Breastfeeding has been proven as the best way to provide optimal nutrition and health benefits to infants. However, breastfeeding and breast pumping can be challenging. Some moms experience difficulties such as low milk supply, latch problems, or engorgement. One way to help with some of these challenges is pumping before birth. In this article, we will go over the pros and cons of pumping before birth.
Is it Safe to Pump While Pregnant?
We want to begin with the disclaimer that, in general, it’s not recommended to pump breast milk before the baby is born unless advised by a healthcare provider for specific medical reasons. This is because pumping before birth can potentially stimulate contractions and cause preterm labor. If stimulating labor is your goal, then proceed with caution.
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There are some situations where pumping before birth may be recommended, such as in cases of gestational diabetes or if the baby is expected to have difficulty with feeding after birth. The key here is to follow the guidance of your health care provider. We can’t reiterate this enough.
Now with this said, we know many moms who have successfully pumped in the last weeks of pregnancy. Most of these moms are not first time moms and, thus, feel more comfortable with pumping breast milk in general.
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Pros and Cons of Pumping Before Birth: The Pros
Stimulation of Milk Production
Pumping before birth can stimulate the production of breast milk. This is the #1 pro on our list of pros and cons of pumping before birth. This happens because the breast is being emptied regularly, which signals the body to produce more milk. Second (or third) time moms who experienced low breast milk supply with their first child find this a huge benefit of pumping before birth. It also enables moms to build a milk supply stash. Having this freezer stash of breast milk takes some of the stress away from the early days and months of a newborn’s life.
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Breastfeeding and Breast Pumping Preparation
Pumping before birth can aid in preparing the breasts for breastfeeding. It can help moms become familiar with the sensation of breastfeeding and learn how to use a breast pump. Breastfeeding and pumping can be somewhat painful at first as your tender nipples get used to constant suction. When you’re exhausted from giving birth, getting used to having a baby, and figuring out a new rhythm of every day life, figuring out a breast pump can be too much. By pumping before birth, you can learn how the pump works and ready your nipples for the breastfeeding and pumping that will soon occur every 1-3 hours of your newborn’s life.
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Dealing With Engorgement
Pumping before birth can help manage engorgement, which is the swelling of the breasts due to the accumulation of milk. Engorgement can be uncomfortable and make it difficult for the baby to latch on to the breast. This is less likely in first time moms. Second and third time moms, however, may experience engorgement (or fullness of the breasts) as their bodies have produced milk before.
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Pumping Colostrum While Pregnant
Colostrum is the first milk that a mom produces after giving birth. It’s a deep golden color and rich in nutrients and antibodies that help protect the baby from infections. Pumping before birth can help collect colostrum, which can be fed to the baby immediately after birth. Since colostrum is only made by a woman’s body in the early days of a newborn’s life (or while pregnant), some moms prefer to pump before birth to have a supply of colostrum on hand. In the below picture, the bag at the right with the yellow breast milk is from the first days of a newborn’s life. That milk is full of colostrum.
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Pumping before birth can simply be convenient for some moms. They can pump and store breast milk which they can use to feed their baby later. The first days, weeks, and months of a newborn’s life can be a bit chaotic. Having breast milk on hand for someone else to feed the baby can be useful.
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Pros and Cons of Pumping Before Birth: The Cons
Overstimulation of Milk Production
While stimulation of breast milk is a pro of pumping before birth, it can also lead to an overstimulation of milk production. This can lead to engorgement and discomfort. It’s a fine line to walk. Since breast milk production is all about supply and demand, using a breast pump before birth can signal your body (demand) to produce more milk (supply) than you need. This is especially true for moms who experienced an oversupply of breast milk with their previous children.
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Inducing early labor is the main con on this list of pros and cons of pumping before birth. There is some concern that pumping before birth can cause premature labor. This is because nipple stimulation can cause the release of the hormone oxytocin, which can trigger contractions. This is why we advise that you speak with your healthcare provider if you decide to do this. If you are at the end of your pregnancy (38+ weeks), then your medical provider will likely give you the green light. Bear in mind that you may get more than milk when pumping before birth–you may end up with a baby!
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Pumping before birth can be stressful for some moms. They may feel pressure to produce enough milk or worry about whether they are using the breast pump correctly. The last weeks of pregnancy can be an absolute misery. Don’t feel the need to add more stress to yourself by trying to use a breast pump before birth unless the pros outweigh the cons for you.
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Unreliable Indicator of Milk Supply
Pumping before birth may not be an accurate indicator of a mother’s milk supply. Some moms may not produce much milk before birth, but will produce enough milk after giving birth. Your body (i.e. your hormones) may not be ready to go into milk production mode just yet as it’s still cooking a baby. Breastfeeding, just like pregnancy and birth, is a natural process. Your body should respond like it’s made to once your baby is in your arms.
Related article: How to Increase Breast Milk Supply (Fast!)
Ultimately, pumping before birth can be helpful for some moms who want to prepare for breastfeeding and manage potential challenges. However, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of pumping before birth carefully before making a decision. Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider to determine whether pumping before birth is right for you. The decision to pump before birth should be based on what is best for your baby and you–and nothing else!