Breast pumping is not always easy, but it’s doable – here is a list of all the breast pumping tips a mother could use!
Tips for Pumping
Pumping is hard work.
And I’m not talking about pumping iron. ?
When I envisioned breastfeeding my second son, I imagined it would go much like the experience with my first. Jack latched on great, loved to nurse, gained weight, and it was an enjoyable time for both of us! I don’t even remember experiencing any pain! I pumped three times when I nursed him. I figured it would be the same with Oliver, so I didn’t even get my breast pump out of storage before he was born.
Well, Oliver latched on great. And, to me, it seemed like he was doing quite well. And then we went to an appointment at 10 days of age, and his pediatrician thought he hadn’t gained enough weight. If I knew what I knew now, I would have smiled and kept doing what I was doing. But she seriously freaked me out, and it sent me into a cycle of feeding, pumping, and bottle feeding for a time. Then he developed reflux, had somewhat of a lazy latch (most likely due to a posterior tongue tie and possibly a lip tie) and once again had trouble gaining weight, and I had to start feeding him 2-3 ounces of extra fatty breast milk to get him through that time.
Yes, my pump and I become best friends. I spent hours googling about pumping. I was introduced to a whole new world of breastfeeding. It was hard. Sometimes I just wanted to throw the pump against the wall. But to me, it was worth it. I wanted to feed my son breast milk, and I was determined to do it.
While I slowly was able to wean him away from the supplemental feedings, and we now breastfeed full-time, I feel like I learned a lot. I encountered mothers who pumped day and night for their babies (seriously, warrior mamas there). I learned different techniques, which pumps were the best, and found myself cheering for other moms in support groups I was in every time they posted a picture of a bottle of breast milk they pumped.
So, I thought I would put together a resource full of all the information that I found especially useful during my pumping days. I still pump occasionally now, and while I never pumped exclusively, I feel like I learned a lot. Hopefully, if you find yourself my position – desperately Googling the Internet in the late hours for tips for pumping success – you’ll find this post useful.
How you choose to feed your baby is entirely up to you. Isn’t it great that we live in a time where we have so many options?! Pumping is exhausting. But breastfeeding can be too. And making bottles of formula can be too. Having a baby is exhausting regardless of what choices you make.
Thanks to Avent for making this post possible.
Tips for Pumping Success
If you are struggling with supply, make sure to read my post on increasing breast milk supply!
Buying Your Pump
There are A LOT of pump options out there – and many of you likely qualify for a free pump through your insurance. You can check out your eligibility and order a pump here if you do qualify.
These are the ones I recommend most:
Getting Started with Pumping
So, you may wonder why someone would need to pump. Well, some ladies have to go back to work. Others have babies who just cannot latch on for whatever reason. Some babies have to be fed through a tube, and their moms want to provide them with breast milk. Like me, supplementing may be necessary at times, and if you are wanting to breastfeed and have to do this, your own breast milk is the best supplement. And then, of course, some people just want to be able to leave their baby with a bottle of milk every now and then. Whatever your reason, hopefully these tips will help!
Follow the Instructions
This is so important. Even if you have pumped before and are using a new pump – read the instructions. I recently started using the Avent Comfort Double Electric Pump, and I won’t lie – at first, I didn’t think it worked. I tried to use it like I used my other pump (skipped the letdown phase), and I got droplets. However, once I went back and read the instructions, looked for a few different tips online (such as removing the comfort shields), I was able to produce a decent amount of milk! Every pump is different, especially when you jump to a new brand.
Use a Quality Pump
Look around for reviews on different pumps and see which one you think will work best. Insurance companies are required to provide lactating mothers with breast pumps, so make sure you check with your insurance to see what type of pump they provide. Some companies will give you an option of a couple of different ones, and others have a specific pump (check out your options here).
I used a pump that wasn’t super high quality at one point, and it felt like I would pump forever just to get 1/2 an ounce. However, when I upgraded to a much more powerful pump, it made a world of difference (in my output and in my sanity!)
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Consider a Different Pump
If you aren’t having success with a certain kind of pump, consider switching out to a new one. Like I said earlier, all pumps are different and you may respond better to one over another. I know people who switched pumps and doubled (even tripled) their output.
I used a hospital grade pump for the first while with Oliver, which was very helpful. However, those are SUPER expensive (even to rent), so if you can get by with another pump, I would. I do have to say that I do like the Avent Comfort Double Pump. It’s definitely the most comfortable pump that I’ve used (no sore nipples). I also like that it’s smaller – I feel like it’s easier to pump with, and the parts are simpler to use. It actually has worked better for me than the hospital grade pump I used for a while.
Lots of women I know absolutely RAVE about the Spectra Pumps. There are two versions, but everyone I know who has used one says that they are just as good as hospital grade pumps, but they are just around $100. There are people who have used these pumps successfully that haven’t been able to pump at all with other pumps. I highly recommend looking into them.
Surprisingly, I also really love having a hand pump. It’s nice for using at night, having more control over the suction, etc. I’ve gotten more from a hand pump on occasion than I ever got from an electric. It just takes a lot more work! I use the Medela Harmony Hand Pump.
Pump as Often as Baby eats
If you want to pump exclusively, you need to pump every time (or within a reasonable amount of time) baby eats. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand thing, so if you want to produce the amount of breast milk your baby needs. You can’t expect to pump enough milk for your baby if you are only pumping once or twice a day!
Even if you aren’t pumping exclusively, if you want to maintain your supply, whenever you feed your baby a bottle, make sure you pump!
Set realistic expectations
So, there are a couple different types of moms who pump. Moms who breastfeed full-time and will occasionally pump for an extra bottle. Moms who try to breastfeed full time but may have to supplement with their breast milk. Moms who breastfeed when they are home but have to go back to work and pump during that time. And then there are the warrior mamas who pump day and night for their babes.
If you are breastfeeding full time, don’t expect to pump ounces and ounces of breast milk when you pump. For one, if you did do this, it may indicate an oversupply, which isn’t as wonderful as it may sound. According to Kelly Mom, women who pump upon breastfeeding full-time can typically pump between .5 and 2 ounces after a breastfeeding session.
If you just are planning to pump every now and then, you’ll probably be okay with a single electric pump (some people like manual pumps – I do not.) However, if you will be pumping every day, a double pump will save you. Seriously. When I first started having to pump after every feed with Oliver, I only had a single pump, and it made the process so much longer and more difficult. It was a great moment when I got a double pump to use!
Pump while baby eats
This was suggested to me when I was having to triple feed (breastfeed, pump, bottle feed Oliver.) It was an exhausting process, but it made it a little simpler. Basically, I would feed Oliver on one side and then when I switched him to the next, I would pump on the other side while he ate.
It can take some practice to get the hang of. I highly recommend using a pumping bra if you do this. It can be tricky to hold a baby and pump at the same time!
Here is the BEST designed pumping bra I’ve seen. I’ve heard amazing things, too.
Have you ever heard of the milkies collection cups? They are so cool. They are little shields you can wear that collect milk that drips while you are pumping or nursing on one side. When I would collect this milk, I would sometimes get over an ounce! Every little bit of milk counts.
I have also heard wonderful things about the Haakaa suction pump. It’s only $15, but it works by using suction. Just put it on the other breast while you nurse, and let it work its magic!
Don’t get discouraged
Pumping is something you have to practice at. There are lots of techniques involved in getting more milk out (quickly). I’ll talk about that in a bit, but don’t feel discouraged if you struggle at first!
Something I see a lot of women talking about is when they get concerned that their supply is dropping. This is very common to happen after about the first six weeks of a baby’s life when a supply is getting regulated. Some women may go from pumping several ounces after a few to very little. This is NOT indicative of your supply. More than likely, it’s just a sign that your body is regulated to your baby’s needs. Of course, if you find that you aren’t pumping enough to meet your baby’s needs, you could consider pumping an additional time or do power pumping. I’ll talk about a few different ways to optimize supply at the end.
Make yourself comfortable
You don’t want pumping to be a horrible experience that you dread every time you do it. Yes, it may not seem as loving and warm as breastfeeding your baby, but it can be a good experience.
Put some nice music on (white noise is always a favorite of mine), sit in a comfortable rocking chair, fill up a glass with ice, cold water, and just make your pumping time a time to relax. If you are using a hands-free pumping bra, you can even bring a book or magazine in!
I recently learned about the Freemie pumping system, and it’s brilliant! It works with most pumps, and it’s a silent system that you can use with your shirt on! If I had to pump frequently outside my home, I would definitely buy this. This would be great for offices!
Have a routine
Make pumping a part of your daily schedule so it doesn’t seem so cumbersome. Invest in a breast pump car adapter for your car so you can pump on the go (or just bring a manual breast pump with you places.) If you know in advance what your schedule is going to be, it will be easier to do.
I typically try and pump for about 10 minutes or for at least two letdowns. However, this will vary depending on who you are. Some women may pump for five minutes and get a ton and others may have to pump for 15 minutes or more. You may need to experiment to see what works best for you. Even if you pump dry for a little bit, it can signal to your body that you may need to produce more (only do this if you really do need to increase your supply!)
Don’t Pump if You Don’t Have To
After being in some different breastfeeding groups, I’ve found that people are quite proud of their breast milk supply. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I like having a nice little stash of my own. However, if you don’t need to pump milk regularly, you don’t have to. I pumped three times with Jack. THREE. And if I don’t have to pump, I don’t. Even if you are going back to work, my lactation consultant would always tell everyone to put the pump down until about four weeks postpartum and just enjoy your baby. I mean, in my case, I didn’t have much of a choice and had to pump for awhile. However, if you don’t have to, don’t stress about it. You don’t really need a huge stockpile of breast milk! With Jack, I probably had three ounces in my freezer.
Some people think that if you are really engorged you should pump. However, it is often a better idea to just hand express to comfort. If your baby doesn’t need to eat then, and you pump, it’s just signaling to your body that you still need milk at that time, which you may not.
If you find yourself with an excess of milk you’ve pumped, consider becoming a donor to a milk bank!
Something that drives me crazy is when people say something like, “Why would you pump? Just feed the formula.” Okay, if you want to feed your baby formula – then great! That’s totally your choice, and I support it 100%. However, if you want your baby to get breast milk and you are able to produce it, then no one should give you grief otherwise.
Attend lactation support groups (La Leche League is awesome). Make sure your pediatrician is breastfeeding friendly. Find an amazing IBCLC. Join a breastfeeding support group on Facebook or BabyCenter. There are groups on both those sites that are created specifically for exclusive pumpers (here is the BabyCenter group). If you want to feed your baby breast milk, and if breastfeeding straight from the breast isn’t always an option – you can do it. Surround yourself with those that support you.
Remind yourself of baby
If you aren’t with your baby when you are pumping, it can make it a lot harder for some women to produce the hormones that stimulate breast milk production. If you are working, you may be far away from your baby! Here are a few suggestions to help you feel closer to your baby as you pump:
- Put a blanket that they use or an outfit around your neck as you pump so you can smell their scent
- Look at pictures or video of your baby
- If your caregiver allows it, request to be on video chat with your baby as you pump!
I have found that when I’m leaning back in a chair, I don’t pump as much. I think by leaning forward, milk flows a little better. However, I know this can be super uncomfortable to just sit straight up and forward. That’s one of the reasons why I like the Avent Comfort Double Pump specifically. It’s designed to allow you to sit in a more relaxed, reclined position and still help produce milk.
Stress can seriously impact your supply! I honestly believe one of the reasons Oliver was having trouble getting milk for awhile was because of the stress I was put under (but that’s a whole other story.) Do you very best to try and eliminate all stress in your life, especially when you are pumping. Pump in a quiet room away from all distractions.
Pump an hour after breastfeeding
If you pump immediately following your breastfeeding session, you likely won’t get a lot. Your breasts won’t be as full so a letdown won’t happen as easily. I found that pumping 30 minutes to an hour after I pumped (and at least an hour before the next time I breastfeed) helps me to pump more milk.
Some people worry about doing a pumping session to close to when you will breastfeed. I try to make sure I don’t pump within an hour of when I’m going to nurse, mainly because Oliver is a big fan of getting milk right away (and sometimes if I’ve pumped too close, letdown takes too long.) However, it is a myth that your breasts are ever empty. They aren’t! Milk is constantly being produced – it sometimes just takes more time than others to draw that milk out. But the good news is, you’ll likely be producing some nice hindmilk when you pump or breastfeed more frequently!
Breast Massage and Compressions
There is a great video that talks about hands-on pumping – it basically is a way to use your hands to help draw more milk out of the breast. Breast massage before and during pumping, along with compressions, can help to increase milk flow and help increase the amount of hindmilk that is drawn out. This video shows a little bit about breast massage, and this article talks a bit about it as well.
Breast compressions are helpful to help get milk flowing. I used this a lot when Oliver was having trouble transferring milk, but it helps with pumping as well. You can find out more about breast compression here.
Change out parts
There are many parts to a pump, and they often wear out pretty quickly. I recommend changing the membranes in the pump every month if you use it every day. Most pump parts are available on Amazon! This is one for the first things I would do if milk output went down.
When a breastfed baby is going through a growth spurt, they will often want to eat more frequently (which will obviously signal your body to produce more milk.) Power pumping basically mimics a growth spurt. The IBCLC I used to see would say that you’re placing an order for milk when you do this, and it will come in within 24-72 hours. If you are having supply issues, this is a great option.
Basically, you pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes and repeat this cycle for an hour, even if you are just pumping dry. Most of the time doing this once a day can be effective, but some women find they need to do it more frequently. Again, this isn’t something everyone has to do – but if you feel you need more milk, it’s a good option.
Don’t forget to signup here to get your free power pumping reference guide sent straight to your email.
Pump extra in the morning
Prolactin levels are highest in the morning, especially early morning (we’re talking 2-3 AM.) I always pump twice in the morning that I do in the afternoon. I know a lot of women that will still pump once during the night even when their baby is sleeping through the night just because they get so much more.
Decrease time between pumps
From everything I’ve read, it’s more effective to pump closer together for shorter periods of time rather than increase the time between pumps and increase how long you pump. Plus, the more frequently you pump, the emptier your breasts will be which typically results in more fatty hindmilk!
Tips to Save your Sanity
Try different size flanges
Most pumps just come with one or two sizes of flanges. There are many different sizes and shapes of breasts and nipples. Most pump manufacturers do have different size flanges available, so if you are feeling like you aren’t pumping very much or it’s particularly painful, consider trying a different size. I’ve heard awesome things about the Pumpin’ Pals flange set, which are compatible with lots of different breast pumps. This is a great resource for determining if your flange is the correct size. IBCLCs can help, too!
I have been hearing RAVE reviews about this $15 manual pump. Not only is it all one piece, which makes cleaning a breeze, but people use it often while nursing on the opposite side and get a lot! I’m not exactly sure how it works, but everyone seems to act like you don’t even really have to do anything but attach it to the breast. If you try it out, I’d love to hear how it works for you.
I will admit that I have never purchased a pumping bra, but almost every time I pump, I wish I had one. It makes it so you can read a book, look at your phone, or even hold your baby while you pump. I think that they make it easier to do breast compressions and massage as well. I even know people that pump while they drive, thanks to their pumping bra. Here are a few recommendations:
Simple Wishes Hands-Free Pumping Bra – this appears to be the most highly recommended one on Amazon.
LactaMed Simplicity Pumping Bra – Looks a little weird, but it’s less expensive than most!
Relaxed All-in-One Hands-Free Pumping and Nursing Bra
Freeze in 2-3 ounces
While it might be tempting to want to fill up an entire breast milk storage bag with breast milk, sometimes it’s better to just freeze them in the amounts that your baby will eat them. Then you can take them out as you need them and not worry about using up extra if you defrosted too much. You can freeze it in the freezer bags in smaller ounce increments, use breast milk freezer trays, or even freeze them in disposable breast milk freezer cups.
Put everything in the refrigerator
Something that I learned that made pumping so much easier was that I didn’t have to wash and sanitize the parts every time I pumped! You can actually put everything in the refrigerator, and it will be okay to use later that day. I would recommend washing and sanitizing at the end of the day. I really liked having a bottle sanitizer or a breast pump parts sanitizing bag, just to make sure there was no bacteria leftover to get into the liquid gold!
I love this system! They are bags that you pump directly in to. I always am a little bit sad at the remnant of breast milk that always seems to stay behind in the bottles when I pump. By using the Kiinde bags, you don’t have to worry about losing any of that precious breast milk. You can also attach a nipple to them and feed directly from the bag!
Pump water out of tubing
One of the most annoying parts of a pump to clean is the tubing! The little water droplets are tricky to get out. What I do is hang them up to dry overnight and then the next day, I attach them to the breast pump and turn it on with just the tubing attached. I let it run for about five to ten minutes, and it pumps out all the extra water droplets!
Guidelines on Storing Breastmilk
Remember – you can combine different pumps together! Just make sure they are the same temperature before doing so. You can also refreeze breast milk, so long as you can see ice crystals in the milk.
Make sure you transfer breast milk to containers using clean, sterile hands. Do not reuse breast milk storage bags. You want to make sure you get all excess air out of the bags! A lot of women like to freeze the bags by laying them flat in the freezer as it makes it easier to store later.
There are different guidelines floating around pertaining to how long breast milk is good at different temperatures. The IBCLC I saw gave me the 7-7-7 rule. Seven hours on the counter, seven days in the fridge, and seven months in a freezer (though in a deep freezer, more like a year.) However, there are different recommendations, so consult your consultant for their opinion.
Do not defrost the milk in the microwave. You can use a bottle warmer or just warm water!
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Katie is a Colorado-native, BYU graduated, and most importantly, wife to one and mother to three beautiful boys. She is passionate about sharing her experiences with others – especially about pregnancy, breastfeeding, cooking, and crafts. She is currently training to be a Certified Lactation Educator. She loves spending time with her family and helping others find joy in family life.