Pumping breast milk is a valuable skill for new mothers, whether it is due to returning to work, building a freezer stash, or providing milk for a baby who cannot latch. As a doula with extensive experience supporting breastfeeding mothers, I have had the privilege of helping many families on their breastfeeding journey and have seen firsthand the challenges and triumphs of pumping breast milk. In this blog post, I will share some of the best pumping tips to help you make the most of your breastfeeding experience.
Choose the Right Pump
Selecting the right breast pump is crucial for efficient milk expression. You have two main options: a manual pump or an electric pump. Electric pumps, especially double electric pumps, are more efficient and suitable for regular use. Some insurance companies may even cover the cost of a breast pump, so check your policy. Your insurance may require a prescription or a note written by your doctor or midwife when sending in your receipt. Brands like Medela, Spectra, and Ameda are popular choices, but there are many quality options on the market. Ensure that the pump you choose suits your needs and is comfortable to use.
Create a Relaxing Environment
Stress and tension can interfere with the let-down reflex, making pumping less effective. Find a quiet, comfortable, and stress-free space to pump. Consider dimming the lights, playing soothing music, or using relaxation techniques like deep breathing or visualization to help your milk flow more easily. Try not to focus on the amount of milk being extracted. Over time, your body and your baby will regulate your breast milk by signalling your brain how much to produce.
Establish a Pumping Routine
Consistency is key when it comes to pumping breast milk. Try to establish a regular pumping routine that mimics your baby’s feeding schedule. Frequent pumping sessions are important to maintain your milk supply. Most experts recommend pumping every 2-3 hours, which can be adjusted based on your baby’s age and needs.
**If you are hoping to establish a supply for the occasional bottle feed so that your partner or older child can help with feeding incorporate 1 or 2 pumping sessions every few days. I recommend pumping right after your baby nurses or if the baby is giving you a longer stretch through the night, pumping in between those longer z’s.
Milk production is at its highest at night and in the early morning. Your pumping efforts will be more successful if you pump first thing or early in the morning versus trying during nap time in the afternoon (sadly which is often when it would be most convenient). Milk levels and production dip in the afternoon and early evening so do not waste your time pumping then.
You can also pump while your baby is feeding on the other side!
Opt for Hands-On Pumping
Hands-on pumping, often referred to as breast compression or breast massage, can significantly increase your milk output. Before and during your pumping session, gently massage your breasts in a circular motion. This can help release trapped milk and stimulate let-down. You can also combine this technique with hand expression for the best results. Here is a video on how to hand express
Stay Hydrated and Well-Nourished
To produce an adequate milk supply, it is essential to stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and eating nutritious meals that include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some lactation-friendly foods and herbs, like oats, fenugreek, and fennel, may also boost milk production.
Use the Proper Flange Size
The flange, or breast shield, is the part of the breast pump that attaches to your breast. It’s crucial to use the correct flange size to avoid discomfort and ensure efficient milk extraction. A flange that is too small or too large can lead to nipple pain and reduced milk flow. Most pumps come with multiple flange sizes, so experiment to find the one that fits you best. This is a great video on how to measure your breast for flange size. If you still have questions reach out to a Lactation Consultant to help you with sizing.
Be Patient and Gentle
Remember that breast milk pumping is not always an instant process. It may take some time to see significant results. Be patient with yourself and your body. Stress and frustration can hinder milk flow. Additionally, avoid turning the pump to its highest setting immediately; instead, start with a lower setting and gradually increase it to find your comfort level.
Store and Label Milk Carefully
Proper storage of breast milk is essential to maintain its nutritional value and safety. Use clean, sterile containers that specifically are meant for storing breast milk and label them with the date and time the milk was expressed. Breastmilk has different hormones present at night to help baby sleep longer so you always want to make sure you give pumped nighttime milk at night and not during the day. Breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, and in the freezer for several months. Follow recommended guidelines for storage and thawing to ensure that your milk remains safe for your baby.
Suggestions when using a Bottle
When deciding which bottle to use, choose bottles and nipples that are suitable for breastfed babies. Some babies may prefer nipples that mimic the flow and feel of the breast. It is okay to experiment with different bottles and nipples if your baby seems to have difficulty transitioning from breast to bottle. We love the Calma bottles by Medela and the Dr Brown Breast to Bottlefeeding Bottles.
Start bottle feeding your baby when the breastfeeding relationship has been well-established. Having someone other than the breastfeeding mother introduce the bottle to avoid nipple confusion is a great idea. Babies can be hesitant with the bottle, especially if mom is in the room or even at home. It may surprise you to know that your baby can smell you from a mile away which can create resistance to accepting the bottle. I often suggest to mothers that they plan to leave the house and run out for a coffee or a short visit with a friend while your partner or family member practices feeding a bottle to your little one.
Warming the milk can be a useful technique, although some infants will drink breast milk cold – directly from the fridge. Do whatever will suit you and your family’s needs. Place the bottle in warm water or a bottle warmer. It is not recommended to microwave breast milk, as it can create hot spots throughout the bottle that may harm the baby.
Some babies may resist the bottle at first. Be patient and keep offering the bottle in a calm and supportive environment.
One of the most common statements I hear from mothers is that they do not think they are producing enough milk. Keep in mind that the age of your baby drastically affects what pumping may look like for you. When your baby is younger, the volume of milk you produce and can store in your breasts is much larger. With that being said, in those first few weeks, your baby does not drink large amounts at a time because the size of their stomach is so small. It is okay to get small volumes initially because your baby is only taking in frequent small meals. When your baby becomes more efficient at the breast and drinks larger volumes, you should notice that when you pump, the amounts will somewhat mimic what your baby is taking in. As your baby ages and starts to eat solids (around six months old), the volume of milk produced for one milk “feeding” is drastically reduced. Your baby no longer needs 8-10 oz of breast milk per feeding. So do not be discouraged if you used to pump 10 oz in a session and when they are 9 months old all you get is 2-4 oz. Your body is constantly adjusting to what your baby needs and requires.
Pumping breast milk can be a valuable tool for breastfeeding mothers, offering flexibility and support on your breastfeeding journey. With the right knowledge and techniques, you can make the most of your pumping experience. Remember that everyone’s breastfeeding journey is unique, so do not be too hard on yourself, and seek support from a doula, lactation consultant, or support group if needed. By following these tips, you can navigate the world of pumping with confidence and success.