First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! Secondly, congratulations for deciding to breastfeed. Without a doubt, choosing to breastfeed is by far one of the most important first decisions you’ll make in your child’s infancy. The benefits of nursing are countless and miraculous and your child will thank you one day for given him or her such a great start in life. Note that you don’t need to have a breast pump if you choose to nurse, but if you ever want to leave your baby with Daddy or a sitter for more than a few hours, it’s probably a good idea to get one.
There are two main kinds of breast pumps, electric and manual. Electric pumps obviously plug into an outlet, while manual pumps are operated by hand. If you’re going to need to pump large quantities of milk, say because you are returning to work before weaning your baby, or you plan to have more than one child, an electric pump is probably the better choice. If you don’t need to express your milk often, a manual pump is sufficient. Choosing between the two types of pumps really comes down to personal preference. Some women like the speed and efficiency of an electric pump, while others prefer having the control that the manual pump offers.
If you’re not sure you are going to breastfeed your child for long, and you are hesitant to invest in a breast pump, many hospitals offer the option of renting an electric one. Note that you’re renting the pump itself, the part that does the work, not the attachments through which your actual milk will flow. Of course you should never reuse or share breast pump attachments with another Mother. This practice is unsanitary and can be dangerous if the other Mom has certain diseases or infections which can be passed to a baby through her breast milk. The attachments are generally purchased separately and are yours to keep even when you return the pump. Ask the hospital where you deliver your baby ahead of time about the option of renting a hospital-grade pump.
If you are reluctant to spend the money on a pump, but you really need or want one because you plan to nurse for a good amount of time or plan to have more than one child, try putting one on your baby registry or buy a pump used. Some pumps can cost several hundred dollars and there is no shame in putting big ticket items on your registry. Grandmothers-to-be usually love to buy up the more expensive items on baby registries, so don’t hesitate to add your preferred pump to the list. Save your money for diapers!
The smartest thing to do when choosing which pump you want is to research. There are really bad pumps that do not work well at all. You don’t want to figure this out the first time you use it the night before you return to work! Narrow down a list of possibilities and then find message boards online to get other users’ opinions. You can also read reviews on the manufacturer’s website or site of the store where your pump was purchased. Again, a person’s opinion of a breast pump is very personal and based on her own physical and emotional response to it, but at least you can get an idea of whether a certain model is a dud or not.
Once you purchase, rent, or receive your chosen breast pump, be sure to read all of the directions thoroughly. It’s best to do this before you have the baby. However, it’s not good to give it a test drive until after the baby is born. Stimulating your nipples with a pump or otherwise can lead to uterine contractions. Best not to induce labor just to see if you like your new breast pump or not! Fill out and mail any warranty cards and call the manufacturer with any questions regarding use, parts, etc. Also, know that you can often purchase replacement parts through the manufacturer that get lost or worn out in the future. Most breast pumps have parts that have to be sterilized before use, so make sure it’s up and running in time for use after Junior’s arrival.
Not only can breast pumps aid you in building up an inventory to refrigerate or freeze for future use, but also it can help you to establish your milk supply. Some women find difficulty in stimulating their let-down’ reflex, especially if their baby has an improper or weak latch, so they use their breast pump to aid in this. Breast pumps are also great to relieve engorgement. In the first weeks, and possibly even months of establishing nursing, your body may produce more milk than is needed to meet your child’s needs, causing your breasts to become engorged. Not only is this painful, but can also lead to further breastfeeding problems, like blocked milk ducts or an infection called mastitis. Pumping excess milk can prevent all of these. One final benefit of breast pumps is that they can help Mom separate foremilk, the first thirst-quenching portion of breast milk, from the fatty, nutritious hindmilk which comes after the foremilk. Many preemies and other underweight babies require the extra calories offered by the hindmilk which they often drink from bottles to avoid getting the less important foremilk.
As far as breastfeeding is concerned, it’s an amazing accomplishment. Like most things in life, anything worth doing requires hard work. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult. Engorgement, sore nipples, difficulty getting your baby to latch on correctly, and the sheer exhaustion of having a newborn to care for can be discouraging and make even the toughest, most determined Mom want to throw in the towel and switch to formula. But establishing breastfeeding is a lot like breaking in a new pair of designer shoes, it hurts like crazy for the first few weeks, but then it’s all worth it in the end. Stick with it for your baby’s sake and your own. You’ll be glad you did!