As far back as ancient Rome and Greece, mothers have used various forms of breast pumps to help extract milk for their babies. Some long-ago contraptions were straw-like, while others looked like bicycle horns! (I was the daughter of a mother having her last child in the eighties and distinctly remember her wild-looking pump). We have come a long way since those early days and some of the newest pumps on the market are simple silicone pumps This single piece of silicone attaches to the breast with suction and pulls out the milk using a negative vacuum. These simple pumps have so many advantages but there are also some common uses of the pump that we want to try to avoid.
I do want to take a moment to mention here that a breastfeeding parent need never pump. As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, I have helped countless clients with nursing who have never used a pump at all. You may feel pressured to purchase a fancy electric pump or may be recommended to acquire one of a variety of other pumps on the market. None are truly necessary. However, there are many situations when pumping is absolutely needed or desired. For more detail on pumps and the kind of pumps you may consider based on your unique needs, you can see my blog post here.
When not to use the Silicone Pump
Let’s start with what not to do. In my practice I see many nursing parents using the silicone pumps incorrectly. While it is marketed to be placed on one side as you are nursing from the other we actually want to avoid this practice. Most babies tend to need to feed from at least both sides (and sometimes from many more). When we place the silicone pump on the second side, while we are nursing from the first, we are essentially taking milk AWAY from baby that they would like when they need to move to that second side (which again – most babies need to do). I once had a lovely and determined nursing mother use the silicone pump as directed (on the second side while nursing on the first). She was always very disappointed that she needed to use pumped milk to supplement her baby after almost all feeds. When I pointed out that she was taking milk out of the breast that baby actually needed during their time there a light bulb went on! She discontinued pumping altogether and baby fed very well. When using the silicone pump, or any pump, always remember to only pump right after a feed.
Read through the following blog post to understand how to tell whether your baby needs to switch sides. The silicone pumps may also not be appropriate if a nursing parent is returning to work early or needs to pump to help increase milk production. They are simply not the most powerful choice and it would be important to speak to one’s lactation consultant to assess appropriate use.
The advantages of a silicone pump:
If used correctly silicone pumps can be an excellent choice. For cases where parents require additional milk for the occasional bottle they can be fantastic.
Silicone pumps are inexpensive. They can be a wonderful way to collect milk without having to invest in a pricey electric or manual pump. If they are working well for you there is an option to purchase two and create a mini double pump for under $75.00! Some nursing parents will also purchase a single electric or manual pump and use that on one side while fixing the silicone pump to the second side. Again, a less expensive double pump!
On the go
Silicone pumps are easy to use on the go. Some mothers are able to suction the pump to their breasts creating a completely hands-free experience. Using a hands free pumping bra with the silicone pump can help with this. They are also very easy to transport and require no batteries or electrical outlets. Washing them is also very easy as they are just one piece as opposed to many little bits and pieces. Popping just one piece into the dishwasher or sterilizer is a breeze.
Silicone pumps may also be more comfortable. In my practice I have had some mothers who find electric pumps irritate their already painful and very damaged nipples. Using the silicone pump these mothers are able to yield as much milk as an electric pump with zero pain! The key to yielding more milk if the electric pump is not an option due to pain or expense would be to massage and compress the breasts while using the pump.
Silicone pumps can help remove a stubborn, blocked duct. First fill the pump full of enough warm water to cover the nipple and one to two tablespoons of Epsom salts. Placing the silicone pump on the affected breast (with the nipple submerged in water) may help to better suction out the blockage. This method can be repeated 3-5 times per day until the block is released. It can be helpful to do some gentle breast massage to loosen the block before using this method. Don’t forget to talk to your International Board Certified Lactation Consultant if you are experiencing frequent blocked ducts as this could mean a latching or feeding management issue.
Happy nursing (and happy pumping) and don’t forget to reach out if you are having any concerns!
Taya is a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in the Toronto area. She is passionate about prenatal breastfeeding education and sees mothers at home, the hospital and in a clinic setting postpartum to help them to reach their breastfeeding goals. She also teaches pre and postnatal pilates and really can’t get enough of babies! She has two daughters, whom she wishes were still babies! Alas, they are growing up too quickly!