Is Pumping A Breastfeeding Requirement?

by kayris on June 5, 2009

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Way back when I was pregnant with my first child and reading up on breastfeeding, almost all of the literature I perused mentioned the cost factor. In comparison to formula feeding, breastfeeding costs significantly less and can even be free.

It wasn’t free for me, because I had a Boppy pillow, a couple of nursing bras, storage bottles and bags for expressed milk, bottles for other people to feed my baby. Things that may not be strictly necessary, but are nice to have.

Then there was the pump.

Oh yes, the pump.

Breastfeeding might be free, but you’ll also find “breast pump” appearing on every list of must-have items for every woman who intends to breastfeed, especially if she is returning to work.

I started with a cheap, single electric pump, because I was planning on returning to working very limited hours, and because my husband wanted a chance to feed our son. The cheap pump was perfectly adequate for pumping a couple of times per week, but when I needed more out of it, it died on me. I ended up purchasing a better quality double pump, offered at a discounted priced through my lactation consultant, but it was still 200 dollars.

The advantages to expressing and storing milk are many. Breast milk is available to be fed to the infant by the father or siblings. Mothers can return to working outside of the home, or be away from the baby for an extended period of time. An acquaintance was happy to have expressed milk available for neighbors to feed her baby when her older child was recently hospitalized. When my daughter was four months old, my husband and I were able to attend a wedding that was a good drive from our home, a wedding that our children were not invited to. The kids stayed home with a sitter, I left bottles of expressed milk, and pumped in the car every couple of hours during the day.

For me, I pumped even though my work hours were minimal and it turned out to be critical in my success. I have a thyroid problem that meant I constantly fought against low supply issues, and pumping extended the time I was able to breastfeed by several months. So although the pump and the nursing bras and the storage bags and bottles weren’t free, they were still cheaper than a year’s worth of formula.

Lately, after reading yet another article pushing nursing supplies and pumps, I wondered if expressing milk has become less of a convenience thing and more of an expectation. Do all breastfeeding mothers need to have a pump handy, regardless of their work status? Is it possible in this day and age to never express milk?

A friend of mine never pumped milk, so I know it can be done. Long before she had her own children, she saw a cousin use a breast pump and was, to use her own word, traumatized. She wanted to breastfeed when her own kids came along, but had no intention of ever using a pump. I can understand. Pumping isn’t exactly fun. It worked well for her, but she’s also a stay home mom.

Personally, if I didn’t have my thyroid condition, it would have been entirely possible to avoid the breast pump, but I found that people just assumed I was using one.

My daughter was six months old when I was called for jury duty. She never did take to the bottle well, and right at the time I received my summons, she flat out refused to take milk in any form except from straight from the source. We were just starting solids, and her refusal to drink from a bottle made my few hours at my job difficult. When I called the courthouse to request a postponement, an unpleasant employee told me I needed to pack my pump, get a babysitter and show up to serve. When I explained that it didn’t matter if I had a babysitter or not, my baby didn’t drink from a bottle, I was met by silence and then an incredulous, “Are you serious?”

I eventually received my postponement, but I was stunned by the employee’s reaction. While it’s true that most breastfeeding mothers in my circle of family and friends did introduce a bottle at some point, I didn’t think a baby that never took a bottle was all that strange of an idea!

Out of curiosity, I posted a poll on my personal blog, titled “If you breastfed your children, did you also pump?” 41 people voted, and the results looked like this:

Yes–I work full time and had to pump. (14/34%)
Yes–I work part-time and had to pump. (2/4%)
Yes–I stay home, but elected to pump. (13/31%)
No–I skipped pumping and supplemented with formula. (1/2%)
No-I exclusively breastfed and never used a pump (11/26%)

I found it interesting that 26%, slightly over one fourth of voters, were able to exclusively breastfeed without using a breast pump, while 69% of voters, both stay home moms and working moms, pumped at some point.

Obviously, a mother’s work hours and commute would influence the necessity of pumping and there is no arguing that being a stay home mom would make no-pump breastfeeding easier, but I feel like it’s entirely possible to breastfeed without ever expressing milk if a mother wishes. And by avoiding the pump, the bottles, the storage bags, etc, nursing becomes closer to being the “free” option we’ve all heard about.

What do you think? Did you use a breast pump and do you think pumping has become more of a requirement?

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kayris (29 Posts)

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