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Breastfeeding vs. Pumping: The Pros and Cons of Each

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Updated
Is pumping as beneficial as breastfeeding? Or is there a difference?

Is breastfeeding not working out as you had hoped? Are you wondering if pumping will provide you and your baby with the same benefits?

Breast milk is considered the gold standard when it comes to feeding your baby, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends babies receive breast milk for at least the first year of life. But does pumping provide the same benefits as directly latching your baby to your breast?

In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of breastfeeding and pumping and whether they provide the same health benefits for you and your baby.


The Differences Between Breastfeeding and Pumping

Whether you’re directly breastfeeding, pumping and feeding expressed milk, or doing a mix of both, your baby is still getting the nutrients they need for proper growth and development.

Many women choose to pump so they can return to work after their maternity leave. And some women may have to pump from the very beginning because their baby was born early and couldn’t latch, or they were born with a lip or tongue tie and couldn’t properly latch and transfer milk efficiently.

On the other hand, some babies just flat out refuse bottles, so exclusively breastfeeding is the only option.

Breastfeeding and pumping both have their benefits and downsides. Ultimately, you will have to decide which is best for you and your baby.

Differences between breastfeeding and pumping

Pros of Breastfeeding

  • Strengthens your bond with your baby: Many moms find breastfeeding to be more of a bonding experience with their baby than if they were to bottle feed. And many find it to be more comforting for their baby, as they can quickly soothe them with just their breast.
  • Saves you money: You’ll probably invest in some nursing bras and nursing tops, but overall, breastfeeding saves you so much money. A pump, pump parts, and bottles are just plain expensive.
  • No dishes: We already have enough dirty dishes to wash, so why add more if we don’t have to?
  • Nothing to pack: You can leave your house with just your boobs. Forgetting your baby’s food will be impossible.
  • No waiting: If your baby is hungry, you can feed them right then and there. You and your baby never have to wait to warm a bottle, which is especially great for nighttime feedings.

Cons of Breastfeeding

  • Can be challenging: Sure, breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. It’s a learning experience for both mom and baby, and you may have to overcome a poor latch, sore nipples, and, later on, biting. Getting hands-on help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in the early days will help get your breastfeeding relationship off to a better start (1).
  • Might be more difficult in public: Some women aren’t comfortable nursing in public, so they have to plan their trips a little more carefully. You may have to nurse your baby in the car, use a nursing cover, or find a private room to feed in if breastfeeding in public makes you uneasy.
  • Less freedom: Some breastfed babies never take to a bottle, making it difficult for you to get away and have some time to yourself.
    My baby would absolutely not take a bottle. When I returned to part-time work, he would simply not eat for the five hours we were apart. While he was fine to nurse right before I left and right when I got home, this made for a stressful situation for my partner!
    Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

    Editor's Note:

    Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
  • No help: If you exclusively breastfeed, you’ll be the one feeding your baby all the time. You’ll be the one up for those 2 am feedings every single night, though these won’t last forever (2).

Pros of Pumping

  • You can measure how much your baby is eating: Pumping can be comforting to some moms because they can see exactly how much is coming out and what’s going in.
  • Get others involved: When you pump, other people can feed your baby. Dads, grandparents, and siblings will enjoy bonding with your baby by giving them a bottle.
  • More “me” time: Since other people can feed your baby, you can get some more “me” time, which all mamas truly need. You won’t have to worry about your baby not eating while you’re at the gym, napping, or getting your hair done.
  • Less painful: If you exclusively pump, you won’t have to worry as much about sore nipples during those early weeks, and you won’t ever have to deal with biting.
  • Accommodates emergencies: Having a freezer stash of breast milk allows your baby to eat in an emergency situation when you cannot breastfeed, such as being hospitalized or taking a temporary medication that’s not compatible with breastfeeding.

Cons of Pumping

  • More expensive: You can’t just rely on your boobs when pumping. You’ll have to buy a breast pump, but you’ll also have to buy bottles, pump parts, breast milk bags, a bottle brush, and soap.
  • Pumping can be painful, too: Sometimes, you need to find a setting that feels better for you. Sometimes your nipples and areola end up chafed from a poorly sized flange. And sometimes breast pump suction isn’t as gentle as a baby’s suction.
  • Lots of washing: The washing and sanitizing never ends with all the bottles and pump parts that go hand-in-hand with exclusively pumping.
  • Have to lug your pump around: It’s not just your pump you have to lug around. You also have to pack a cooler, ice packs, extra milk, bottles, spare pump parts, and sanitizer. That’s a lot to remember.
  • Inconvenient: Unlike nursing, pumping in public is not something many moms like to do. You might find yourself having to pump in a bathroom stall or the car if you’re out and about.
  • Your body might stop responding to the pump: Sometimes women’s bodies stop responding to the pump after a while. Sometimes, even from the very beginning. If you notice your pumping output beginning to dip, try replacing your pump parts or try a manual pump instead of an electric pump.

Do They Have the Same Benefits?

Breast milk is certainly the most nutritious option, but is pumping your milk into bottles the equivalent of having your baby directly latch onto your bosom? Are you and your baby getting the same health benefits either way?

If you exclusively pump, you and your baby will still get most of the benefits of directly breastfeeding. Your uterus will still shrink quicker after giving birth than if you were to formula feed, you’re still at lower risk for breast and ovarian cancer, and a bottle pumped the same day can still provide your baby with antibodies to the bacteria and viruses you are exposed to.

However, the constant freezing, thawing, and reheating routine can deplete some of the proteins and vitamins in your breast milk. So if you are exclusively pumping, it’s a good idea to try to feed your baby freshly pumped milk the majority of the time (3).

Breast pumps and bottles are also prone to picking up bacteria and mold, which could cause some serious illnesses for your little one, so be sure all caregivers are practicing proper storage and sanitation (4).

Breastfeeding is better for supporting proper jaw, teeth, and speech development, whereas extended use of a bottle is known to cause tooth decay, misalignment, and speech delay. Bottle feeding also gives your baby less control over their milk flow and intake, making them more likely to be gassy and putting them at a higher risk of overeating and obesity later in life.

Supply Concerns for Exclusive Pumping

No breast pump will be as efficient as babies are at emptying the breast, and some moms are not going to be able to produce enough milk by just pumping. But many moms have been successful with exclusively pumping.

To stimulate the supply-and-demand nature of nursing, you need to pump every time your baby takes a bottle. If you’re not making enough milk, or you notice your milk supply is dipping, you can add minutes to your pumping sessions or add pumping sessions to your day.

You will know if you are meeting your baby’s needs if they have at least six wet diapers a day, regular bowel movements, good weight gain, and seem happy and healthy overall.

Because breast milk is so easily digestible, it can be easy for caregivers to overfeed your baby and deplete your stash quickly, leaving you feeling like you’re not making enough for your baby. To avoid overfeeding, make sure your baby is fed 1 to 1.5 ounces for every hour you’re away, and make sure all caregivers are doing paced bottle feedings (5).


Your Baby, Your Choice

Breastfeeding and pumping each come with their own set of advantages and downsides, but neither is easy, and both can be rewarding. Ultimately, you have to choose what’s right for you and your baby.

You may choose to breastfeed exclusively, or you may have to pump when you return to work. Your pump could even be a lifesaver if your baby is born early and can’t latch.

But no matter whether you end up breastfeeding or pumping, you and your baby are still reaping the many, many benefits of that golden milk you’re making.

Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.