Pumping Moms Face Risks & We Need to Take Action Now


Breast Pump BathroomThe name of a recent study published in a scientific journal says it all: The Quiet Revolution: Breastfeeding transformed with the use of breast pumps. There’s no question that more babies get breast milk thanks to the more prevalent use of breast pumps, and that’s a good thing for the most part.

But Kathleen Rasmussen, co-author of the study and a professor of nutritional science at Cornell University, wants to add that with the advantages comes the risk of issues from pumping, and she wants scientists to have a chance to investigate those issues.

There’s no doubt that better breast pumps are a good thing. Thanks to them, preemies like my Penelope can get their mom’s milk, including colostrum, even if they can’t digest them until weeks after birth. And moms who go back to work don’t have to give up on breastfeeding. And babies who have trouble latching can get that good stuff via other delivery systems. And moms can donate milk to other moms who are having trouble with supply but don’t want to resort to formula.

It seems kind of insane that something almost every mom does at one point or another – sometimes in the hospital, sometimes at  home, and sometimes in workplace bathrooms – hasn’t had some kind of scientific attention.

Even though federal guidelines specify that employers provide a room other than a bathroom to pumping moms, “those guidelines only apply to companies with 50 or more employees,” says Rasmussen. “Many women are not pumping in the most ideal circumstances. They’re doing it in their cars, or supply closets.”

Some of the questions we don’t have answers to:

  • What is the risk of bacterial contamination of pumped milk?
  • What containers are safer for the storage of that milk?
  • How do most women store and transport their milk?
  • Do babies eat differently when fed at the bottle v. the breast?

In addition, there has been some research of stored milk, and it finds that microwaving milk drastically reduces its anti-infective qualities, and that breast milk’s composition changes over time. What are the effects of these changes on the baby’s nutrition?

And there’s the emotional component. What happens to the bonding experience when you get a jolt of oxytocin with only an ugly black backpack to look at? What bonding and learning experiences do moms and babies miss out on when the baby only gets expressed milk?

Each question is more mind-boggling than the next. Rasmussen isn’t saying it’s bad to feed babies expressed milk; she’s just saying that it could be different, and we need to know how so we can best support breastfeeding moms and protect their babies. She even wonders if the presence of pumps will, counter-intuitively, lead to less support for breastfeeding, as moms will be expected to hook up and pump rather than staying home with their babies during longer maternity leaves.

It is insane to me that we, as a society, claim to care about family values, yet this is yet another way to support families, specifically working moms, that hasn't been studied, and isn't being looked at. That these questions don't have answers -- that's what really drives me up a wall.

All these unanswered questions are building up in Rasmussen and her colleagues like … well… like engorged breasts! It’s like a massive let-down of questions with no answers to … hey, it’s not a perfect analogy. The point is, while better pumps are great, we don’t know what additional challenges they might bring. Here’s hoping Rasmussen can continue her work and tell us the best way to use pumps – and when to pack them away and use the direct-deposit method.

Do you think we'd be better off if we knew how many women pump, how much, and where that milk goes?

Image courtesy of Sheela R. Geraghty, MD, MS, IBCLC, Medical Director, Center for Breastfeeding Medicine

breastfeeding, bonding, natural parenting


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Melis... Melissa042807

I dunno if we'd be "better off" - only time and the results of such a study would determine that. But I'm curious to see how these studies turn out. Interesting questions.

I loved my pump - it was the only thing that gave me relief sometimes! I produced enough to feed a small village and would often have to pump after my son finished nursing so I wouldn't get engorged.

Marisa Wagner

I had to pump after my maternity leave for 6 weeks when I finished a teaching job.  I hated pumping.  I was happy to stoy as soon as I was finished working.  I was happy to pump because I could continue to feed my baby with my milk and it kept my supply up.  I think we worry too much about "germs" in this society.  I pumped in a classroom probably full of all sorts of critters that could of ended up in my breast milk, but guess what, my baby was fine!

I have a friend who adopted and had milk donated to her, her baby turned out okay too.

nonmember avatar blueberries

I've never heard of a baby getting sick from contaminated breast milk. If you want maternity leave, move to another country that actually respects mothers...I don't think america will ever be there.

Ashley Dore'

agreed blueberries


Maias... MaiasMommy619

I have pumped exclusively for my son for over a year. I think mothers have common sense enough to know how to handle and store their breastmilk. Also I didn't miss out on any bonding time with my son. O think most BF advocates are not thinking outside the box when it comes to eping.

jpfsmom jpfsmom

Agree with Maias..you are underestimating ep'ers ability to pump sucessfully. There is a fringe element of lactivist purists that frown upon pumping and it's silly to me but I had a successful run with it and actually preferred it to the tap. Just my personal preference, less awkward.

elasmimi elasmimi

I had my kids in an era when breast feeding was not encouraged, so I don't feel I can make an informed comment.

madfoot madfoot

Nobody is frowning on pumping. It's just that relying on anecdotal stories isn't the same as scientific studies.

momma... mommaramsey

Germs don't really bother me. Losing important nutrient because the bottle went in the microwave does not surprise me. Does the milk lose nutrients from being frozen, refrigerated, or warmed in a bottle warmer? If there is really so much support for breastfeeding, why am I always getting samples of formula being told, "Just in case."  There are lots of pressures out there making nursing/ pumping hard enough. How many more things should moms have to worry about?

NotMaud NotMaud

There's too much emphasis on making workplaces more pumping-friendly, when really mothers should get more time - much more time - at home with their babies. Yes, it would be good to have more data on pumping, and yes, breastmilk is better - and cheaper - than formula, but the focus on pumping just moves the debate away from the right for mother and baby for a decent maternity leave.

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