adjusted to exactly what your baby needs.
- Your baby’s feeding pattern may be a little more predictable so you can choose the times that might be best to pump and/or have someone else feed baby.
- Your breasts will be more comfortable. In the early months you might still need to pump around the time that your baby is fed by someone else to prevent your breasts becoming too full.
You can reassess your pump plans as you go along in your breastfeeding journey. Some mums find it is not worth the extra work of pumping, cleaning the equipment and managing the stored milk just so that others can feed their baby! For women that only want to pump for occasional outings without the baby, a good quality hand pump may be all that is required, while those returning to work or needing to continue pumping several times per day will often manage better with a good quality personal use electric breast pump.
There are now also several wearable pumps on the market which allow the option of hands free pumping on the go.
In summary, feeding a baby at the breast is typically the fastest and easiest and most enjoyable way a woman can feed her own milk to her baby. However, when pain, latching difficulties or supply issues interfere with breastfeeding in the early weeks after birth, a hospital grade electric breast pump can provide comfortable and efficient milk removal.