Whatever your reasons for pumping breast milk, it’s important to get started on the right foot. This starts with knowing your objectives and creating a supportive environment for yourself.
While the conversation often revolves around breast versus bottle, the reality is there is a whole spectrum between the two. You could be supplementing your feeds with expressed breast milk, or feeding your baby a combination of formula and breast milk. There isn’t one right way to do it!
7 Tips for Pumping breast milk successfully
Get clear on your objectives
Pumping breast milk is often the answer for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps your baby isn’t taking well to breastfeeding, or your supply is low. And you want to start pumping in order to increase your supply and supplement your baby’s diet.
It is helpful to know why you’re doing it, and how long you plan to pump. Are you intending to do it just until your preemie is big enough to breastfeed directly? Or just until your milk supply increases? Or do you want to do it until your baby is ready to wean. Knowing this allows you to prepare mentally for your task ahead.
Get started as early as possible
Pumping breast milk right after birth is the best. There has been research that shows the more breast milk that’s removed within the first three weeks after birth, the higher and more consistent a mother’s milk supply will be. Pump as often as a newborn would be feeding at the breast – that’s every two hours!
Get a good quality breast pump
If you have a chance to try out how different pumps feel on you, that would be the best. Anything from hand pumping, manual milk expression, to hospital-grade pumps and single user electric pumps are available for your use. Figure out what feels best for you and stimulates the most milk from your breast.
Give yourself time to get to know how your body reacts to the breast pump, and play around with the suction level and the number of cycles per minute. Don’t be discouraged if there’s only a little bit of milk the first few times. The idea is to stimulate ‘let-downs’ – when milk flows freely. So try to relax while pumping! Using warm compresses, massaging or compressing your breast, or even hearing your baby coo or cry can help with your milk supply. Find out what are the best triggers for milk ejections. You can also learn more about hands-on pumping, to maximize the amount of milk you can express. Double pump to save time.
It shouldn’t hurt – so if it does, make adjustments to make sure that everything is working well. Make sure that the pump flange is the right size for your breast, and adjust the settings – a higher setting isn’t necessarily the most productive.
Get to know what works for you – duration, frequency
There’s a number of times a mother needs to pump every day to keep up her milk supply. Take some time to get to know yours. This will depend on your baby’s age and how much milk you need, as well as your breast storage capacity. Are you pumping breast milk for all of your baby’s feedings? Is your baby getting a mix of breast milk and formula? Ideally, you should be pumping as often as your baby is feeding, but that isn’t always practical. Find a schedule that works for you. If you aren’t getting as much milk as you need, increase the number of pumping sessions, and try not to multi-task while pumping. Use different methods to maximize the output, and try to get up a couple of times a night to pump. Emptying your breast completely is one of the keys to producing more milk.
In the beginning, pump for 10 – 15 minutes every 2.5 to 3 hours, then around day 3 or 4 when your milk comes in, increase the pumping sessions to 20 – 30 minutes. Try pumping 10 – 15 minutes about six times a day to maintain milk supply. Any time your milk supply goes down, pump more often. Adding more short pumping sessions could be more useful than increasing the duration.
You’re bound to encounter some naysayers, or people who cast doubts on your judgement. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should feed your child – trust in your judgement. Do what you feel is best for your baby.
Get to know common breastfeeding issues
Overcome emotional and psychological hurdles by getting informed and learning how to overcome them. There is no quick fix to any breastfeeding issue, including pumping breast milk. While you could encounter milk supply issues, other concerns like blocked ducts, mastitis and sore nipples could crop up too. You may also come up against the urge to quit. These could be some of the emotional hurdles you’ll have to overcome.
Get help and support
Know that you’re not alone – seek help from supportive lactation consultants, as well as other breastfeeding moms or mothers who are pumping breast milk too. There are also several supportive Facebook groups where you can swap knowledge and experiences. Seek out community!
Image from verywell.com