Pumping: What You Need to Know
Pumping is a part of breastfeeding that is often overlooked. There are lactation consultants, classes and support groups that help us prepare or improve our breastfeeding experience. We might put pumping supplies on our registry, but typically they are left in the nursery until our glorious maternity leave is over. This can often lead to anxiety about pumping and what to expect. But have no fear, we are here for you, Mama!
Whether you choose to exclusively pump, if you are going back to work or school, or if your baby is growing but you want to keep up with your supply (for a freezer stash!) and decide to replace a nursing session with a pumping session, we have tips for you!
Pumping shouldn’t be a painful or difficult experience that causes you stress. Pumping can be discouraging and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Try to make your comfort and relaxation a priority, not only while you pump, but in your everyday life. Don’t compare yourself to others and set realistic goals for pumping. Keep reading for help on frequently asked pumping questions and bonus tips for pumping moms!
How Do I Choose a Breast Pump?
There are so many different types of breast pumps out on the market. The type of breast pump you need depends on your situation. When choosing your pump, keep in mind what you can afford, the efficiency, how easy it is to transport, and how much noise it makes. Some insurances will cover the cost of your breast pump, or pay for some of the cost, which can also help you narrow down your choices.
You will want to decide if you want a manual, battery powered, or an electric pump. Wireless pumps that you can insert in your shirt or bra are becoming more popular as they are discreet and hands-free. There is no rule saying you can only have one pump or one type of pump!
There are also single or double pumps available. Double pumps will allow you to express milk from both breasts at the same time, therefore saving you time. Double pumping can also provide a strong stimulation which will help you maintain a good milk supply.
If you are returning to a full time position and will be away from your baby for 8 hours or more, an electric double pump is a great choice. These pumps are durable, which is important since you will most likely be pumping 3 or more times a day. They can be large, but some options come with carrying cases that can also hold all of your accessories. They are more expensive, but check with your insurance to see which ones they will cover.
If you plan on only being away for a few hours a day and you will only need to pump once or twice a day, a smaller pump is a good option. There are still double pumping styles available, or single styles if you have more time to pump while away.
Hand operated pumps are going to be smaller and easier to carry. These are nice for mothers who just want to express milk if they have an oversupply and are often engorged.
Are you going to be traveling or spending more time in the car? Look for battery operated pumps, or pumps that come with adaptors. You can find styles that have additional accessories to provide you the option to pump with your shirt still on.
Talk with your friends, other mothers you know, and read reviews to help you determine which pump will work best for you. Be sure to know your situation and your needs.
How Often Should I Pump?
Ideally, you will want to pump as often as you would nurse your baby. How often you pump also depends on how long you will be away from your baby. If you are returning back to a full time work or school schedule, you will want to nurse before leaving, pump mid-morning, at lunch-time, and then mid-afternoon. Then you can nurse your baby when you come home and continue your home nursing routine.
If you are able to go home for lunch or have your babies caregiver meet you while you have your break, you can breastfeed instead of pump. Some mothers have onsite child care which can also allow you to breastfeed while on your break.
If you are exclusively pumping, you will want to start pumping every 2-3 hours. This will help you establish a supply and would be as often as a newborn nurses. For more information about exclusively pumping, check out our previous blog post dedicated to exclusively pumping here.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Pumping Parts
Keeping your pump and pumping accessories clean is an important part of having a successful pumping experience. You will want to schedule in time to ensure you are properly cleaning and sanitizing your pump parts after your pumping session.
Items to include in your Pump Bag!
- Mild, unscented dish soap
- Bottle brush
- Wash basin - two if possible (one for washing, one for drying)
- A light weight receiving blanket to cover parts loosely as they dry
Before pumping, wash your hands with soap and water. Ensure you have a clean surface to assemble your pump. Tip: use the wash basin you’ve packed to put your parts together in.
After pumping and properly storing your expressed milk, wipe down the pump and the surface it sits on (especially if sharing a location with other employees). Take apart all accessories and rinse. In your basin, wash all parts in hot, mild, unscented soapy water and use your bottle brush to clean out bottles. Rinse your parts and the basin. Let your parts dry on clean paper towels while you use a clean towel to dry your basin. Then you can place your parts in the basin and cover with your receiving blanket.
Read your pump’s manual and check if your parts are dishwasher safe. If so, you can place your parts on the top rack in a closed top basket or small mesh laundry bag.
Once all parts are completely dry, store all parts in a clean, large plastic bag or tub that seals tight.
Sanitizing your parts is recommended by the US Center of Disease Control once a day for babies under three months or born prematurely or is ill. Once again, check your pump parts manufacturer instruction guide for whether the dishwasher is approved or not.
- Boiling water method:
- Bring large pot of water to a full boil.
- Separate all pump parts and place carefully in the boiling water.
- Boil for 10 minutes, stirring periodically to make sure no parts are sticking to a “hot spot” at the bottom of the pot.
- After 10 minutes, remove carefully from the water using tongs and place pieces on paper towels in a basin to air dry.
1. Stay Hydrated and Snack :)
2. Use Warm Compresses on your Breasts
Moist heat is like magic for getting more milk from your breasts. It can really open up all of your milk ducts and encourage let down.
Heat up a damp hand towel in the microwave for a minute or so. Place it on your breasts a few minutes before pumping. If you’d like, you can also keep it on during your pumping session.
(WARNING: Do not use heat directly on or near your baby.)
3. Try a Hands-Free Bra
A pumping bra is a must-have item for busy moms. It allows you to be hands-free while you pump and can help you stay relaxed. You’ll be able to get into a more comfortable position, and if you have a portable pump, you can even walk around.
Some pumping bras can be pricey but there are a lot of affordable options. If you don’t want to buy one, you can make your own by cutting holes into an old bra. Pinterest has lots of tutorials!
4. Have Realistic Expectations
It is often said that comparison is the thief of joy, and it’s certainly true when it comes to breastfeeding. Do yourself a favor and stop comparing your milk supply, output and freezer stash (or lack thereof) to the ones you see online!
Not everyone is going to be able to easily pump 10 ounces every session. That’s not typical and shouldn’t be the expectation you set for yourself. Be realistic and set goals that align with your body and baby.
5. Don’t Forget to Relax
Stress has the ability to decrease your let down reflex and lower your milk supply. The more stressed you are, the more stressed your boobies are gonna be!
Try to incorporate one simple way you can lower your stress levels each and every day. Maybe that is eating a few bites of your favorite snack, going for a walk, watching your latest guilty pleasure on Netflix, or taking a luxurious bath.
Most importantly, remember to breathe. I know that breastfeeding can be a difficult journey, but you are doing amazing mama! You are everything your baby needs and they are so lucky to have you.
6. Regularly Replace Pump Parts
One of the first things we suggest to a mom that is having low milk production during pumping is to see if their pump parts are worn out or damaged. This often gets overlooked because mom assumes that little milk means her supply is low. Unless there is noticeable damage to the breast pump, replacing parts might not seem necessary but it can make an incredible difference.
If you are pumping 3 or more times a day, your pump parts such as duck valves and membranes should be replaced every month. Backflow protectors can be replaced every 3 months while flanges and connectors are replaced every 6 months. Tubing is once they no longer connect to the pump correctly or moisture is getting in them from a closed system pump.
Of course, if you see any damage at all, replace the parts right away. Your insurance might cover the replacements, so check with them if you don’t want to purchase on your own.
7. Use the Correct Size Flanges
So many mamas can avoid sore or cracked nipples just by using the right size flanges. Not only will this make pumping more comfortable, but it will also maximize milk output during pumping.
A properly sized flange will not cause your nipples to rub against the sides or pull a lot of the areola (darker part of the breast surrounding the nipple) into the flange during pumping.
Remember, this is the size of your nipple after nursing or pumping. Do not measure your areola or you will get an incorrect flange size.
If you are still struggling, we’re here to help. Reach out to the Milky Mama team to schedule a virtual consultation or flange sizing. We can even help you to have a more positive pumping experience in the workplace with our Moms At Work program.
8. Lubricate the Inside of your Flanges
Next time you pump, try putting a small amount of lubricant such as coconut or olive oil inside your flanges. This can make pumping more comfortable, and may even help increase your output.
Lubrication can decrease the amount of discomfort you feel which will help with let down and overall responsiveness to your breast pump.
Successful pumping is much like successful breastfeeding: when armed with the right support and knowledge you WILL do it. There may be times that you feel like giving up. That’s normal! Take a breather and then try the tips above to see if your milk output improves.
Reach out for support in The Official Milky mama Lactation Support Group for more advice and support! We are here to offer advice and encouragement.
USA Law Protecting Nursing Mothers at Work
For more information about break times and federal law in place for nursing mothers, check out the following resource: