Pumping & Storing Breast Milk
For some mothers, the breast pump is a sign of liberation -they can return to work and make sure their children have the benefits of breast milk even when they are not around or give their children a bottle of breast milk in the car or at a crowded restaurant, where nursing might not be possible or might simply be a bit inconvenient.
For other mothers, the breast pump represents just the opposite. Tethered to it several times during the day, sometimes in situations that are far less than ideal, it feels like a total drag, and a noisy, physically taxing 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 a 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 nursing women.
- A method for moms who want to feed their babies breast milk without nursing.
- 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 nursing, 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 work faster and usually come with battery packs so you’re not tethered to a wall while pumping. Some can be used hands-free. But electric pumps can be expensive, usually ranging from about $100 to $350. Some manual pumps, like Avent’s Isis (about $50), 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 nursing, you don’t have to buy clothes made for this purpose unless you want to. Regular clothes work fine if you choose carefully – blouses 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 receiving blanket, a scarf or shawl, or some other swath of fabric) that can be draped over you. Covering a pump is, in some ways, less complicated than covering a nursing baby.
- A place to pump: We’ve made progress. Some businesses around the country 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 stalls or other less than sanitary spots, and other women abandon pumping for fear it will put their job in jeopardy. The Ohio Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case of a woman suing her former employer for firing her because she needed break time to pump milk.
- 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. In choosing bottles, make sure the ones you use are BPA-free, though some health experts warn that toxic chemicals may still be present even in supposedly safe bottles. 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 ounces 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. Refrigerated, it’s safe for use for up to 5 to 7 days, and can be safely frozen for months in a freezer.
Pumping can be hard work, but most of the challenges can be surmounted without much stress. Even women who plan to nurse 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.