What should I know about pumped breast milk?

Dear Doctor,

I have to go back to work in two weeks, I have been on maternity leave for over three months now. However, I have never had to pump breast milk and because I might not be able to make it back home every lunch hour to feed, I am learning how to. Are there any effects on drinking pumped milk on the baby? How long can it be preserved before it becomes a danger to her health?

Camila

Dear Camila,

Breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby and is most healthy. Breast milk is naturally designed to be most suitable for a baby’s digestive system. It provides antibodies to build the immune system, raising ability to fight infections. Breastfeeding is also soothing for a baby and relaxes her. It creates bonding between a mother and her child. Best thing is even with so many advantages, it is free and readily available. In fact, breast milk is produced on a natural feedback system. When a hungry baby is put to the breast, milk is produced. Thus, there is no need for a fixed feeding schedule. The disadvantage of breastfeeding is, it leaves little free time for the mother.

With more and more women working, babies have to be left with a caregiver. The options remain to either pump breast milk, store it by freezing or give it to the baby by a bottle at fixed intervals. Another option is to give formula milk via bottle.

Pumped milk has the advantages of breast milk. It gives free time to the mother. Milk given to the baby can be of the biological mother or some other lactating mother as well. This is useful in cases, where due to some problem, a woman is unable to produce sufficient breast milk to satiate the baby.  Feeding via a pump also enables a care giver or mother to fix a schedule for feeding the baby.

The disadvantage of using a pump is that primarily, it has to be bought and is not very cheap.  It provides less immunity, as compared to fresh breast milk sucked directly from the breast. Though it soothes a baby, it does not help form the natural bond between a mother and her child.  Pumping out milk from the breast needs privacy at all times. Whereas a mother can breastfeed her baby in public by just covering her breasts, hiding a pump becomes cumbersome. Moreover, it is noisy as well.

Pumped milk can stay fresh up to six hours maximum in a good climate. In hot weather, it should not be used later than four hours. Spoilt pumped milk gives a sour smell and taste as well. Normally, milk when pumped, settles into two layers. These disappear, when swirled. But if the milk is spoilt, the layers will persist.

A breast pump needs to be kept very clean and dry, otherwise there is a risk of it carrying germs. For cleaning, each part of the pump should be rinsed in hot water with a gentle soap for 10 to 15 seconds, washed and then put on a dry clean napkin or tray to air dry. It should never be rubbed dry with a towel as that carries risk of contamination.

 Dr. Rachna   Pande is a specialist in internal medicine. 

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