- Family and Parenting
Tips For Pumping Breastmilk Without Hating The Pump
What You Will Find in This Hub
Breastfeeding mothers often need or want to pump (also called expressing) milk for their babies at some point. This article is a collection of tips from real women. This is not an article about correcting breastfeeding issues, such as low supply or poor latch. For those problems, I recommend talking to a lactation consultant as soon as possible.
These tips are meant to help:
- Increase amount of pumped milk per session/day
- Help make pumping more comfortable
- Provide practical hints and insights into pumping and storage
Breastfeeding can be awkward, and pumping can be weird. However, you can still make it work without hating your pump and your choice to breastfeed.
Comfort is about more than just putting up your feet and wearing comfy pants. It is also important that your pump is comfortable.
Make sure that you are using the right sized flanges. There are online charts and guidelines available on sites such as Medela and Lansinoh.
The wrong size flanges can hurt. And if you are in pain, then you are not relaxing. Plus, you will dread pumping. Both ill-fitting flanges and procrastinating about pumping sessions can lead to a dip in milk supply.
Why Are You Pumping?
Mothers pump for a variety of reasons. Some common reasons may be:
- Because mom is returning to work
- Because mom wants Dad or other relative to feed baby
- Because mom wants or needs to know how much baby is consuming
- Mother has a physical reason for not nursing
- Baby has a physical reason for not nursing
- Because mom wants a "stash" for later use
- Because mom feels uncomfortable nursing in public
- Because mom needs to increase her supply
Since stress can play a big role in how much or how little milk a mother is able to express, her reason for pumping is important. If she is just pumping a few bottles for the babysitter to use, then she is probably more relaxed than a mom who fears that she may not be producing enough milk.
There are two basic types of pumps: the electric and the manual. Some women do better with one or the other, some women can use both equally, and some have difficulties responding to either. Make sure you try both types before giving up!
A woman who breastfed 6 children said that her biggest tip is to hand express milk for a few minutes before pumping.
This makes it more comfortable and cuts down on pumping time, since the milk has already been stimulated. (for some, the hand expression technique causes letdown to occur faster than the pump.)
How to Relax While Pumping
The hardest advice to take is to just relax. But if you are worried or stressed, then it will be a lot harder. Obsessing over the amount that you express won't help either. Instead of pumping like it is your job, try ignoring the process instead. Once you are comfortable, try:
- Reading a book
- Watching television
- Playing games on your phone
- Listening to music
Whatever you can do that relaxes you and distracts you. You might be surprised to find you have filled a bottle!
Double or Single?
Many electric pumps (including the hospital grade pumps) are "doubles". This means you can pump both breasts at the same time. They also have function to allow you to pump one side at a time.
Double pumping is generally accepted as the best way to pump, since it gets the job done quicker and stimulates more milk production. However, some women have better luck doing one side at a time.
Going single allows mom to have one hand free to type, text, hold a baby, write the grocery list...whatever. Which means that she isn't paying attention to output, and is therefore, more relaxed.
Some moms even choose to nurse from one side while pumping the other. Or they simply switch back and forth between breasts for the entire pumping session. This can actually increase the number of letdowns in some women!
Moms are busy people, and they may not want to waste all of those precious nap-time minutes pumping milk. Still, it is very important to keep pumping after the milk slows down, or stops. For at least a few more minutes.
This tells your body that it needs to make more milk. And if you are building up a stash, then you want your body to make enough for baby to eat, plus some for storage.
This is the same reason that LC's recommend slipping in a few minutes of pumping after every feeding in those first few weeks.
Use a Little Heat
Not only does heat make achy tissue feel less sore, it can help relax the milk ducts, leading to more milk flow.
Some women prefer a warm shower or bath before pumping, others use a heating pad, and others like warm, moist compresses.
Trick Your Body With a Massage
Lactating breasts are pretty sensitive to stimulation. Therefore, if you are pumping and the milk flow slows down, you can try gently massaging the breast to induce a letdown.
Compressions also help for many women. This just means very gently squeezing the breast, while pumping, in different areas to encourage more milk flow.
Another technique involves "shaking" the breast. Again, this should be done gently. It can be done when output starts to slow down. Shake for a couple of seconds, then reapply the pump.
A final trick involves gravity. Some women confess that if they lean forward so that the breasts hang down while pumping, they can encourage an extra ounce or two.
One mother reported that the use of all four techniques per day eventually led to an increase of 6 extra ounces per session!
Experiment With the Pump Settings
Electric pumps usually have dials that allow you to increase pressure and suction. Depending on the type of pump, there may also be a feature that slows down the suction after a certain amount of time to simulate a baby's nursing pattern. (Sometimes this is automatic, sometimes it is a manual feature.)
One woman I spoke with claimed that she could only produce milk on the strongest setting with the slower suction pattern. Another said that the best method for her was to switch back and forth several times between the faster suction and the slower rhythm, while changing the strength back and forth depending on how fast or slow the milk was flowing.
Don't let the pump dictate what is best. Experiment with the settings until you find the one that works best for you.
Here are a few tricks that some women claim work for them. They may work for you too!
- Record your baby crying or fussing. Listen to this while you pump
- Keep a blanket with your baby's smell close by while pumping
- Look at a picture of baby
- Hold baby or have baby nearby when pumping at home
- Take a short nap or break before pumping
- Snack while pumping
- Drink plenty of fluids while pumping
- Don't multi-task with stressful tasks like paying bills.
- Pump frequently, even if it is only for a few minutes
- Let baby nurse whenever possible to stimulate milk more thoroughly
- Hand express after each pumping session
Storing the Milk
Whew. It took a lot of work to get that milk into the bottles. Now what should you do with it? Luckily, breastmilk can be frozen if it isn't going to be used within five days. To create a freezer stash, you will need a way to freeze the milk.
There are three popular ways to freeze breastmilk:
- Breastmilk storage bags
- In bottles (plastic or glass)
- In cubes (they make trays specifically for this)
Each method has good and bad points. Bags take up less freezer space than bottles, but can burst if they fall from the freezer. Plus, sometimes they hold too much, leading to waste.
Bottles are more stable, and they can eliminate steps. Just pump into bottle, cap, and freeze. Then thaw, attach nipple, and feed. However, they can take up a lot of space. Bottles are also more expensive, and it is difficult to find ones with storage caps.
Freezing milk in cubes is perfect for the first few weeks, when babies eat smaller amounts. However, if baby demands more ounces per feeding, it can be a hassle to measure and thaw enough 1 ounce cubes for each feeding.
Experiement with each method, and find out what works best for your time, space and budget. Some moms report having good luck freezing milk in dollar store bottles.
The harder plastic (still BPA free) doesn't encourage the milk proteins to stick the the bottle like softer bottles. And women with a large supply have found that pumping directly into cheap 8 oz bottles is less messy than storing several 5 oz bottles per session.
Set Small Goals
Although some moms can take right to the pump and produce a quart or so a day without even trying, other moms may struggle to get two or three ounces. For a mom that is planning to return to work, or who will be bottle feeding expressed milk to her baby for another reason, it can be very frustrating to not fill up enough bottles right away.
It really does help to set small goals in the beginning. Instead of aiming for that quart, aim for 5 oz. Then 10, and so forth.
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It Is Only Temporary
Most women who pump agree that they eventually come to hate their pump. It is time consuming, noisy, awkward, and well...just plain weird. But you do get used to it after awhile. And the best part is that it is temporary.
Whether you are just pumping a few bottles occasionally, or exclusively expressing milk, this is just a short period in your parenting journey. So don't think of the pump as an enemy, think of it as an extension. Or at least as a piece of valuable baby gear. Heck, you can even think of it as your superhero tool.
Just don't hate it. It is helping you do what you feel is best for your baby.