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A Breastfeeding Secret Weapon

One thing I constantly hear from women who have had children before me is how lucky I am to raise kids in a time where we have so much technology and devices that help us raise our kids successfully. How many times have you heard your mother say, “They didn’t have anything like that on the market when I was raising you.” Honestly, I am grateful for the multitude of choices I have at my fingertips, yet often the choices can be overwhelming. Do you know what can be overwhelming? Researching the multitude of breast pumps on the market.

When I pulled up my insurance website listing the breast pumps I could select (covered completely or partially through insurance) listed 35 choices! 35! Included within the options were breast pumps sorted into categories: hands free, battery operated, smart breast pump, bag up-grades, portable, adjustable speed, hospital grade, double electric, manual, single electric. So. Many. Options. Rather than direct you to the best pump on the market, this article is intended to highlight a hidden gem in the breast pump market: the manual hand pump.

The Secret Uses

The manual hand pump is a breastfeeding secret weapon.

In the first few days and weeks of breastfeeding, it is common experience something called engorgement. Engorgement happens when your breast become painfully firm and full breast milk and fluid. The management plan for engorgement typically involves warm compresses, ice, nursing, and hand expression. With engorgement, we want to be careful not to over-pump in order to avoid making an oversupply of breastmilk. However, hand expression (with your own hands or a manual breast pump) used for a few minutes to help soften your breasts and release some of the pressure can help relieve painful engorgement.

Another breastfeeding challenge that can occur early in your breastfeeding journey, is difficulty for baby to latch or latch deeply when your breasts are firm and full of milk. Envision a baby trying to successfully latch to a bowling ball. Impossible, right? By expressing a small amount of breast milk with a hand pump for a few minutes before baby latches, you can soften your breast and help your nipple and areola become more elastic and baby can latch deeply eliminating breastfeeding frustration and pain.

Some moms may also have difficulty latching baby because they may have short, flat, or inverted nipples. By pumping with the hand pump, you can quickly stimulate and evert (pull out) your nipple which will help baby to latch to your breast.

Supply & Demand

The key to successfully breastfeeding or exclusive pumping equates to supply and demand. Your body needs to produce (or express) the volume of breast milk that baby drinks every day. One of my favorite ways to utilize the manual hand pump is to quickly replace a small bottle baby drank while you were out running errands or fitting in that quick hot yoga session you’ve been desperately craving. You can easily pull out your hand pump without fretting about the cords, the hands-free bra, the outlet, the batteries, and comfortably pump the 2-4 ounces baby just finished. Quickly, your stash is replenished and your milk supply is protected!

Another scenario in which the hand pump is a lifesaver is the time you decide to take that much needed date night when your partner surprises you with concert tickets. You immediately stress because you aren’t sure how could you possibly spend 6 hours away from your baby at an outdoor venue when you’re currently nursing or pumping every 3-4 hours? You can easily manage this scenario by tossing your hand pump in your purse and finding a private area to pump when the time comes.

You may actually enjoy using your hand pump in the scenario when you need to pump, however you really didn’t want to attach yourself to the electric pump, plug it in, listen to the motor “eh-er-eh-er,” and feel stuck to the pump like a factory milk maker. Instead, you can pull out the hand pump and quietly sit wherever you desire and gently pump in less mechanical environment.

The scenarios in which a hand pump can become a lifesaver are endless! Airport travel, road trips, beach vacations, pool days, temporary moments when baby refuses to latch, clogged ducts, mastitis, overnight engorgement, power outage, or battery failure. While a hand pump is not as efficient or effective as a double electric pump, a manual hand pump can be a resourceful tool and breastfeeding secret weapon. Take my advice as a NICU nurse, lactation consultant, and a mother of 2 toddlers, toss a manual hand pump into your diaper bag. Your milk supply will thank you.

– Katie Kunz, RN, IBCLC