Are Electric Breast Pumps Evil?

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Every so often we hear of a random new ‘parenting’ study that, while meant to improve a child’s life, often feels like yet another way to stress out new moms. Last week, for example, we wrote about how the standard Agpar test for newborns can indicate a child’s likelihood of developing a learning disability later in life. (As if moms don’t have enough pressure in those first days and hours of parenthood!)

And now a new study suggests that among new moms who had a hard time getting their babies to breastfeed, pumping by hand vs. electric machine encouraged them to keep nursing longer. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, studied 68 moms of infants just 12 to 36 hours old who had difficult breastfeeding. They randomly assigned them either 15 minutes of electric pumping or 15 minutes of hand expression. According to the New York Times, there were no differences in the amount of milk expressed but, two months later, 97.1 percent of mothers who had expressed by hand were still breastfeeding compared with 72.7 percent of those who used the machines.

Researchers are somewhat baffled by the discrepancy, offering only that mothers in the hand-expression group reported greater comfort in expressing milk when others were present. I still find this odd, given that an electric pump is way more efficient than expressing by hand. Sure, it’ll make you feel a bit like a cow but, hey, there’s nothing sexy about those first few days of motherhood (I don’t care what people say to the contrary). Plus, for sleep-deprived new moms, the electric route is way quicker.

Regardless, I do think it’s crazy that there’s already such a heated debate over breast milk vs. formula – and now those choosing to nurse will stress out even more over exactly how to get milk out of their bodies. The study’s lead author, Dr. Valerie J. Flaherman, told the New York Times: “Either machine or hand expression would be appropriate. But hand expression would be preferred.”