My first born, being 33 weeks at birth, was a preemie who required NICU stay and had elevated bilirubin levels. I took it upon myself to provide only breastmilk to boost his immunity. Due to his prematurity and inability to vigorously suck, we were told to express breast milk and hand it over to the nurses who would feed him initially via a feeding tube and following that by a spoon.
I had ordered a manual breast pump before delivery. However, in two days, my patience waned and I purchased a semi-electric single breast pump, and boy did it make a ruckus.
I remember my self-esteem and competence as a mother being judged by the nursing staff by every drop of milk I produced. As I was blessed to have a very supportive birthing team: a committed obstetrician, a supportive family and dedicated neonatologists, I was patient with myself and the milk supply gradually increased. My baby graduated from NICU and until now, has only ever had breast milk, which was certainly made possible in the early days only due to the breast pump.
While manual expression serves the purpose if it’s a short term, one off event of expressing milk, or to relieve engorged ducts, investing in a good breast pump makes navigating the postpartum period that much simpler for a couple. Here are the top reasons why you may consider pumping:
- You are committed to providing breast milk as a source of nutrition to your newborn. Breast milk’s moniker liquid gold is fitting. It is customized nutrition, based on the gestational age, season, flavor based on mother’s diet, and provides all micro and macronutrients necessary for the first 6 months, and about half or more during the next 6 months, and up to one third during the second year of life, not to mention immune protection that begins in infancy and lasts until adulthood. The short- and long-term benefits for mom and baby are manifold. While the virtues of breastfeeding are extolled, the reality is starkly different. Only 1/3 of women continue to breastfeed their newborn for the first 6 months of life. So while you are convinced about the advantages of breastmilk, but breastfeeding isn’t something you enjoy, or you don’t see yourself continuing, having a pump ensures your baby gets the benefits of breastmilk.
- You ensure 4-6 hours of sleep for both partners. While you have decided to exclusively breastfeed your infant, you may still want to ensure 4-6 hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleep for each partner caring for the baby, as sleep deprivation is known to wreak havoc and this may save your sanity. In this way, the dad or grandparent, or any other caregiver feels involved in the initial days. However, a word of caution here is warranted. Replacing night feeds entirely by an expressed feed could lead to a fall in milk supply, as serum prolactin, a hormone required for breast milk production, is produced at night.
- You always have a back up In case of any illness/disease. If you have been diagnosed with a transmissible disease, and have been advised to exercise caution while breastfeeding, having a store of pumped milk comes to the rescue. According to the AAP, only HIV and Galactosemia are truly contraindications to breastfeeding, but that said, sometimes, when you are ill, you just could use a break from nursing on demand.
- You delivered prematurely. Depending on the degree of prematurity, you may be told to delay breastfeeding and offer feeds via either tube feeding or expressed feeds until the baby recovers strength to breastfeed adequately. In this case, having a breast pump is imperative.
- You have resumed work. While workplaces are now waking up to the need to provide maternity leave, a lot of times that simply isn’t an option. To avert the scenario, having a bottle of pumped milk handy that other caregivers can feed your child could save you the ordeal.
- You have clinical anxiety when it comes to the process of breastfeeding. If the thought of breastfeeding scares the living day lights out of you, if you feel harried to the point of having a panic attack every time you have to breastfeed, or the thought of all the things that could go wrong with breastfeeding pop up in your brain incessantly, despite reassurance to the contrary, you may have clinical anxiety, and while mothers who have this can be reassured and guided by a competent lactation consultant, pumping could be a sustainable alternative.
- You have a high risk factor for post-natal depression. If you have suffered antenatal depression, or have conditions that predispose you to having post-partum depression, it has been documented that ensuring sleep is crucial in prevention of post-natal depression. Pumping makes this possible.
- You are a dad caring for your newborn. Most people only think of the mom when it comes to breast pumped milk. If you are a same-sex couple who has adopted or conceived via surrogacy, having access to a breast milk bank, either through the biological mother or the surrogate, could ensure your baby gets access to this wonder drug despite not having the birth mother around physically.
- You have undergone surrogacy or adoption and are considering relactation or induced lactation. Did you know, that with maternal instinct, a woman who has not carried the pregnancy can also breastfeed?
- You want to increase your breast milk supply. If you feel you milk supply is dipping, you might want to mimic the natural feeding in order to increase your breast milk supply by pumping.
- You want to donate breast milk. You may be blessed with more than sufficient breast milk and could be enrolled as a breast milk donor. In this case, you would need a breast pump handy.
- You have twins or higher order multiples. With a single newborn itself, life can be topsy turvy. But when challenged with multiples, which are increasing in incidence due to more parents using assisted reproductive techniques, you will realize that a breast pump is a vital part of your breastfeeding journey.
In conclusion, a breast pump, if used with discretion, serves to aid your breastfeeding journey, and not detract from it. If you choose to exclusively pump (EPing) you should be aware of the shorter duration of feeding intervals required and should aim to provide expressed feeds for the first 6 months of your newborn’s life.
To know more about breastfeeding, find the nearest breast feeding support group near you, La Leche League is an organisation that is dedicated to this purpose available world wide. You may also seek out certified lactation consultants to help you on your journey.