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Answering Questions about Breast Pumps

Amy E. Uecker, BSEd, IBCLC
Mason, Ohio, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 1, February-March 2001, p. 12-13

As La Leche League Leaders we represent the world's foremost authority on breastfeeding. Efficient, affordable and effective breast pumps are readily available, expanding the options of the breastfeeding woman. Many magazines for parents put breast pumps on the "must have" list for breastfeeding mothers, which may lead to confusion. Many of these mothers turn to La Leche League for information and support.

"I need a breast pump, can you help me?" comes the phone call. Questions may race through your mind. Is this a mother who is experiencing early breastfeeding difficulties? Is this a mother with a new premature baby (or babies)? Is this the mother of a hospitalized baby? Is this an employed mother preparing to go back to work? Is this a mother just planning a night out?

A great opening question to ask is "Could you tell me a little bit about your situation?" This may elicit many different answers. Leaders can help the mother figure out what solution is right for her and her baby.

Casual Pumping

A mother who explains that she wants a breast pump available for occasional use or "just in case" may be happy without a pump. Many women are very comfortable using hand expression, with a little practice. There are wonderful step-by-step explanations of the Manual Expression of Breast Milk - Marmet Technique available in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, and as LLLI tear-off sheet Publication No. 571-27. When a mother is informed that this technique is quite easy to learn, that may be all the encouragement she needs. For the woman who is interested in pumping over hand expression, a good quality hand pump can be an easy and affordable answer. Both one-handed and two-handed models are available. Breast pump companies that make fully automatic electric pumps often make hand pumps or small electric pumps that are effective and easy to use. Most mothers find that pumps from companies who specialize in breastfeeding related products are more comfortable and effective than pumps made by companies that specialize in toys, clothing, and other baby products. When learning about breast pumps, it is best to seek information that is objective and to avoid relying on the marketing information from specific companies.

The Employed Mother

When a mother needs a pump to help her maintain her milk supply during regular separations from her baby, she has several options. These options include renting a fully automatic electric pump or purchasing one of the new single-user automatic electric pumps marketed to working women. Some working mothers find small electric pumps, hand pumps, or manual expression work well for their needs. THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK has a section comparing the features of various breast pumps. There are several books and pamphlets available through the LLLI Catalogue that offer suggestions for working mothers. The mothers in your Group can be important sources of information and support as well.

The Mother in Special Situations

Because of the affordable technology today, many mothers are able to supply their milk to their babies through difficult situations that a few years ago would have seemed impossible. While we hear and read about medical advancements saving the lives of very premature and very low birth weight babies, frequently the benefit of that baby's own mother's milk is not mentioned. Mothers are often pumping around the clock to establish and maintain their milk supply and provide milk for their premature babies. These mothers need fully automatic electric pumps with double-pumping capability because they do not have a baby going to the breast at all. Some of these mothers are pumping long-term while their babies are hospitalized and after their babies are released. While premature babies can be put to the breast earlier than had been previously thought, maintaining a mother's milk supply while making the transition to exclusive breastfeeding can take weeks or months.

Along with the premature baby we can add premature babies into the equation. Mothers of multiples attend La Leche League meetings in greater numbers. While multiples are just as able to breastfeed as single babies, the establishment of appropriate weight gains and routines often takes time for the mother of multiples to iron out. The use of a high quality breast pump allows the mother to maintain her supply and her baby's weight gain while breastfeeding is being established. Some mothers of multiples, especially triplets and more, have had such a difficult time establishing breastfeeding routines that they have made the choice to become human-milk-feeding mothers. These mothers are often able to pump amazing amounts of milk and maintain their supplies to exclusively feed two, three, or more babies for many months.

Babies with clefts of the hard and/or soft palate, babies with Pierre Robin Sequence and other oral anomalies, babies who are neurodevelopmentally impaired, babies with genetic syndromes, and babies with some cardiac malformations may all have serious difficulty breastfeeding. Mothers of these babies need accurate information about supplying their milk for their babies, including information about the best ways to establish and maintain a full milk supply through pumping. The information and support La Leche League can give these women are invaluable.

Help and Support

As La Leche League Leaders we may often overlook our number one source of information and support for mothers using breast pumps - the experienced mothers who attend Group meetings. Remember Mary Alice, who pumped for five weeks because baby Annie wasn't nursing well, and the pump helped them through that transition period? What about Sara, whose baby Ellie was 11 weeks early and was almost four months old before breastfeeding was well established? Perhaps Wendy who was employed while Matthew was a baby and is now staying home with both Matthew and baby Tricia, used a breast pump. Whether or not breast pumps are discussed in your regular meetings, there is probably a wealth of information in your Group for you to draw upon. Often there is a Leader in the area who has additional experience helping mothers select and use breast pumps. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, NEW BEGINNINGS and LEAVEN articles, and the Professional Liaison Department all have resources on breast pumps. THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK has a section on the different types of pumps available and some general guidelines on their use. In addition, the LLLI tear-off sheet Storing Human Milk (Publication No. 555-27) can be helpful for mothers using breast pumps. The LLLI pamphlet, A Mother's Guide to Milk Expression has recently been revised and is now called A Mother's Guide to Pumping Milk.

Opportunities for Outreach

Lactation consultants in private practice often provide pump rental stations, as do hospitals, pharmacies, and some specialty stores. A Leader can offer mothers a list of pump rental stations in her community that give out appropriate information and carry high quality equipment. Leaders can also refer mothers to the toll-free telephone numbers for the various breast pump companies. Having an ongoing informational dialogue with local pump rental stations benefits all parties involved. Pump rental stations will often distribute flyers for local LLL Groups, along with Leaders' phone numbers, to their customers. Mothers will often mention you, the Leader, when they rent a pump. These businesses may offer financial support for La Leche League Area Conferences and other fundraising events.

The Foremost Authority on Breastfeeding

As the technology expands and more mothers are using breast pumps and other breastfeeding devices, La Leche League will continue to be a primary source of information and support for these women. Wanting to provide the very best for all babies will continue to motivate Leaders to support all breastfeeding mothers. Remember, at La Leche League, "we wrote the book" on breastfeeding!


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