Hands-free bra for hands-on pumping…? Come again?

I was gifted two pumping/nursing bras off the baby registry that I really didn’t think I’d be using until I went back to work, which is when I was hoping to use my breast pump regularly. I certainly didn’t imagine having to use my breast pump as soon as I left the hospital, so alas, I’ve been getting acquainted with my Spectra S1 pump settings and the two different pumping bras I have.

The Spectra S1 is considered a hospital-grade breast pump, with the addition of a battery, which means I do not have to be stuck to a wall or outlet every time I pump (health insurance doesn’t think you should be mobile while you pump, though, and so I had to pay a $75 co-pay just for the addition of the stupid battery). However, while it’s a very popular and respected breast pump, it’s basically a mini bowling ball in that it’s round and you really need to be careful when walking around with it. I have managed to make oatmeal, measure ingredients and formula, cut fruit and vegetables, and even brush my teeth with it hooked up. But you really need to be SUPER careful that you don’t knock it over or even worse, spill all your milk, which is literally like liquid gold. My night nurse told me that there’s a big black market for breast milk, and on average, people are charging $18 per oz (30 ml) for breast milk!!

Despite having a hands-free pumping bra and using it while pumping, it’s kind of ridiculous to think that a best practice of pumping is to actually be “hands on” — so to do breast compressions while you are actually using the breast pump to pump milk. Multiple studies have been done about this that have shown that doing breast compressions while pumping (meaning squeezing/pushing on your breasts) will increase your output and ensure that you are actually draining your breasts properly, which then signals to your body to make more milk and will also prevent clogged ducts. And logically, this makes sense: during nursing, a baby is not only sucking the milk out, but she’s gently compressing your breasts to push the milk out, as well. Even the most sophisticated breast pump is only capable of the sucking part of that combination, sadly. So, the only way to do this is with a hands-free pumping bra so that you don’t need to hold the flanges in place where your nipples are. But.. if you think about it, doesn’t that seem counterintuitive: I got a hands-free pumping bra so that I can.. do HANDS ON breast compressions?? You see all these ads for pumping bras showing women at their computers typing away or reading a book leisurely while a machine pumps out their milk, but if you are actually draining effectively, that’s not really how the picture should look.

You would think that at this point in time, we would have come up with better solutions or technology for this, and that there would be more science than art around nursing and breastfeeding. What a journey, and I’m only at the beginning of it…

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