Your Ultimate Pumping Guide

Thanks to pumping, your baby can benefit from your breast milk when you're not around. Here's how to get the hang of this handy technique.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Singing Pumping's Praises

    Whether you're returning to work, have seen your milk supply kick into overdrive, or have concerns about missing the occasional feeding, a breast pump may be your saving grace. Expressing and storing milk allows your baby to reap breast milk's abundant health benefits -- and awards you much-deserved flexibility. Plus, you'll save some serious cash by opting for breast milk over formula -- approximately $124 per month, according to Consumer Reports.

  • Choose a Breast Pump
    Choose a Breast Pump
  • Nicholas Eveleigh

    Pick the Best Pump

    There are lots of decisions you'll need to make when picking the right pump for your needs. Breast pumps come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and price points from simple and streamlined manual models to high-powered, super efficient electric models. To figure out which pump is perfect for you, ask yourself these questions:

    • Where will I be using the pump?
    • How often will I be using it?
    • Will I need to pump quickly?
    • What's my budget?

    If you need to pump quickly, for instance, a double electric pump may be your best bet because it allows you to simultaneously pump from both breasts. But if you pump only occasionally and aren't as pressed for time, an inexpensive, lightweight hand pump might do the job.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Get a Second Opinion

    Still not sure what pump is right for you? Talk to your lactation consultant. "What works best for one mom might not be the best for another mom," says Kathy Parkes, BSPsy, RN, RLC, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant at Christus Santa Rosa Children's Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. "We ensure you get what you need for your particular situation." If you're exclusively pumping, for example, you'll want a hospital-grade rental pump. "The kinds of pumps you buy in stores are not meant to build up milk supply without Baby being at the breast," she says.

  • Breast Pumping Made Easy
    Breast Pumping Made Easy
  • Kathryn Gamble

    Practice, Practice, Practice

    Take time to get the hang of positioning and using your pump. "It takes practice to get your body to cooperate with a pump," Parkes says. And don't worry if you don't produce a lot of milk at first. In fact, you're making progress if you can cover the bottom of the container the first time, she says. "After all, your body naturally responds faster to a soft, sweet baby than to a hard, cold breast pump."

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Avoid Pain

    Like breastfeeding, pumping should bring a natural tugging sensation. It should never, ever hurt. "There should never be pinching, biting, or toe-curling pain," Parkes says. If you experience discomfort, lower the suction setting or adjust the number of cycles per minute. You might also buy different-size breast shields that more comfortably fit your nipples. Can't change the settings? "Try a different pump," Parkes says.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Just Relax!

    To make the pumping process more fruitful, get comfortable and encourage letdown beforehand. Gently massage your breasts, apply warm compresses, or remove your bra and move forward, gently shaking your breasts side to side, Parkes says. Or let your baby inspire letdown. Drape her blanket across your shoulders, look at a picture of her, or even buy a pump that records her voice and plays it to you as you pump. Another option? Record footage of your baby and watch it while pumping.

  • Nicholas Eveleigh

    How Much Milk is Normal?

    The more you pump, the more milk you produce -- so once you become a pro at pumping, you'll start seeing results. Most moms with a well-established milk supply and lots of practice with a high-quality pump can get 2-4 ounces of breast milk per pumping in 15-20 minutes, Parkes says.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Know When to Stop

    How exactly do you know when you're done pumping? Kathy Lewis, RPA-C, LCCE, IBCLC, cofounder of Ten Toes in Staten Island, New York, recommends stopping after 20 minutes, or two minutes after you stop producing milk. "Women do more damage if they stay at it all day," she says. If you're unsure whether or not you're finished, gently massage your breasts. If that doesn't produce any milk, go ahead and disconnect.

  • Linda Farwell

    Bond with Baby

    It's still possible to maintain constant skin-to-skin contact with baby while pumping -- nurse right before you head to work or school, and nurse as soon as you get home. Then nurse throughout the evening and night, Parkes says. "Babies often will wake up frequently at night to make up for the lack of Mom contact during the day," she says. And if you exclusively pump, make sure your baby is held in your arms -- or in someone else's -- at all feedings.

  • Nicholas Eveleigh

    Properly Package Your Milk

    To avoid wasting milk, store it in 2- to 3-ounce increments (or in amounts your baby typically eats at each feeding). Keep your milk in designated nursing bags, which are thick, sterile, and meant for breast milk, Lewis says. Other smart storage options? Plastic or glass containers or bottles with tight lids or seals.

  • Bryan McCay

    Stock Up

    It's a good idea to have a week's supply of milk on hand so you're never caught in a pinch when the need to feed arises. In addition, "I always tell Mom to put a half-dozen 1-ounce 'snacks' in the freezer," Parkes says. "If Baby is hungrier that day, she can have her regular 2- to 3-ounce serving as well as the snack, without wasting milk from another full serving she might not finish."

  • Bryan McCay

    Smart Storage

    Expressed milk can safely be stored at room temperature for 4four to six hours, in the fridge for eight days, in the freezer for four months, or in a deep freeze for six months to a year, Parkes says. Label each container with the date and time the milk was pumped. And if you're freezing it, leave an inch of space at the top of the container to allow for expansion. Stick milk in the back of the fridge or freezer, where it's less likely to warm or thaw every time the door is opened.

  • PhotoAlto/ Veer

    Prep Milk for Serving

    When it's time for a feeding, serve oldest milk first. "The consistency of the milk changes with the age of the baby," Lewis says. Thaw frozen milk by running it under warm water or placing the bag or bottle in a cup of warm water until it reaches room temperature. Never boil or microwave breast milk -- that depletes valuable nutrients and may create hot spots that can scald your baby's mouth. Gently shake the container to redistribute fat throughout.

  • Keep It Clean

    After each pumping session, disconnect washable pumping parts from the tubing, place them in a bag, and put them in the fridge to "decrease bacterial count between pumping sessions," Lewis says. Or soak the parts in hot, soapy water. Wipe down electrical units and batteries, but don't submerge them. Every four to five days, sterilize washable parts in a pot of boiling water, the top rack of the dishwasher (check manufacturer's recommended washing instructions first), or in a microwave sterilizer bag. Air-dry equipment on a clean surface.

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