Breast Pump Pointers: Your Ultimate Pumping Guide

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Thanks to pumping, your baby can benefit from your breast milk when you're not around. Here's how to get the hang of using a breast pump. 
Kathryn Gamble
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. It also solves a host of other issues; for example, pumping can help relieve engorgement, clear a clogged milk duct, correct an inverted or flat nipple, increase your milk supply by creating a bigger demand, and give mothers of hospitalized babies (such as preemies) a way to give their infants breast milk. Plus, you'll save some serious cash by opting for breast milk over formula -- approximately $124 per month, according to Consumer Reports.

Find the breast pump that is right for you.

Nicholas Eveleigh
Nicholas Eveleigh

Pick the Best Breast Pump

There are lots of decisions you'll need to make when picking the right breast milk pump for your needs.The two main kids of pumps are hand pumps (you move a handle to work the vacuum motion) and electric pumps (a battery or electricity runs the vacuum). A hand pump is cheaper, more portable, and sometimes more comfortable. But an electric breast pump can be more efficient, especially if it works both breasts simultaneously. 

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?

Keep in mind that it's not unreasonable to own one of each kind of breast pump, if you can afford it.

Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Get a Second Opinion

Still not sure what breastfeeding 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.

Planning to express your breast milk? Set yourself up for success with these time-saving tips.

Kathryn Gamble
Kathryn Gamble

Practice, Practice, Practice

Delegate time to practice positioning and using your breast pump. The action of "letting down" to a pump is hormonally triggered, and it can be psychologically started or stopped. "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
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 breast pump," Parkes says.

Kathryn Gamble
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. You can also let your baby inspire letdown. Drape her blanket across your shoulders, listen to a tape of her babbling, or scroll through pictures or videos of her while pumping. Indulging in a pleasant distraction -- such as watching TV, taking a warm shower, listening to music, or talking to a friend on the phone -- can also aid milk flow. 

Nicholas Eveleigh
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 breastfeeding pump can get 2-4 ounces of milk per pumping in 15-20 minutes, Parkes says. 

Learn all the tips and techniques you'll need to master breast pumping. We'll tell you what kind of pump you should get, when and how long you should pump, and how to store the breast milk.

How to Pump Breast Milk

In this comprehensive video, we'll tell you what kind of pump you should get, when and how long you should pump, and how to store the breast milk.

Pavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock
Pavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock

Increase Your Output

To increase your breast milk output, Corky Harvey, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant, suggests pumping at the same time every day. "If you pump for a few minutes and nothing happens, quit for a few minutes and relax before trying again," Harvey says. "If the flow stops, eat or drink something and then make another attempt." Although it requires a bit of coordination, women may also be able to increase their milk flow by pumping on one side while they nurse the baby on the other or by using a pump that attaches to both breasts at once. And remember, not all women are the same. While some may be able to use a manual breast pump to get the job done, others may need a stronger electric breast pump.

Kathryn Gamble
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
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
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
Bryan McCay

Stock Up

It's a good idea to have a week's supply of breast 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
Bryan McCay

Smart Storage

Expressed milk can safely be stored at room temperature for four 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. Keep in mind that thawed milk should be used within 24 hours. 

PhotoAlto/ Veer
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 clean breast pump 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 breast milk pump equipment on a clean surface.

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