There’s no doubt that breast milk in whatever form—direct from the breast, or pumped and given later—is best for baby. But apparently there’s a hierarchy in breast milk too, according to a new study published in Pediatrics. When it comes to breastfeeding vs pumping milk, researchers say the former is better for babies’s health, especially in relation to weight gain.
It’s no secret that milk direct from the breast is probably better for baby than anything else. When a mother directly nurses her child, the benefits of this extend beyond just nutrition. Directly nursing a baby has immense psychological and emotional benefits too, for both mommy and baby.
However, in my opinion, the results of studies like this might only add to the pressure and stress mothers already feel—especially if they are working moms who have no option but to express their milk. More on that later.
First, let’s take a look at the study.
There’s no doubt that directly breastfeeding a baby has a ton of benefits, both psychological and physical. But what if the only alternative a mom has is to pump her milk?
Breastfeeding vs Pumping Milk: The Study
The Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study set out to examine chronic disease in kids, including causes. Obesity is one of the chronic diseases researchers examined.
Among the more than 2,500 babies in the study, those with the lowest BMI (body mass index) scores at one year old were those who were exclusively breastfed—direct from the breast—for at least three months.
The study also found that stopping breastfeeding before a child is six months is associated with a higher BMI, faster weight gain and three times the risk of developing obesity.
He explains the significance of this: “Other data has shown quite nicely that if you have an elevated (BMI) early on in life, it sets you up for childhood and then adolescent obesity later on in life.”
No Explanation As To Why Direct Breastfeeding Is Better Than Pumping
Bode and other researchers have not put their finger on exactly why direct latching is better (if at all) to pumped milk. But they do present theories as to why this might be.
One is that when a baby suckles directly from their mother, they can self-regulate how much milk they drink and stop when full. Another theory is that perhaps the composition of breast milk changes when it is chilled, frozen or thawed.
Expressed breast milk is still better than none at all, and far superior to other options.
Does This Put Undue Pressure On Pumping Mums?
While this study is important in raising awareness about the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding, it may indeed cause pumping mommies to feel stressed.
Very often, breastfeeding moms who pump are also working moms. They express their breast milk to ensure their babies still get the goodness of their milk while they are away at work. So does this mean their expressed milk is “not good enough?”
Not really. Study author Meghan Azad explains that keeping with past research, expressed breast milk is still superior to none at all.
“Moms who pump go through a lot of effort to do that, and I wouldn’t want them to get the impression that it’s not worth it. But it does raise the question of, if pumped milk is not the same or not as good, why is that? And what should we be doing to support moms better around breastfeeding if that’s what they want to do?” she says.
I also spoke to Lynn Ng, who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She explains there are ways to mitigate the effects of bottle feeding a baby pumped milk (in relation to weight gain).
Lynn suggests moms who feed their babies pumped milk should consider, “including bottle feeding on demand (instead of feeding to a schedule) and employing paced feeding techniques to ensure that babies are fed as much as they need and not more.”
Meanwhile, the way forward, as Azad suggests, is not about putting undue pressure on mothers. Instead, more support needs to come from “family, community, and policy levels”.