Everything you need to know about pumping

Woman using breast pump

The good news is that you can continue to provide your little one with your own milk by pumping in advance and feeding with a bottle.

How does pumping work?

Electric or manual pumps create suction to pull and release your nipples and extract milk from the breast much as a baby does.

Many pumps have 2 mechanisms – the stimulation phase and the expression phase. The stimulation phase comes first and mimics the fast suck of the baby at the start of a feed, which is what helps stimulate and initiate the letdown reflex, when milk first becomes available. The expression phase then reflects the slower, deeper suck typical of babies once the milk comes in.

If your pump doesn’t have these 2 mechanisms, you can always set a faster speed initially to mimic the stimulation phase and then a slower speed once you’ve noticed your milk has let down.

Some moms notice a milk let down within the first 30 seconds of pumping, while others may find that it takes upwards of 2 minutes or longer. Everyone is different, and with a little patient practice, you’ll learn whatever your normal may be.

The right pump for you will depend on your own personal preferences and circumstances. Here are some of the most popular options:

  • Double electric pump – likely the best option as it allows for frequent, efficient and hands-free pumping of both breasts simultaneously (which can help send signals to the brain and maximize your pumping output) and is now covered by insurance!
  • Manual pump – smaller and relatively inexpensive but not hands-free (as you’ll have to manually pump one side at a time). These are convenient as an alternative to your electric pump if you’re going out for the day and don’t want to lug a larger pump or if you are engorged and just need to express a small amount for some relief and to help the nipple protrude.
  • Hospital grade pump – usually used for a specific medical situation (for example, if the baby is in the NICU and needs a steady supply) and not for everyday use. These can be rented from most hospitals for home use but such arrangements tend to be pricier as they are not usually covered by insurance
  • Hand expression – extracting milk from your breast manually, without a pump. This is a nice method to relieve breast fullness when you are feeling engorged. Check out our article about hand expression. And here are a couple of great videos showing hand expression technique: https://vimeo.com/65196007 and https://med.stanford.edu/newborns/professional-education/breastfeeding/hand-expressing-milk.html.
  • Any of these methods can be combined. For example, hand expression after pumping has been shown to both increase output and fully empty the breast, leading to increased milk production.

No matter which pumping method you choose, educate yourself on how the pump operates and how to assemble and clean all the parts so that you can pump safely as well as efficiently.

When to start pumping

Unless you’re rushing back to work or will be away from baby for more than an hour or two, it’s best to hold off on pumping until after the first 4-6 weeks of initial breastfeeding. This is an important time for establishing your supply and syncing with your baby’s needs: you’ll both need this time to set an appropriate feeding supply and approximate schedule.

How often to pump

Scheduling your pumping sessions around the same time as your baby’s typical feeding time is ideal to keep your milk production on track. But if this isn’t possible due to work or other obligations, as long as you’re pumping the same number of actual feedings, your body should still be able to keep up.

Some women find it possible to fit in an extra pump in the morning, even if they are still with their baby. Breastfeeding women tend to produce the most milk in the morning, so pumping 15 to 30 minutes after breastfeeding your baby will allow you to build up an extra supply to keep in reserve (see Breastmilk Pumping: Safe storage for specifics on saving it safely). This emergency stash can be a great insurance policy if you have to skip a pumping session at work one day, or if your baby is going through a growth spurt and needs an extra bottle while you’re apart.

What to Do

Evaluate your needs and plan ahead by as much as a month

Think about your home and work situation and whether you’ll need pumped milk at the ready. Planning ahead will help you assess how often to pump, if at all. If you’re away from your baby sporadically and only missing one feeding here and there, pump once while away to replace that one feeding.

If you’re heading back to the office and will need to be pumping regularly throughout the day, you’ll need to figure out that “magic number” of how many times to pump per day. To do this, keep a log for about 1 month before you’ll be away from your baby to track how often she feeds. Then plan on pumping the same number of times as the number of feeds you’ll be apart. This will keep your body in sync with her needs.

And see Back to work breastfeeding plan to prepare for your return to the office.

Speak with your insurance company before selecting a pump

Learn about which types of breast pumps you are eligible to receive under your health insurance plan. Do this while you’re still pregnant so you’ll be all set when the baby arrives.

In deciding between pumps, think about size, weight, ease of cleaning and whether replacement parts are easy to find.

When pumping, relaxation is key

It is important to be in a position that allows you to feel relaxed, safe and private while pumping.

Settle in, and maybe take a minute to look at some pictures of your gorgeous babe.

Prime yourself before pumping to help increase your output

Try massaging under the collarbone and under the armpit towards the nipple in small little circular motions or long strokes down towards nipple. You can also gently massage your breast towards the areola before starting and then again half way through the pumping session to optimize output. And a warm compress—if possible—can be a nice aide, too. Gentle heat, such as a warm wet cloth can help get the milk flowing also.

Be a pro with your pump

Being efficient with your pumping sessions will also help you relax and ease any tension amidst your busy day. Know how to work your breast pump in advance (read the user manual! Watch a video tutorial online!), and be sure the flanges (tunnel breast shields) fit your nipples correctly. Your nipples should be centered in the flanges and free to move in and out, not rubbing against the sides. Remember that nipples expand while pumping and one nipple could be bigger than the other so you may need different sized flanges for each breast.

Bras are also part of the pumping process. Consider pumping with the help of a hands free bra so you can read a book or send some emails. Purchase one or make your own by cutting holes in an old sports bra.

Limit pumping to 20 minutes tops per session

Respect your body: remember that pumping is a different mechanism than breastfeeding. Too much pumping can build up pressure in the ducts and can therefore contribute to pain, plugs or clogs and, can even create damage.

If you’re still getting milk at the 20 minute mark, take a 15-20 minute break before continuing. Another good rule of thumb is to pump just until about 2 minutes after the milk stops flowing.

Leave some time to hand express at the end.

Hand expression after electric pumping can really help increased output and production. Here are a couple of videos showing technique: https://vimeo.com/65196007 and https://med.stanford.edu/newborns/professional-education/breastfeeding/hand-expressing-milk.html or check out our hand expression article.

Keep your pump to yourself

Don’t share pumps with friends or family (for sanitary reasons), and consider obtaining a new pump for a new little sibling to ensure you’re using a fully functional and strong motor.

If you’ve already got a pump you like and you think the pump motor is in good condition to use with your next child, carefully clean and sterilize all of the parts (fixed as well as removable), including under the faceplate (where mold can grow and linger).

Keep your stash for a rainy day

Any extra pumping sessions will help you maintain a supply in reserve should you ever need it. Remember, women tend to make the most milk in the morning, so pumping after the morning feed is a great time to build up your stash.

After the morning nursing session, wait 15 to 30 minutes before pumping. This will signal your body that the baby is eating again for an entirely new feed, which is necessary in order for your body to receive another spike of oxytocin and increase milk supply. (If you pump directly after the baby eats without waiting, you’re sending your body a signal that this is just a longer feed than usual you’ll likely get less output.)

Limit extra pumping sessions if you are experiencing over-supply

If you are experiencing over-supply, it is best not to pump after a feed so that you are not re-stimulating your body. Speak with a Happy Family Coach to find the best plan of action.

Choose a breastfeeding-friendly caregiver

Make sure your caregiver is on board with your carefully thought out breastfeeding and pumping plan. Don’t be afraid to be very specific about your feeding preferences and techniques. Provide clear instructions for preparing and giving bottles of your pumped milk, and encourage your baby’s caregiver to learn your baby’s hunger and satiety cues to follow her lead. For example, start the baby with a little less milk, and then provide more if need be, instead of filling up and potentially wasting your hard earned liquid gold.

Stay in close contact with your caregivers in the event you’re able to make it home for a feed. This way you can call ahead of time and make sure any caregivers hold off on giving one of your stored bottles.

Be patient and be prepared to make adjustments

Once you begin using a pump, be patient: a myriad of factors can affect ease of pumping and also milk supply. Whether there’s a technical problem with the pump’s motor or tubing part, or your baby is going through a growth spurt or you’ve changed your diet, your supply may ebb and flow over time. With heavy use, the removeable plastic or silicone parts of your pump may need to be replaced.

Keep at it and don’t be discouraged. You can always consult Happy Family Coaching to troubleshoot.

Surround yourself with a supportive network

Never hesitate to reaching out to Happy Family Coaching for lactation and pumping support.

And consider joining a mothers’ breastfeeding group, which will cover all aspects of feeding your baby.

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