Your Pregnancy Matters

Pumping breast milk works best for some families

Your Pregnancy Matters

Shivani Patel, M.D., with her daughters, shares her breastfeeding story and explains the advantages of exclusive pumping.
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for a baby during the first year of his or her life. Many people consider breastfeeding the best way to provide this nourishment, but there is an alternative that doesn’t involve formula.

“Exclusive pumping,” where mothers – including myself – rely solely on a breast pump to extract breast milk for their baby, offers many advantages. Women choose to pump exclusively for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Having a baby that does not latch well
  • Finding breastfeeding to be a stressful experience
  • Having a baby who has to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit
  • Having to return to work after a few weeks or months
If you want to provide breast milk to your baby but are unsure about breast feeding, exclusive pumping may be the best option.

My experience

I used a breast pump exclusively to provide breast milk for both of my children. Both were born prematurely and spent between two and five weeks in the NICU. With both, I tried breastfeeding, but neither time was successful. Their prematurity was a factor, my inability to be in the NICU around the clock was another, and I had to return to work after a few weeks.

Exclusive pumping was a great experience for my family. It was less stressful for me and my children and allowed me more flexibility because my husband could feed the baby, too. I was able to build up a three-month supply of breast milk in the freezer.

Because of the publicity about the benefits of breastfeeding, those mothers who can’t breastfeed can feel tremendous guilt and stress. As a new mom, you’re already feeling overwhelmed, and stress can decrease milk supply. It can be a vicious cycle.

Recommendations and advantages

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends feeding babies breast milk for the first year of life.

Evidence suggests that breast milk protects children from a variety of diseases and conditions such as respiratory tract infections, ear infections, diabetes, and childhood obesity. Providing breast milk, whether through breastfeeding or exclusive pumping, also helps you return to your pre-pregnancy weight faster.

No studies have specifically compared breast pumping to nursing. But we know both methods provide the same antibodies and nourishment to help your baby stay healthy.

In addition, exclusive pumping offers several advantages:
  • Pumping every three hours is more predictable than knowing when your baby will be hungry
  • The father and other family members can feed the baby breast milk
  • Using breast milk is cheaper than buying formula
  • Depending on your milk production, breast milk can be stored for the future
If you choose exclusive pumping, you should plan to pump every three hours. This kind of regular pumping generates the most milk. Some women find the routine more appealing than being summoned whenever the baby is hungry.

Your breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator and/or freezer and fed to your baby in a bottle. Most women are able to reduce their pumping frequency when their babies start eating solid foods. This usually happens around the six- to eight-month mark and allows for pumping every four to five hours.

If you buy a breast pump, I recommend an electric double pump, which costs $200 to $350. The pumps can be found in many stores that carry baby items or can be rented from medical supply stores. There are some additional costs for storage bags and other supplies.

Good luck! It’s an option worth trying. Talk to your doctor if you encounter problems.