Is Pumping A Breastfeeding Requirement?

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?

27 thoughts on “Is Pumping A Breastfeeding Requirement?”

  1. I have looked on jealously as I’ve seen other momma’s fill bottles with pumped milk to leave for their babies while they got enjoy a few precious baby-less hours! I’ve tried all the tricks, I’ve tried all the types of pumps… if I added up all of my efforts over 20 years and 4 babies, I might have successfully pumped a whole 8oz meal! And even when I’ve gotten a few precious drops out, my babies have roundly rejected the whole concept of bottles…we have followed all of the advice and introduced the bottle early and often, and my hubby has been supportive and has tried everything we could think of to get them to accept the bottle in my absence… but not one of my babies have ever accepted anything other than milk from “The Source” until they are about a year old and will readily accept solids when they are hungry.

    I think that many people DO assume that I could choose to pump and leave my babies with sitters, and that I am choosing NOT to out of laziness or breastfeeding dogma or sheer lack of really trying to be successful at pumping. But I’ve spent as long as an hour or two trying to pump and gotten only 1/4 oz…precious time that I could have just nursed the baby and left the house to run that errand, or go to that appointment! We’ve just had to be more flexible to make it all work…

    I am surprised to see how synonymous breastfeeding and pumping have become though… I’ve seen it get turned around on mother’s who nurse in public. Some people assume that the mother could have simply pumped the milk before she left the house to feed the baby while they were out so that there would be no need to create a “scene” by nursing publicly. I’m glad that (most) mother’s have the option to pump (and in many cases it is a life saver, literally!) but it can be a bit presumptive to assume that every mother can, or even wants to pump.

  2. With my first child I did pump, out of necessity in the beginning because she was premature and in the NICU. I pumped to bring my milk in and feed her because she refused to latch.

    After battling nipple confusion and winning I ditched the pump. And I haven’t pumped once for my second child. I’m a working mom, but I’m Canadian and so I have a year-long maternity leave. It’s pretty rare for a breastfed baby who isn’t used to taking a bottle to accept one at the one year mark, but by that age they can generally go stretches eating solids and drinking water. So why pump? I combined working and breastfeeding without pumping, and it was great.

    Occasionally I do wish I had the option of leaving pumped milk so that I could have some alone time. But mostly I recognize that these early months are short, and I won’t always have this little sidekick everywhere I go.

  3. I tried pumping, but my child never took a bottle (much less a pacifier or even sucked her thumb). I too was met with people who thought it it was strange she did not take a bottle – like of course, I wasn’t trying hard enough.

    As she got older and had some feeding delays, I got a lot of advice to just pump in put milk in a cup or her food, yet no one understood that I could no longer pump. I tried and tried, but she nursed so often that it would have taken weeks/months to add the extra nursing session into my routine and gotten enough to leave her alone with a babysitter.

    So I have nursed my 2 year old without ever pumping. Even while being sick with the flu, twice. If I were to do it again, I would have never bother even trying to pump, I just did it because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

  4. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed my 5.5-month-old without bottles. I am a SAHM and have no real need for a pump.

    I have a manual pump that I’m using this week to build up a supply of milk, since I’m having surgery next weekend and I don’t know how long I won’t be able to breastfeed.

    I am more efficient at manually expressing milk than I am with the pump. Also, I borrowed an electric pump and it just hurt too much.

    I have a deep respect for mothers who pump. It’s hard work! I hate it a lot, and I’m glad I don’t have to express/pump much.

    Since I’m able to just breastfeed from the source, it creates less work for me. No pumping, no cleaning pumps/bottles. I don’t have to worry about pumping changing my supply.

    BTW — my baby will drink his pumped supply from a sippycup with a soft spout. We’ve tried giving him bottles and he wants nothing to do with them.

  5. I have only ended up pumping with my first baby, the reason was that I went back to work for 3 days a week. After that, with my next 3 babies I never pumped, or used bottles at all. So breastfeeding can simply be as it is. I didn’t want to pump anymore either, as it felt very unnatural somehow, it didn’t fit in with my (TCC) parenting style of babywearing, co-sleeping etc.

  6. You’re not alone in having a baby that never took a bottle! I was very relieved when she started using sippy cups past 6 months old and would drink some expressed milk for the novelty of the sippy cup. That said, this morning I handed my now 13 month year old a cup of cows milk and she handed it back. Now she thankfully eats enough other food that it’s not that big of a deal.

  7. I pumped in the beginning because my son was in the NICU and was too little to suck/swallow/breathe at the same time and was fed my breastmilk through a NG tube. Once we got home, I continued to pump because I was producing more milk than he could take and I slowly weaned off the pump once my supply and his demand became more in line with each other. I’ve used a small hand pump twice since then (he is 20 months old now) but could easily have hand expressed.

  8. I have an interesting combination answer.

    For the first 6 weeks of my daughter’s life, I pumped essentially exclusively, because she’d not yet learned to latch.

    No, that’s not true at all. She latched well when she bothered to at first, then became nipple-confused when I was essentially forced to give her bottles in the hospital.

    (She wasn’t latching, and wasn’t getting enough with finger-feeding, but no other options, such as syringe or cup feeding, were offered to me. I am still very angry about that. Can you tell?)

    Once she was latching and nursing, at 6 weeks, I held off on reintroducing bottles as long as possible, both out of fear of the nipple confusion returning, and just because I absolutely hated the thought of them, after all that we’d been through.

    When we attempted to reintroduce them at around 3 – 4 months (Mostly due to pressure from my MIL. I still did not want to at all. Ever.) she absolutely refused to take them.

    At 20 weeks, she had open-heart surgery, and of course, I had to pump for a couple of days while she was NPO and not allowed to nurse yet, and I pumped a bit (once daily, for a couple of weeks) in preparation for that, to make sure I’d letdown for the pump when I really needed to.

    When she’d been NPO for 24 hours and nothing else was being offered to her, she did take the bottles – a couple of pedialyte, then a few of breastmilk.

    Once I was allowed to nurse her, though, she refused to take any more bottles.

    I might have gloated a bit. 🙂

    She’s now 7 months and starting on solids (“baby led weaning” – eating finger foods) so at this point, I think the pumping is moot.

    We’re still not apart for very long at a time (almost never, in fact, but starting to let MIL watch her for short periods, to maintain family harmony), I can’t imagine she’d take a bottle and by the time she’s good enough with a cup that I’d dare risk breastmilk in it (contents go right to the floor!) she’ll be able to go even longer without.

    So, I went from pumping exclusively to pumping not-at-all.

    Oh, and obviously, I am a SAHM/WAHM.

  9. I pumped with my first, but he never once took a bottle; he always got his straight from the tap. When my second came along, I figured there was no need to pump, since I never used any pumped milk with my son. It seemed there was no point to hook myself up to the machine. Both babies went everywhere I did, so there was no need to have a supply of milk at home.

  10. I gave pumping a try a few times, but never had much success with it. My son refused a bottle anyway, so there was no point in it. I had people get mad sometimes when I couldnt go to different events, but I didnt really have a choice. And it was only for a short while, then he was having solids and able to sip from a cup.
    My boys hated bottles and my girls hated breast feeding. Anyone else have that happen?

  11. I haven’t pumped–pump doesn’t work for me. I’m a WAHM, and she only takes from the tap. She doesn’t like the taste of formula, so there goes that.

    At 8 mos. she recently started drinking a little water from a sippy cup with meals but mostly she just chews the cup.

  12. I pumped (and hated it) regularly with my first child, but my second child refused to take a bottle, so we finally stopped trying after multiple bottles being poured out (the agony!). It has been so liberating to stop! I work part time and she happily waits until I get home to nurse. I highly recommended letting go of pumping if you want to!! it’s occasionally stressful knowing I can’t be away for very long but I’d rather be close to home than pump again!

  13. I pumped with my first, a preemie, but prefer breastfeeding or formula-feeding over pumping/bottling. I understand it works for some mothers, and that’s cool. But I had a lot of issues with plugged ducts with the pump that I didn’t have with breastfeeding.

  14. My daughter is two months old and I have a shower and wedding to go to in the fall. I’m really stressed about them, especially the wedding since my husband must go to as well. I know I will have to pump for them but the fact is that I have only nursed my baby so far. Now I think she may not take a bottle — we don’t even use pacifiers, and the one time we gave her one (a couple of weeks ago) she spit it out.

    This isn’t just about pumping, but I’m feeling pressured to do all these things when I’d really would rather not leave my daughter for more than an hour or two until she is at least 6 months. There are people around me who think breastfeeding is no excuse, that I should just pump and still attend all these events that I can’t bring my daughter to.

    While I do want to pump to store milk just in case, I haven’t had the energy to figure out how to assemble it, then sterilize it and actually use it. Plus I find it nerve wracking enough thinking about keeping up my milk supply, and also, at this point what if my daughter were to enjoy a bottle and not go back to my breast.

    Anyway, I think that the pump is great for times when it is really needed, and for women who pump to donate milk, but at the same time it’s made us feel pressured to use it.

    The other thing is also that my husband finally admitted that he felt left out and that he couldn’t soothe our daughter because she’s more bonded with me because of breastfeeding. He apologized later for kind of pressuring me but I still feel guilty about it. I told him there are other ways of bonding wth her but well, that doesn’t seem to help (though he could try harder).

    1. Julia — I commend you for sticking to your guns, though, the pressure to attend such events is frustrating.
      If I were in your shoes *as I will be, shortly*, I would definitely hang on to that motherly instinct of yours. Your relatives/friends will be there later and you will attend many more events once your child is a little older and can handle being separated for little bits of longer periods, at a time.
      The way I look at this is Baby is more important. Others *okay, not hubby/daddy* need to be temporarily placed on the back burner…for now. Not to say that you’ll never mingle — only to say that you and Baby are not yet ready to take that step.
      Hope this helps.

  15. I pump because I work and am away from baby around 5-6 hr per day. I sort of hate it because it hurts my nipples. But in a weird way I find it sort of fascinating to watch the milk come out. Weird, I know. I need to entertain myself somehow while I’m pumping. The main annoyance is that since I work limited hours, I spend about 20 min of time pumping at work when I could just come home earlier. Oh well.

  16. I have a dilema: My 5-month-old now prefers the bottle to the breast. I think it’s because he has to really work to get the milk from me, whereas he can just down it quickly from the bottle. I struggled with nursing my older child, and she self-weaned at 7 months, two weeks after she took her first bottle. She just refused to nurse any more. I haven’t experienced the same struggle with nursing my son, so I introduced the bottle earlier, only to have the same thing happen. I’m trying to pump, but it doesn’t work. However, I get milk when I manually express, even after pumping for 15 minutes and getting nothing. It’s like the pump doesn’t squeeze hard enough or high enough up on my breast to get the milk out. I was really dedicated to nursing, but he seems happier with the bottle. What do I do?

  17. Hello! I have a breastpump, but only used it when my (now 10 month old) baby was newborn. I have an abundant milk supply, so pumping was a way to prevent engorgement. (yikes!)

    My 10 month old daughter (my first!) is still mainly exclusively breastfed. And still expects it “directly from the source” as the above author so eloquently stated. It is possible to provide breast milk without bottles or pumps- I believe that we must remember that today is different than any other day. I have to remember that my primary goal today is to nourish my child- some day she’ll be able to grab a big, cold glass of milk from the fridge, make herself a PPJ, or crunch a tart granny smith, but for today, I will commit to not being the first to introduce her to “fast food”.

  18. @L: What kind of pump are you using? I’m not a lactation consultant, but it sounds like it’s probably not getting a good seal or, as you said, high enough up on your nipple. If you think you are in pumping for the long haul, I would check out a hospital-grade pump – possibly renting one from a local medical supply company, or biting the expensive bullet and buying one. Have you tried nursing with a nipple shield?

    Like I said, I’m not a LC, but I’ve got extensive experience pumping and with moving from bottle to breast since my son was born at 28 weeks. Please feel free to email me if you want to –

  19. I have only pumped with one of my 4, and that was to pump and dump while I was hospitalized.
    Breastfeeding has been around a lot longer than the pump, it is not necessary to pump, our bodies are designed to produce more when the baby needs it and less when they need less. I have been blessed to be able to stay home with my kids and be able to nurse. I am so glad pumps are there when needed (premies, working moms, etc..), but sometimes we come to rely on things that aren’t always necessary.
    On the bonding issue, babies bond plenty well with their daddies even if he never feeds them till they eat solids. My kids adore their Daddy, and have since infancy and he only ever fed 1 of them a bottle for 3 days, and she was my biggest mommy’s girl.

  20. I had to pump with my second child in the first few months of her life due to some issues with her as well as my stress level and almost loosing my milk but about a week after the stress level changed I was able to stop pumping and take her off the bottle… she is just over a year now and is nursing as well as relying on other foods too…at this point I’m having to pump again to store up a small supply because she needs it for when she goes on her one night/ week visit with her dad. (she just starting to not want to nurse first thing in the morning) I fell like I have had to wean her even though I’m not ready and she was not ready when she had to go for overnight visits… 🙁 … Okay Life goes on… at least she’s over a year and I was able to nurse her that long.

  21. Thanks for this article! I started with pumping every 2 hours because I was told to, and always felt drained and exhausted. My newborn is on the big side, so she would drink three to four ounces each feeding, and sleep 3 to 4 hours. It was insane that I had to wake up every 2 hours to pump, when I could sleep 3 to 4 hours. Well, minus the time to feed and change the baby. Now I pump every 4 to 5 hours, but I’ve come to dread ery pumping session. I’ve been warned and told that I will lose my milk supply for my baby or develop mastisis or suffer from engorgementif I don’t pump regularly, and I feel chained to this machine and its parts. I’m so sf washing pump parts! A lot of times, I end up giving the baby milk from a bottle that I’ve pumped an hour before, just because I’m scared of the bad things that might happen if I don’t pump on schedule. It is a huge relief to hear that pumping is not a must.

  22. I breastfed my first son exclusively ‘direct from the source’ for 14months. He never had a bottle and moved direct from breast to sippy cup. Currently exclusively breastfeeding my second son, currently 4months. In both I have made a frozen pumped supply in case of emergencies. I work around 20hrs a week on contract close to or from home. For me it’s easier than faffing around with bottles, it’s only for a short time really and I can do all those events and stuff later. I’d say to any new moms, trust your instinct there are going to be opinions and pressures on most things, you know your own child best and what works for you both.

  23. I had to pump as my baby didn’t learn how to latch for a month. She prefers my breast now but takes a bottle just fine.

  24. I EBF have pumped but my baby flat out refuses a bottle i was successful once with a bottle but he never took it again. Luckily i live where I work BUT i would love a break sometimes. So i will keep on trying.

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