Breastfeeding offers optimal nutrition for your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months of life. Doing so provides a number of benefits for both you and your baby. One of the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers is that it can help return the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size and weight. Pumping can offer some of the same benefits when you are unable to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding and Uterine Shrinkage
The uterus grows significantly during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association says that the uterus typically weighs about 2 pounds at the time of birth. Though that isn't a significant weight, the uterus is stretched far beyond its normal size, which can cause the belly to remain distended. When you breastfeed, a hormone called "oxytocin" is released, which helps the milk let down. The AAP explains that oxytocin also works to shrink the uterus back to its normal size. You may feel menstrual-like cramps while you are nursing and your uterus is contracting. Because pumping triggers the same milk let-down, it can have the same benefits for shrinking the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size.
Reasons to Pump
Though many women may want to breastfeed, they may not be able to do so. Some women may have a different shape to their nipples, which makes it difficult for a baby to latch. Some babies may not be able to latch because of tongue tie, a cleft lip or a premature birth. Pumping can allow you to give your baby breast milk, even if you cannot breastfeed directly. Pumping can also provide the milk your baby needs when she has to be away from you, such as when you're returning to work or when you want to leave your baby with a sitter.
Making Pumping Work
Sutter Health says that the uterus continues to shrink back to its original size for up to six weeks after birth. However, KidsHealth.org notes that the strong, menstrual-like cramps are typically felt only during the first couple of days to weeks after birth. If you are not able to breastfeed at all, pumping should begin as soon as possible after birth and should take place eight to 12 times a day to stay on the same schedule as a nursing newborn. Since pumping is not as effective at extracting milk as breastfeeding, the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota recommends using an electric pump, which can more closely simulate the action of breastfeeding. By using the right pump and pumping with the right frequency, you can get some of the same benefits as breastfeeding for shrinking the uterus.
Breastfeeding and pumping have many other benefits for mothers besides helping to shrink the uterus. One major benefit of breastfeeding is that it burns more calories, which can also help you return to your pre-pregnancy size more quickly. KidsHealth.org notes that uterine contractions also help to reduce blood loss after birth. Other benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include protection against some types of cancers and osteoporosis. Because these benefits are linked to milk production, pumping can offer these same benefits.