Breast Pump & Breastfeeding 101: 4 Important Questions Answered By Experts
Every year, countries across the world celebrate World Breastfeeding Week. Observed from 1st to 7th August, this World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative aims to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the globe.
In 2019, the theme is to encourage family-friendly policies. WHO has partnered with UNICEF to create awareness around the importance of paid maternity and paternity leave. In fact, one of the talking points is also about offices creating a breastfeeding-friendly work place where mothers have safe, hygienic and private corners to feed their babies.
We caught up with Dr Kakoli Acharya from CK Birla Hospital (CMRI), Kolkata, and Dr Ravneet Joshi from Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, who answered important breastfeeding questions that often concern a working mother.
Can mothers/working mothers use breast pump(s) to store milk for later feeds?
It’s common for working mothers or even mothers in general, to pump milk using a breast pump for later feeding. This is needed under a number of circumstances, for instance, travel, social or work commitments, or unavailability of mother at the time of feeding.
Consultant Neonatologist Dr Kakoli Acharya of CK Birla says, “You can definitely rely on breast pumps to collect and store breast milk for feeding. However, be sure to refrigerate it (not freeze) until feeding time. Also, do not feed the child directly from the pump. Pour the milk into the baby’s bottle and feed as usual.”
Breast milk is a natural source of food and nutrition for infants. And expressed breast milk from breast pumps, although not identical, provides similar benefits as milk consumed directly from the breast.
Lactation Consultant Dr Ravneet Joshi of Manipal Hospital elaborates: “Mothers can express breast milk manually or use a breast pump. A good quality breast pump makes the process relatively quicker and convenient.”
Does using breast pump increase the risk of infection for the baby or the mother?
There are a few things to remember. “Mothers should wash their hands before expressing the milk. Expressed breast milk should be collected and stored in sterile containers. It can be kept at room temperature for up to 6 hours. Otherwise, it may be safely refrigerated at 4°C for up to 3 to 5 days, says Dr Joshi. “However, for prolonged storage, the milk should be frozen and thawed before use.”
Dr Acharya concurs. “It all comes down to observing basic hygiene. The right cleaning, washing, drying, storage and maintenance of breast pumps are enough to eliminate all risks of infections for mother and child.”
Based on frequency of pumping milk, mothers replace breast pump(s) between 2-4 weeks (if you are exclusively pumping), to up to 2-3 months (if you are pumping less frequently, as an alternative to breast feeding).
How can mothers treat blocked ducts and mastitis?
“We often see mothers suffering from breast engorgement. This is common when the mother is lactating more than usual, or the baby is underfeeding. This might lead to pain, fever and swelling of the breasts,” explains Dr Acharya. “In such situations, whether the child is feeding or not, mothers should express the milk manually or using a pump to reduce engorgement.”
Store the milk until the prescribed time limit. Once it is no longer safe for the child’s consumption, dispose of it. It is better to pump and dispose of unused milk rather than have the mother suffer through the pain.
However, Dr Ravneet Joshi adds that even in this case, prevention is better than cure. “The best way to manage blocked ducts and mastitis is prevention. Early initiation and breastfeeding on demand with good breastfeeding techniques are important. The mother should be in comfortable position to achieve deep latch of the baby to facilitate effective milk transfer,’ he says.
“In fact, early and frequent breastfeeding prevents milk stasis, reducing breastfeeding challenges like mastitis and blocked ducts.”
What if I am unable to breastfeed my child? Are there any alternatives?
Sometimes, a mother may not be able to breast feed because she isn’t producing a healthy or quality supply of milk. In fact, mothers on medication or those with a contagious condition are often told to refrain from breast feeding altogether.
Certain medical conditions among mothers and even among children don’t lend themselves well to breast feeding.
“Your options are to ask your doctor if expressing milk manually or through pumps is a safe alternative. You also can explore the option of procuring breast milk from other lactating mothers,” says Dr Acharya.
While women may not be comfortable feeding their child with another woman’s breast milk, they must consider that the physical benefits outweigh the taboo and discomfort surrounding this prospect. In the end, it is the biological mother’s decision.
Dr Joshi adds, “Mothers should also take assistance from a lactation consultant before considering their options closed. They’re very helpful when it comes to showing the right techniques and exercises to promote lactation, and feeding naturally or through manual or pumped breast milk.”