You’ve just given birth. Your emotions are all over the place. Your body hurts. You have fluids leaking in ways you can’t describe. And you can’t say what just happened, but you know this – your heart is full. You’re tired, oh so so tired, but so in love. Sound familiar? If you’ve given birth, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t yet, you will soon. As a doula and Fort Collins lactation support person, I know all about this magical moment. It’s indescribable, really and it’s an honor to watch so many people go through it.
But what we don’t talk enough about is the whole breastfeeding and pumping intersection (and even formula, but we’re not going to talk about that today). When you’re a new parent (and sometimes even a seasoned one) it can be REALLY hard to sort through all the feeding, pumping, and breastfeeding advice, tips, and well-meaning people who tell you all kinds of things once your baby is earthside.
As a fort collins lactation support person, I see this all the time. People attend classes, have their baby in a way they didn’t plan, and then have to figure out breastfeeding moments after birth. There are lots of different styles, methods, and even opinions on what’s the best way to feed your baby when they’re here. I could write about this topic for days, but one thing I’m going to specifically focus on today is why it’s important to NOT start pumping too early after delivery.
First, let me say this. Pumping IS important and you’ll likely have to do it at some point in your breastfeeding journey, especially if you want to leave your baby or need to go back to work. Pumping is an amazing invention and I’m glad everyone has access to a pump as they do have their place. I have lots of content on this topic and I’m happy to help if you’re ready to start pumping.
But what I’m talking about today though is this – don’t feel obligated to start pumping right away. Don’t bring a pump to the hospital and even consider leaving it in the box until it’s actually needed. I want to encourage you to give yourself the agency to say no to pumping in the first few days – especially when there is no medical reason to pump. That’s right. Pumping is good and important. But it can be not so good if you start too soon.
As a Fort Collins lactation support person, I know you’re going to get mixed advice from all the experts, but here are my two cents – pumping too soon can be really detrimental to the overall breastfeeding journey. Here’s why:
- Hand Expression works better for colostrum! Get good at hand expression, especially when you are waiting for your milk to come in. Pumps are not designed to express colostrum well and you’ll get a better response from your body with hand expression anyway. I recommend everyone get familiar with hand expression for those early postpartum days. Every drop matters and when given to your baby via a spoon, syringe, or clean finger it’s not only good for the baby, but also helps to keep their weight up.
It’s normal for babies to lose some weight in the early days while we are waiting for your milk to come in but with hand expression and feeding your baby often from the breast we can avoid the weight loss that causes parents to stress. If there is any separation between you and your baby at birth, hand express 8-12 times a day so that your nipples get the stimulation they need to tell your body to start producing breast milk. And in the days when your milk is coming in a little hand expression can give you some relief of fullness without increasing your supply to cause an oversupply which can lead to painful engorgement.
- It’s really hard and interferes with breastfeeding! Pumping is hard work and it takes some serious practice to get it down. Not to mention it adds more dishes and is a whole thing unto itself. If you’re new to breastfeeding, it’s hard enough to figure that side out without adding in pumping. I don’t want new parents to think they aren’t capable of feeding their babies with their bodies. Just like we have to trust our bodies for birth we should be able to trust our bodies and babies for breastfeeding too. If you can give yourself a few weeks to regulate your supply before pumping, that gives you time to figure out breastfeeding and minimize adding additional challenges and problems that may come from pumping. As a Fort Collins lactation support person, I know just how hard it is for new parents to figure out breastfeeding alone, I recommend taking one thing on at a time.
- It can create nipple aversion! Babies are lazy. There I said it. Just kidding. Well, only sort of. Newborns are no dummies. And they really don’t get confused about nipples but they want to get milk in the easiest and quickest way possible. Drinking from a bottle is much easier than breastfeeding for a baby, especially when the baby isn’t paced fed. That can help lead to a pumping-only breastfeeder. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s definitely harder on the parents this way. If you can, let the baby get very good at eating from the breast before introducing pumped milk. Eating from the breast takes work for your baby, it’s their form of cardio. While drinking from a bottle may be easier for a baby, studies actually show that drinking from a bottle is more stressful for a baby than drinking from the breast.
- Pumping sometimes leads to oversupply and even mastitis! Your boobs are making milk based on a supply and demand system. The more demand, the more they produce. So naturally, the more you stimulate your nipples, the more milk they’ll make. And when you pump too much in the beginning your supply isn’t regulated yet and, your boobs will get the memo that they need to make a lot of milk. Sometimes when boobs make too much milk or are not consistently moving milk out, it can lead to an infection called mastitis. And here’s a fun fact, being in an oversupply isn’t healthy for your body, it can often lead to even more depletion of nutrients for the breastfeeding person. So when possible, figuring out their baby’s needs before they overstimulate their body into creating too much milk is far better for everyone.
- It can create unattainable goals! As a Fort Collins lactation support person, there’s nothing more maddening than seeing a parent feeling really down about their milk production or lack thereof. Sometimes hospital staff unknowingly put unreasonable goals on new parents and it can be really hard to break that cycle in which they feel like their baby isn’t going to get enough to eat. Many, many people have a hard time with breastfeeding as is, let alone adding the pressure to pump to the mix. Breastfeeding takes trust. In the early days, your baby eats very small amounts, 1 tsp of colostrum per feeding in the first day, 1 tablespoon per feeding in the first 3-5 days, and 1oz per feeding after that. Your baby has a very tiny belly and they do not need to overeat to gain weight, in most cases.
- It interferes with the parent’s rest! If you feel like you have to pump, feed your baby AND give your baby a bottle every three or so hours, it can really interfere with your rest time and mental health. This method is called triple feeding. New parenthood is exhausting without adding the work of pumping. So, give yourself the chance to rest – put down the pump. Everything feels worse when we are tired and new parents have enough on their plates without adding more.
- It interferes with bonding time! Similarly, if you’re pumping, washing dishes, rinsing, and repeating, you’re missing out on the chance to snuggle that delicious-smelling newborn. Give yourself permission to sit and hold your baby. Do skin-skin with your baby every chance you get for not only bonding but helping your milk supply, too. Everything else – including pumping – can wait.
- It doesn’t work for some! And finally, and maybe most important, pumping doesn’t work for some. There are many breastfeeders who can adequately feed their baby just fine from the breast, but struggle to respond to the pump. Your pump isn’t cute, doesn’t smell like your baby, and therefore may not give you the same oxytocin release your baby does when they feed at the breast. A baby is usually going to do a better job moving milk out of the breast than a pump every will.
So when you’re at the hospital and have just given birth – your hair’s all a mess, you’re tired and so freaking happy – feel free to say no to pumping (without a solid medical reason to do so). If you want to give breastfeeding a solid start and you want to enjoy your new baby, that’s okay, too.
If you need any help or have any questions, I’m always here for you. I’m Julianne Curtis and I’m a local Fort Collins lactation support person. Whether it’s pumping, breastfeeding, or anything in between – I’m here to support you.
Click here to contact me with any questions or to set up a time to chat.