Can I express and store my milk so my husband can feed the baby some nights?

My husband and I realize the importance of breastfeeding, but think it will be too exhausting for me to wake up every two or three hours during the night. So we talked about expressing and storing milk so that we can take turns feeding the baby. Is this a good idea?

Question:

It’s wonderful that your husband plans to participate in your baby’s care. However, when breastfeeding is getting established, frequent draining is crucial for the health of your breasts and facilitating milk production. Long periods of no drainage can cause breast problems including engorgement, mastitis or poor supply.

In other words breastfeeding, rather than pumping for a later feeding, is better, as I’ll explain further below. That doesn’t mean your husband can’t help you in other important ways. In some cultures, fathers usually bathe the children. It may be a natural way for dads to get the skin-to-skin contact that moms get through breastfeeding. It’s also nice for your husband to be the expert at some aspect of your baby’s care. Burping, diaper changing and supporting you in your desire to breastfeed are other important contributions your husband can make.

Nighttime may be easier than you anticipate. Many babies don’t feed every two to three hours (including during the night) or, if they do, it doesn’t continue for a long time. Babies need a certain amount of milk in a 24-hour period. It is not unusual for them to feed more frequently at certain times of the day and less frequently at other times. The extra drainage that occurs during the periods of frequent feedings compensates for the periods of decreased or less frequent drainage. This degree of symbiosis is difficult to replicate with a mechanical device for several reasons.

Pumps rely mostly on suction to pull milk out of the breast. Babies remove milk by compressing the breast with the jaws and tongue, using suction to keep the breast positioned in the mouth. As a result, breast pumps are much less efficient than a baby who is breastfeeding well. The extra pumping it would take to try to replicate what your baby would do would probably be much more of a strain on you.

In addition, babies become more efficient at breastfeeding when they get to practice more in the beginning. A period of exclusive breastfeeding is an investment that may result in many months of comfortable, easy breastfeeding with shorter, more efficient feedings.

One of the common misconceptions about breastfeeding is that it is physically strenuous. Actually, breastfeeding releases hormones that have a natural sedative effect, making it easier to fall back to sleep after being awakened. Keeping your baby in close proximity throughout the night and taking naps during the day will also afford more rest.

Despite the disadvantages of your proposed plan, if you decide to proceed, be sure to use a hospital-grade rental pump. Mothers have complained that the smaller, more portable models don’t work as well when getting breastfeeding going in the first four to six weeks. Your breasts also become more adapted to milk production over the course of time, allowing less frequent drainage without negative consequences. This is why so many moms are successful at continuing to breastfeed after returning to work, despite their reliance on pumps.

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