For expectant mothers a breast pump is on every baby registry's "must-have" list. But think about it if planning to breastfeed, a mother comes equipped with everything she needs namely breasts! But before shelling out literally hundreds of dollars on the fanciest new breast pump technology, consider your personal needs in determining whether a breast pump is truly an "essential" for you and if so, when that purchase should be made.
As discussed in my related article, "Breastfeeding Essentials Breast Pumps," linked below, there are numerous reasons a breastfeeding mother might need to use a pump. The most common and obvious is returning to full-time employment shortly after the baby's birth. There are also medical reasons or breastfeeding challenges that may call for the use of a pump. So does that mean that every new mother really does need to have a $400 double-electric pump on hand when the baby arrives? Not necessarily.
Several of the medical issues requiring a breast pump, and even overcoming some breastfeeding challenges mentioned in the Breast Pumps article may be better handed with a hospital-grade rental pump and are temporary situations. These pumps are available through many local hospitals, lactation centers or even baby boutiques. They are more efficient at providing stimulation and transferring milk than retail pumps and if needed for only a short time, may cost less overall than purchasing a single use pump. Before breaking the seal on an expensive retail pump, it might be valuable to research rental options in your area.
It is also worth considering that job situations may change after a baby is born, however unlikely that may seem, and there is no reason to open a retail pump (rendering it non-returnable) until there is truly need to use it. Sometimes women with full-time jobs are able to job share, work at least partly from home or decide to take time away from home. This may render the pump unnecessary or may mean that a significantly less expensive hand pump or manual pump may be more than sufficient.
In a tough economy, this is less common than in boom times, but does still sometimes make financial sense for some families. If trying to work out the finances for taking time off work, it certainly doesn't help to be out the $300-$500 for a pump that is no longer needed! It is also worth noting that if mothers are not returning to work, even full-time, until the baby is about 6 months or older that the typical double-electric pump (like the popular Pump-in-Style) may not be the best choice. See my related article on "Choosing a Breast Pump."
Finally consider the timing of such a purchase. Sometimes in the early days, breast pumps get used "just because they are there," and can actually create problems that hinder breastfeeding or reduce the overall duration of breastfeeding. In the early weeks of feeding, it is important to breastfeeding on-cue and let the baby signal to the body how much milk is needed. Pumping so that a relative can give a bottle or to sneak away for an afternoon too early in the baby's life can interfere with this natural cycle of demand-supply and create oversupply or undersupply issues that can be tricky to solve.
Early pumping may also erode the confidence of a nursing mother, because the amount of milk pumped from the breast does NOT always (in fact, rarely) correlate to the amount of milk the baby draws from the breast. A mother who is inexperienced with pumping and just establishing milk supply, as well as those around her, may become concerned with the small amounts of breast milk pumped and turn to formula when the baby may be getting much more milk. Or the baby may be nursing small amounts very frequently if nursing on-cue, but somehow these small amounts when in a bottle just don't fit our media-created image of a "full bottle" of milk.
So, should you buy a breast pump? Sure. Especially if you have a baby registry and relatives, friends or co-workers who might be willing to spring for it as a gift, it certainly can't hurt to have one. But don't break the seal just to open it up and look at it!!! Register for or buy a good manual hand pump and perhaps a double-electric if you think you might need it, but wait to open it until you reach that point, and hide it away in the closet until breastfeeding is established at 6-8 weeks (even introducing a bottle can often be done with a small amount of hand-expressed milk if desired without cracking open the pump box just yet).
Equally important to the question of whether to buy a pump is when to actually open and use the pump. If it turns out the pump isn't needed or a less expensive pump will suffice, keeping the pump sealed can provide a lot of store credit that can be applied towards diapers or other goodies (just be aware of return policies!). For more details on determining what pump best fits your needs, see my related article, "Choosing a Breast Pump," linked below.