Pumps are machines designed to help establish and maintain milk supply to feed your baby. They are not perfect and no where near as efficient as a baby If they are not used correctly they can fail you (and your supply). Make sure you’re using the correct sized flange and alternating between the settings. Pumps don’t measure milk supply. They also don’t measure your worth as a parent. If your milk supply dropped because of the pump, the pump failed you. You are not a failure.
Pumps are a modern invention and are far from perfect. They’re still seem like rotary telephone technology in an iPhone generation. The first pump was patented in 1854, and the second patent in 1864 was literally for cows. New pumps were created every few years, typically as improved medical devices used to treat inverted nipples and to help babies who were too small or too weak to nurse, but comfort was not the priority. Widely available products for personal or home use have really only been around for about 30 years. It wasn’t until 1991 (around the time most of y’all who are reading this were born) that the Swiss manufacturer Medela introduced its first electric-powered, vacuum-operated breast pump in the US for personal use. Prior to that pumps were limited to select hospitals. Pumps have become such a common tool that many of us think you have to pump if you want to be successful at breastfeeding. While pumping may be needed for some to help establish and maintain supply or for when away from baby, if all is going well and you’re with your baby there’s never a need to pump.
There are lots of bottles on the market. And so many of them are marketed to be “most like the breast”. Let me tell you a secret. There is no bottle that works like the breast. Don’t fall for the marketing. The breast is a complex organ that works with hormones, compression, suction, positive and negative pressure. It is controlled by the baby and how the baby sucks. Baby can make your milk flow or not depending on how they suck. It is never empty and constantly making more. It is hormone driven. A bottle is passive. It has a hole that will drip when turned over. Your nipple changes shape to fill baby’s mouth. Your nipple can help fill a high palate. your nipple and a good portion of your areola/breast also need to be in baby’s mouth in a deep latch for milk to be transferred. Your nipple should go in round and come out round. Baby’s tongue should cup and protrude past the lower gums and stay out to massage your nipple/breast in their mouth Baby has to change the shape of their tongue to accommodate the firm bottle nipple. Baby can chomp or mash the nipple and doesn’t need to keep the tongue out because they can compress milk out. Baby can also latch just to the tip of the bottle nipple and still get milk.
We can make the bottle work like the breast, though. By slowing the feeding down or “pacing” the feeding, we can help baby go back and forth between bottle and breast. You want a straight nipple that tapers wide at the base for a “deep” latch. If your baby is just latched to the tip of a bottle nipple they can still get milk. But then their muscles will learn to latch shallow and that’s often why you’ll get a shallow latch with a “small” mouth at the breast. The bottle nipples that are already pinched or tapered are also not good choices. If your nipple came out of baby’s mouth looking like, that you’d have damage within a few days. If your baby struggled at the breast and will only take a bottle nipple that looks flat and pinched there is usually something going on in baby’s mouth and the bottle nipple is compensating for it. Tongue tie is the most common culprit.
LATCHING TO A BOTTLE
Having an optimal latch at the breast reduces nipple pain and prevents damage. Your nipple should go in baby’s mouth round and come out round. If we want to encourage good latch when breastfeeding, we want to do the same when bottle feeding. This helps baby go back and forth without “confusion”.
This can be difficult when a bottle nipple abruptly changes in shape from narrow to wide. Bottle nipples like the Playtex Baby Ventaire Bottle,Tommee Tippee, Avent Natural, Nuby Comfort, and Chicco Naturalfit have narrow nipple tips and wide bases. Babies usually end up latching onto the tip and sucking it like a straw. If baby’s cheeks dimple or suck in when feeding from these bottles, they’re drinking but not demonstrating a wide latch and optimal mouth posture. If they had that same mouth posture on your nipple, they would cause pain and damage. Baby’s don’t drink from the breast like a straw. Conversely, they may try to fit the base of the nipple in their mouth and end up with air pockets where the tip meets the base. This can result in breaking the suction and swallowing excess air while feeding. Nipples like the Nuk Simply Natural and Mam are not round, but pinched or flat. If your nipple looked like that coming out of baby’s mouth we’d be talking about deeper latch or tongue tie.
Bottle nipples that gradually change in shape from narrow at the tip to wider at the base promote a deeper latch. If the nipple stays narrow at the base, like the Similac nipples many hospitals give at birth for supplementing, you’ll want baby’s lips to be able to come up almost to the collar (plastic o-ring base). If the nipple is sloped to gradually widen at the base, baby will be able to get the nipple deeper into their mouth with no air pockets. My favorite sloped nipples include the Pigeon SS Nipple, Lansinoh, Dr Brown’s Original Narrow, Dr Brown’s Wide Neck, Munchkin Latch, and Evenflo Balance, which promote a deeper latch mouth on the nipple.
So what does this mean?! If your baby is already bottle feeding and going back and forth from bottle to breast, don’t sweat it! No need to change anything! If your baby is struggling at the breast and preferring a narrower or non-round nipple, having a full oral motor assessment may help you get back to breast.
What pump do you have? What size flange are you using? The answer can make a huge difference in pumping success.
Not all pumps are created equal. Prior to the ACA, there were few pump choices. Once laws said people needed to be provided with a breast pump, and insurance would fit the bill, lots of companies flooded the market with pumps. Not all of them are good, and some will even sabotage your supply. You want a pump with a good motor in it that has lots of variability in the cycle (how fast or slow it pumps) and suction (how strong it sucks).
You also need to be mindful of the flange you’re pumping on. Most companies will send a standard 24mm flange. Sometimes they’ll send a larger size as well. In reality nipples, and thus flanges, are not one size fits all. And in my practice I hardly EVER use the 24 or bigger flanges. For almost all of my families we’re sizing down. Some times significantly smaller.
Flanges are the horn shaped part that actually touch the breast. The fit of the flange can make or break your pumping experience. Too small and friction can cause pain and even damage (and pain makes it difficult for milk to let down). Too large and the breast may not be stimulated well, which inhibits your let down to have milk flow. When too much areola is pulled into the flange, the tissue swells around the nipple pores and can prevent milk from efficiently emptying from the breast, resulting in plugged ducts, pain, tissue breakdown, and eventually a reduced milk supply. Using too large of a flange from the beginning may even prevent you from bringing in a full milk supply. Do you ever pump for 20+ minutes and still feel like there’s milk in there? Most likely too large of a flange. The stimulation from the pump is triggering you to make more milk, but the size of the flange is preventing you from emptying that milk efficiently. Poor flange fit can also impact the suction of your pump and how well it functions with your body. If you have the suction all the way to the highest level and aren’t emptying well, you flange is too big.
Flange fit tips:
🗝Flange fit isn’t based on your breast or areola size, it is JUST the size of the nipple and how it changes with suction. Some nipples are dense and don’t stretch much. Some are super elastic and swell a lot. How your nipple responds to suction can make a difference in which flange you select and if other products are needed to happy pump
🗝Proper fit isn’t as simple as measuring your nipple, but it’s a start. See a trained IBCLC to help if you haven’t found the right fit or are struggling with poor output, pain/damage, or plugged ducts
🗝A small amount of space around your nipple in the flange tunnel is good. There should be no space around the areola or in the larger bell part of the flange. If your breast tissue recoils back into the horn part of the flange with every cycle, the flange is too large. If the tissue is white where the tunnel meets the horn, the flange is too small
🗝Pain or blanching means it’s the wrong size
🗝Nipples rubbing against the sides of the flange tunnel mean fit needs to be improved and there is a risk of pain and damage
🗝There should only be a small amount of areola pulled in the flange tunnel space. The bell or horn part will have most of the areola held back so it doesn’t get pulled into the tunnel
🗝The nipple tip shouldn’t hit the back of the flange. This means you have an elastic nipple. Sizing up isn’t necessarily the right answer. Using a pump insert, cushion like @beaugenmom or @pumpinpalofficial may be a better solution
🗝Evaluate as you pump. You can changing flange size mid-pump to improve comfort if you’re between sizes. You may also need to change the flange size the longer you pump. Our nipples can become more elastic and larger or smaller with time.
🗝Every nipple is unique and each side may use a different size (or shape/brand!). There are all kinds of flange sizes, inserts, and cushions to improve the pump experience