The Breast Pump: A 21st Century Blessing or Curse?
The breast pump has been one of the most valuable innovations of the 21st century for new mothers. It can be a lifesaver for mothers who deliver prematurely and can't hold or latch their babies from the start. For moms who struggle with latch issues, pumps allow them to bottle feed infants with their own breast milk. Working moms often have a love-hate relationship with pumping, but are grateful for being able to both provide for their families financially and continue to provide for their infants nutritionally. Have to run out for an errand or attend your best friend's wedding? These instances wouldn't have been possible a hundred years prior.
Back in the late 1980's, my own mother didn't have the luxury of going places without me as an infant because the manual breast pumps at the time were weak and unreliable. She described a bicycle horn shaped contraption that hurt and barely expressed drops (I later saw this "antique" pump at a lactation workshop and was told it should have been pulled from the market because of the injury risk it carried). I was fortunate to have received a hardworking double electric breast pump free of charge from my medical insurance, but in all honesty after my daughter's 1st birthday I was ready to burn the damn thing!
The pump definitely has incredible value in many situations, but there are other times when it can be downright detrimental to a mother's nursing success. A major concern I've heard from my breastfeeding clients and friends with newborns is that they feel they have very little milk or they feel that their milk is drying up. When I ask what makes them most concerned about their supply, the reply is often "well I only pump 1 oz" or "I barely pump a few droplets." Ladies, the pump is generally a TERRIBLE INDICATOR OF ACTUAL MILK SUPPLY! Why is that? For starters, in the first few days the body is still producing low-volume colostrum and your baby's stomach may be anywhere from the size of a marble to the size of an egg, depending on age and weight.
I generally recommend holding off on pumping and bottle feeding for the first month if possible (obviously having a preemie, latch issues, and separation from baby warrant sooner pumping). This allows you to establish your milk supply based on baby's needs, gives baby more latching practice at the breast, and prevents baby from preferring the faster flow of a bottle nipple.
So how can you be sure you are making enough milk?
Your baby will be feeding frequently enough, producing adequate wet and dirty diapers, and gaining well (see the links below). Observing changes in your breasts and baby's feeding behavior can also serve as indicators of feeding success (again see the links below to learn about signs of successful milk transfer and baby's hunger/satiety cues). Two articles that I often share with new moms to reassure them that they are making enough milk are:
Still not sure?
Meet with a lactation counselor, attend local La Leche League meetings (https://lllusa.org/) or find other breastfeeding support groups in your area, ask your pediatrician to come in for a weight check, or see if you qualify for free lactation support at a WIC agency. There is tons of breastfeeding support available, so take advantage!