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I’ve gotten a lot of questions about using a breast pump during pregnancy, so here’s the low down on when and why you would want to pump before you give birth.
- Your nipples are leaking colostrum. You may notice this annoying side effect of pregnancy several weeks before you come to term. Late pregnancy nipple leaking is perfectly normal as your body begins making colostrum. The leaking milk is messy and quite frankly, annoying since you’ll end up staining your clothes or having an oopsie moment while your in public. While you can use nursing pads to prevent further accidents, the best way to stop your nipples from leaking is to express out the milk. I wouldn’t recommend using a breast pump as there’s so little milk in your breasts, you’ll end up doing more washing than pumping. Just use your hands to massage and squeeze out the milk. If you would like to, you can express directly into a small breast milk container and freeze the colostrum for feeding your baby later. You can combine the hand pumped breast milk, but make sure you label it with the date of the earliest milk. Do not hand express too much as you can cause even more leaking from nipple stimulation.
- You’re overdue and you want to induce labor. Breastfeeding as well as pumping will make your body produce the hormone, Oxytocin. This is the hormone that triggers labor and birth, so some women take advantage of this fact and induce labor with a breast pump. This is why I do not recommend pumping or expressing regularly until you are almost to term, say within a week of your due date. You will need to pump several times for at least several days for this method to work. While you’ll probably fail to pump a significant amount of breastmilk, the increased stimulation of your breasts and nipples should be enough to trigger the necessary birth hormones in your body.
- You want to harvest colostrum. While the pre-milk that your body makes (colostrum) before your mature milk doesn’t come in large amounts, this extra rich and fatty milk is vital for a newborn. Some mothers will actually pump before giving birth so they have some frozen colostrum on hand for their baby. This can apply if you have a preemie, or if you are diabetic. In these situations, breastfeeding isn’t always possible, either because your baby is too weak, or because you are physically unable to nurse on demand. Since the milk your produce during pregnancy comes in such small amounts, I would recommend hand expressing directly into a container instead of using a pump. With a pump, most of the milk will end up being wasted on the breast shield and other breast pump parts.
What expressing won’t do.
- Pumping while pregnant will not increase your milk supply. While it’s true that you can use a breast pump to induce lactation, expressing is not a reliable way to build up your milk supply until about a week after you give birth. Your milk will come in drops while you are still pregnant, and small amounts for the first week of your baby’s life. It’s about 3-5 days after you give birth when your breastmilk really starts flowing and you can pump multiple ounces at a time.
- Pumping more often will not relieve engorgement. While you can use a breast pump to drain your engorged breasts, you need to be careful. Using a breast pump overzealously can actually encourage your milk to come in even more and cause engorgement problems. If you have oversupply problems, do not add any more pumping sessions in between breastfeeding. Instead, you should pump at the same time as you nurse, either by pumping one breast while nursing at the other, or by using a breast pump at the start of a feeding. You can also finish a nursing session by using your pump to completely drain your breasts.
When’s the best time to begin using a breast pump?
If you are not going to build up a stockpile of breastmilk in the first days of your newborn’s life, then the best time to start pumping is when your mature milk supply begins to come in. This is about 1-2 weeks post-partum.
While your milk supply is at its highest at this time, you should pump and store the expressed milk in the freezer until your baby is at least a month old. This is because you can cause nipple confusion by introducing a bottle and teat to your baby before she’s developed a preference for your breast. Once your baby is older, you can give paced bottle feeding a try in between nursing.
But if you are unable to avoid bottle feeding until your baby is old enough, there are specialty teats that mimic your nipples and bottles for breastfed babies so your baby won’t end up refusing your breast.
I’m Jane and this is my project to chronicle everything I’ve learned as I raise my little one.