It may be hard to believe, but prior to 1996 double-electric breast pumps weren’t available for at-home use. Fast forward just over a decade and pumping technology is so advanced moms can express their milk almost anywhere. “I once pumped on a friend’s cottage dock,” recalls Oakville, Ont.-based mom Julie Blackwell. “Under my pajamas, of course.”
Breast pumping technology, such as double pumps, battery packs, car chargers and hands-free devices make it possible to express milk faster than ever before and in almost any location. But buying a pump with all the bells and whistles can set you back almost $400. Before you invest in a breast pump it’s important to look at why you will be pumping and how often so that you choose the best, most cost-effective one for you.
Awed by the rapid development of their babies, parents are always eager to help that progression. In fact, says Dr. Jean Wittenberg, head of infant psychiatry at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, “The first two years of life are the fastest learning curve.” However, the best way to interact with your baby isn’t to teach him to focus or concentrate or grab things—he does that just fine on his own—but rather, to simply interact with him in lively and fun ways. “The most important thing is to just be responsive to babies,” says Dr. Wittenberg. “If parents try to manipulate what babies are learning, then they stop being responsive to what babies need.”
Moms can pump at any time, especially if they want to help boost their milk supply, says Dr. Shari Caplan, a family doctor that specializes in reproductive life with Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. She does recommend waiting at least six weeks before introducing a bottle to make sure breastfeeding is established, but “if baby is doing well at the breast and you want to introduce a bottle earlier, then it’s fine,” she says. Another tip is to pump in the morning. “Your breasts have the most milk when you wake up and you can drastically cut your pumping time by pumping early,” advises Blackwell.
What type are you?
There are generally three reasons moms pump their breast milk. The first is medical necessity. Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy for every mother and baby. Babies born tongue-tied or with a cleft palette and preemies can have trouble latching on. Breast pumps are also necessary when a baby must spend time in the NICU and cannot breastfeed. In these cases, ask your hospital or pharmacy about renting or borrowing a hospital-grade pump.
The second reason? Some moms go back to work and want to continue breastfeeding. Convenience really becomes a factor. Look at your work environment before you buy. Will you always have an outlet available or is a battery pack essential? If you have an office or a private area with a door, hands-free is a great option — you an pump while you work or talk on the phone.
The last reason to pump is for a break from baby or to allow someone else to feed her. The occasional feeder may not want to invest a lot of money in a pump and can look to single or manual options. “You could even try hand expressing and you may be able to get a few ounces and skip buying a pump,” says Jean Kouba, president of the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association.
Picking a pump
Cost alone doesn’t guarantee a good pump. “Research brand names to see which is reputable and talk to other moms to see what they recommend,” says Dr. Caplan. If you’re pumping at work every day, a double pump may be more efficent. A healthy baby will suckle up to 50 times per minute, so look for a pump that cycles close to that. Breast pumps are also not a one-size- fits-all item. Look at selecting one that lets you choose the size of breast shield — the part that fits directly over your nipple and forms a seal around the areola. The right one will make pumping comfortable (the nipple should move freely in the tunnel, not rub the sides), and allow the pump to remove as much milk
Kouba however warns not to use a breast pump as a way to gauge if you’re getting enough milk. “Don’t question your milk supply if you only produce a small amount through pumping. Your baby is much more adept at removing milk than a pump.” Lastly, if you choose to wean your baby, wean the pump first. Pumping can offer temporary relief from engorgement but it will only stimulate you to produce more milk.
Nancy Ripton is a Toronto-based freelancer. Her most impressive pumping feat was in a car (parked, of course).