Pumping and storing breastmilk
For some mothers, the breast pump is a sign of liberation - they can return to work and make sure their babies have the benefits of breast milk even when they are not around, or give their child a bottle of breast milk in the car or at a crowded restaurant, where breastfeeding might not be possible or might simply be a bit inconvenient.
For other mothers, the breast pump represents just the opposite. Attached to it several times during the day, sometimes in situations that are far less than ideal, it feels like a total hassle. And a noisy, physically demanding one at that.
Love it or hate it, if you’re breastfeeding, especially if you’re breastfeeding exclusively, and you want to be separated from your child for more than any kind of short period of time, or you want to give your partner or other family members a chance to bond with the baby, you may have to embrace - or at least resign yourself to - the breast pump.
It might help to keep in mind that there are decided advantages to figuring out this new, wheezy device. Such as:
- Added freedom and flexibility for breastfeeding women
- A method for mums who want to feed their babies breast milk without breastfeeding
- A chance for dads to bottle-feed their babies who don't drink formula
- An option for weaning babies from the breast.
And yes, there are disadvantages. These include:
- It can be painful or difficult for some women
- Pumping may remove less milk than breastfeeding, meaning less is made to replace it
- Pumping away from home can be a logistical challenge
- Equipment can be expensive, though it doesn't have to be
Women who are considering breast pumping will likely find conflicting advice from friends and a flood of marketing that makes breast pumping seem both harder (lots of machinery to buy!) and easier (press a button and your milk will flow out effortlessly!) than it really is.
What kind of equipment will you need? Here’s a breakdown:
A pump, electric or manual - Electric models usually works faster, and usually come with battery packs so you're not attached to a wall while pumping. Some can be used hands-free. Electric pumps can be expensive, usually ranging from around $150 to over $600 - but they can be hired. Some manual pumps can be efficient and quite comfortable. They're also smaller, lighter, quieter and more easily controlled. But it can take more effort to draw a full bottle of milk with a manual pump, and hands-free obviously isn't an option.
Clothing that gives you access while still keeping you relatively covered - If you're pumping at work or anywhere without total privacy, you'll need to consider clothing. As with breastfeeding, you don't have to buy clothes made for this purpose unless you want to. Regular clothes work perfectly well if you choose carefully - shirts that button down the front, or a stretchy t-shirt under a jacket that you can lift up. You may also want something additional (a thin cotton blanket, a lovely scarf or shawl) that can be draped over you. Covering a pump is, in some ways, less complicated than covering a kicking, squirming breastfeeding baby.
A place to pump - We've made progress. Some businesses offer space and support for employees who need to pump at work. But for many working women, finding a private and clean place to pump can still be a major challenge. Some have to pump while sitting in bathroom cubicles or other less-than-sanitary spots, and other women abandon pumping for fear it will put their job in jeopardy.
Equipment to safely handle and store the milk - Your pump will transfer the milk into a bottle. From there, you can keep the milk in the bottle or move it to a freezer bag. If you're pumping away from home and need to store your milk for several hours, you'll need access to a fridge (in some offices, it's fine to stash breast milk in the communal fridge, but in others it's a major no-no) or you'll want to carry ice packs in a small bag to create a safe space for the milk. For freezing, small plastic bags made specifically for breast milk are useful but not crucial. They can be easier to work with than regular freezer bags (they're designed for relatively easy filling and emptying) and measurements are marked.
Safe storing guidelines - Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to four hours, but if you put it in a cooler or insulated bag with ice packs, it should be fine for up 24 hours. It’s safe for use in a refrigerator for up to five to seven days, and can be safely frozen for up to three months in a freezer.
Bottom line - Pumping can be hard work, but most of the challenges can be surmounted without much stress. Even women who plan to breastfeed their babies exclusively can benefit from having a pump on hand. If they become engorged or need to "pump and dump" after they've had a glass of wine, it's a lifesaver.
This article was written by Linda Drummond for Kidspot, New Zealand's leading pregnancy and parenting resource with additional information from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.