To Pump or Not To Pump

July 26, 2017

This is a question many new parents are faced with. People do not realize the amount of information thrown at new and expecting parents until they are expecting and new parents themselves.

One of the big decisions parents have to make is how they are going to feed their baby. It seems like most Americans consider breastfeeding. There are many obstacles that interfere with breastfeeding – that is a post for another day but let’s talk pumping milk.

I recall when I was pregnant with my first baby I took a breastfeeding class. I knew I wanted to breastfeed but did not have many role models so I listened intently on how to breastfeed. I remember the instructor talked about pumping and how it is best to rent a pump – I am not sure I remember much more. When Phoebe was born I struggled with how to get her latched and how often to feed her and I had a striped scab across one of my nipples and a hickey on the other from her latching onto the areola. I remember in a fit of frustration telling Rob WE NEED TO RENT A PUMP! NOW!


It took a few days for us to figure out how and where to rent a pump – this was 1995! Phoebe and I found our rhythm – she found my nipple I found how to listen to her cues. The pump arrived and I stared at it.


For three and a half weeks. We rented it for four weeks. I knew I needed to use it before returning it and having spent over $80 renting and buying parts. I put the shields on my breasts and was impressed that milk came out of my breasts.

Later that night Rob came home from work. This was summer and there had been a storm. The electricity was out. Phoebe started to root around. “You have to give her this bottle! Now! My milk is going to go bad and we do not have a refrigerator and it is 99 degrees!”

Rob grabbed the bottle and tried to feed our screaming baby. I walked out of the room. My breasts began to tingle and leak.  Rob was sweating, Phoebe screamed louder and louder. Her head spinning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. I started to cry. I think Rob was crying, too.

“Give me the baby.” I latched her on and we both chilled out.

“What do I do with this?’ asked Rob.

“Pour it down the drain,” I told him.

It turns out I did not need to pump. The company I was working for went out of business so I became a full time mom.

I asked Rob if he felt he needed to feed Phoebe to bond. He laughed and told me he felt bonded with here.

Scan 6

And eventually I became a La Leche League Leader and then a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).


As someone who has been in the breastfeeding business for two decades I have seen different trends. With the Affordable Care Act offering up pumps to expecting parents and with social media there is a big pumping culture. And there is so much information shared that it can all be confusing.

If your baby latches on, you feel comfortable and your baby is gaining weight there is no need to pump.

Conversely, I have seen women who were told not to pump for two weeks or for one month or whatever someone told them was a rule. Or no one told them to pump while their baby is being supplemented with formula. In some of these cases this compromises their milk supply. The bottom line is that the baby must be fed. But if your baby is being supplemented and you want your body to make milk then it is important to pump. Milk is made by removing milk form the breasts – this can be with a baby who has a good latch, by hand expressing or by using a good breast pump.


Let’s now talk pumps. Pumps are not all created equally and not everyone responds to pumps the same. I have worked with people who pump using their hands – hand expressing – here is a cool video:

hand expressing


hand expressing

There are hospital grade pumps, electric single user pumps , and hand pumps.


When should you pump?

  • If your baby is separated from you
  • If your baby is not gaining enough weight
  • If your baby causing you so much pain you cannot tolerate nursing
  • If your baby takes a bottle
  • If you are donating milk
  • If you are working away from your baby

There is no need to fill your freezer! Pumping is not an Olympic sport!

How many people compare their milk stash to those they see on Instagram?!

breastmilk stored

You really only need enough milk to feed your baby.

If you want to pump that is cool but if you do not want to pump and do not need to then don’t pump.

People can bond with a baby without a bottle. If you want your baby to have a bottle of breastmilk, then pump.

Each situation is unique and blanket statements do not help new parents. For help call an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) Find a Lactation Consultant or a La Leche League Leader.La Leche League International





To Pump or Not to Pump

March 25, 2012

When I was pregnant with Phoebe is 1995 I took a birthing class and a breastfeeding class. In week six of the birthing class the teacher brought in a guest – a woman who rents breast pumps. The businesswoman made it clear that if a person was to be breastfeeding she would need a good quality pump.

Phoebe and I struggled for a few days but got the hang of nursing and all was well. The pediatricians were impressed with her weight gain and were nearly shocked I was exclusively breastfeeding. Looming in the back of my mind was that little voice of the woman “you need a breast pump, you need a breast pump.”

After about four weeks I found a local pharmacy that rented pumps and plopped down my $212.32 for a two-month rental with all of the supplies. I brought it home and it sat on the kitchen table.  Rob came home that evening and saw the new appliance in the kitchen and said, I see you got the pump.

Day after day, Phoebe and I developed our routine. We both loved nursing and she grew so beautifully. Rob loved watching her nurse and saw how happy she was. When I thought she was nursing too much he is the one who pointed out how happy we both were at these moments.

About two weeks after I rent the contraption I realize I have spent this money and I had better use the thing. Phoebe lay asleep on the bed off the kitchen and as I watched her I set up the machine and began to pump. It was fascinating to watch my milk flow out of my breasts into the bottles. After about ten or fifteen minutes I had collected about three quarters of an ounce. I placed it in the refrigerator so Rob could feed it to her in the next day or so. After all, shouldn’t I let him get involved in this parenting adventure.  Why should I be the only one to bond with our little girl?

That night Rob came through the door beaming as usual to see us at the end of the day. He was followed by a thunderstorm that rattled our little house. The lights flashed off and on and off.  The electricity was out.   My mind went directly to the fridge where my precious liquid gold sat on a wire shelf. Rob, the electricity! My milk! You must feed it to her now before it goes bad! I ran to the kitchen ran the bottle under hot water and handed it to Rob with a hungry wiggly Phoebe in his arms. She started to root on his chest. He placed the bottle in her mouth she looked in his trusted eyes as if to say: What the hell are you doing?  I stared at them and my breasts began to tingle. They struggled, both looking betrayed.

Give me that bottle, I said. I unscrewed the nipple and poured the milk down the drain. Let me hold her. I latched her on and we all melted into the normal little family we knew. Is it okay if I don’t pump? I asked Rob. Of course, I never asked you to. I don’t need to feed her to feel connected. 

The next day Phoebe and I drove to the pharmacy and returned the pump and she never had a bottle.

It is important to know that Phoebe and I were rarely separated in the first year of her life. Well, in her case we were rarely separated for the first few years of her life.

Chloe, my second baby also never had a bottle.

Finn, my third baby was born slightly early and had a severe tongue-tie and lost a full pound by his third day of life.  On day six I rented a pump and for 24 hours I pumped my left breast and fed him the milk. In all, he had about three bottles. When he was about nine months old I left him for a few hours and left behind some milk. Rob said he through it across the room and he didn’t really need it.

That is my story about bottles and breast pumps.

Now I want to address the general population.

For many women a pump is an important tool to continue breastfeeding. Just as my story was unique to my situation, so it is for all moms. In 1995 there were not on-line mothers groups. The moms I met were face to face and the conversations about feedings were that – conversations, two- or three-way discussions. These days moms go to their on-line community and read posts. In many ways these forums are great but they can also be scary and mis-informative.

A recent trend I notice is that moms believe if they do not start pumping right away they will not get enough milk. Another trend is that it is important to have a freezer full of milk. All of this work puts so much pressure on new moms and takes away from the time spent face to face with her baby. It also throws off the balance of her milk supply.

Why do you need to pump?

There are different scenarios where a mom really should pump.

If a mom is directed by her doctor to supplement her baby then this mom should use a hospital grade pump to express her milk. This is so that she has a supplement for her baby and it also will help to establish her milk supply.

If a mom and baby are separated it is important for the mom to pump her milk to again establish her milk supply and/or prevent engorgement.

These days many women work outside of the home. In this case pumping her milk assures she has milk to feed her baby while they are apart.  If the mom is one to three days ahead of her supply she can keep her milk in the refrigerator. There really is no need to have a freezer full of milk.  The idea is to nurse your baby when you are with him and to pump when you are separated.

Some moms would like to have a stash of milk so that she can leave her baby in the care of someone else occasionally. In these situations it is truly fine to keep a bottle or two a week in the mix.

For some moms it truly is nearly impossible to pump while at work. Pumping at home after feedings is one way to save milk for this time. Other moms find they use either donor milk or formula as a supplement. If a mom is not 100% breastfeeding it does not mean she is not breastfeeding. There seems to be this idea that breastfeeding is an all or nothing proposition. It is not. When you are with your baby you nurse your baby.

Some moms like to include her partner or other family member with the feedings. Many moms find this helpful while others prefer help with other aspects of her mothering this new baby. A couple of things to keep in mind: be sure it does not complicate the feedings and not feeding a baby does not preclude bonding.

What kinds of pumps are there?

There are many pumps on the market. It seems everyone wants to get in the game. As a new parent it is important to watch out for marketing. New parents are one of the most heavily targeted markets.

Read reviews, real reviews, not just a couple of posts on forums. And watch for paid advertising. Not all pumps are created equal. Just because a pump costs more than others, it does not mean it works better or even as well.

If you need to pump in the early weeks it is important to rent a hospital grade pump.

If you have an established supply and you are working outside of the home on a regular basis you may need a rental pump or a good quality double electric pump.

Look at the size of the motor. Are you paying for technology? Or quality?

If you just need the occasional bottle often a smaller pump or a hand pump can work well. And do not forget your hand. Learning to hand express is a great gift. You do not need to rely on electricity or batteries. Hand expression is something all moms should know how to do.

Here is a quick tutorial:

You take the pads of your thumb and middle finger and place them just on the inner edge of your areola.

You put pressure as though you are going to touch your rib cage.

Then, imagine there is ink on your thumb – you roll your thumb towards your nipple as though you would make a thumbprint – not a smudge.


If you do not have milk flowing you can massage your breast toward the nipple.

You repeat until you have expressed  enough milk for your particular needs of the moment.

The best place to practice is in the shower. Sometimes you will find a “sweet spot” where you get a nice continuous flow.

When should one pump?

If breastfeeding is going well there is no need to pump right away. Allow time for you and your baby master this art. Let your baby and your body flow into a nice equilibrium. You can wait several weeks to introduce a pump and expressed milk.

If there are hiccups in your situation pumping may be indicated.

When to pump varies from person to person. There is no one size fits all prescription.  If you are not sure contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or a La Leche League Leader.

Infant feeding can be complicated or it can be smooth. It is important to find your way. Feel free to share it on your forums but please, please put a disclaimer that this is your unique experience.