As you probably know, these days, "breast is best." The American Academy of Pediatrics and leading professional organizations recommend breastfeeding for a baby's first six months, unless there's a medical reason not to do so, without supplementing with water, formula, or juice.
If you want to continue breast-feeding exclusively after that, those groups say all the better. That's because breast milk--custom-made nourishment specially formulated by Mother Nature--offers so many benefits. It boosts your baby's immune system by providing antibodies against illness, promotes brain and vision development and a healthy digestive tract, and may reduce your child's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It may also reduce the risk of some diseases later in life--diabetes, some types of cancer, obesity, high cholesterol, and asthma. Breast milk also changes over time and even during the course of a day to meet the needs of a growing baby. Breast-feeding helps moms to return to their pre-baby weight faster, and may decrease the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and even osteoporosis.
Breast-feeding is convenient--there are no bottles to prepare and warm--and it's free! There's no formula to buy, which can run you about $170 per month, depending on the type of formula you buy. But unless you plan to take your baby with you wherever you go and the process always goes smoothly, you'll probably need a breast pump. In fact, a pump can be indispensable for nursing mothers in a number of scenarios: You are returning to work and want to continue breast-feeding, you need to formula-feed your baby temporarily for medical reasons but want to resume breast-feeding when you get the go-ahead from your doctor, your baby can't physically breast-feed for whatever reason, or you need to miss a feeding occasionally because you're traveling or otherwise away from your baby.
A breast pump may come in handy during those first few days after you've delivered, when the breasts can become so full that a baby may have trouble latching on. Things can be sailing along in the hospital, but when you get home, supply can outpace demand. The solution is to express some milk with a breast pump--and to have one on hand before your baby is born, so you're ready to go as soon as you return home after delivery. A breast pump also allows you to store milk (in bottles or storage bags) for later, then bottle-feed it to your baby or mix it with a little cereal when she reaches the "solid" food stage at about 6 months.