Breast milk is a wonderful way to nourish your infant. In choosing to breastfeed, you are setting your child up for a lifetime of health benefits. It’s also beneficial for mama and creates a beautiful bond between mom and child.
Some of us can’t actually breastfeed every time the baby is hungry. You may need to work, go shopping or, heck, take a nap. Enter breast pumping.
Sure, you’re a nursing mother, but you’re also human.
There are tons of reasons (from work to sickness to latching issues) that mamas choose to pump. In fact, a dear friend’s daughter just would NOT latch on her breast. She was so committed to the benefits of breast milk that she pumped for a year! Her daughter was exclusively breast (or you could say, pump) fed and is thriving. Investing in a pump and keeping some spare milk on hand will make life less stressful and flexible for you and the whole family.
What types of breast pump is best for you?
If you have done any research or shopped around a bit, you have probably realized that not all breast pumps are the same and that there are many different options. Don’t be overwhelmed.
Here’s a look at various pump types and who they’re best for.
Hospital grade – electric
Hospital grade pumps are best for moms who are having difficulty breastfeeding. These pumps are work fast, can collect from both breasts at once, and will drain the most milk. You may need one of these if your baby isn’t latching properly, you’re having trouble building up a supply, or if your baby is a preemie. Note that these top-of-the-line pumps can be an investment.
Top end personal use pumps – electric
These breast pumps are best for mamas who pump frequently – moms who need to pump at work, for example. These also pump quite rapidly and will drain a lot of breast milk. (Pssst… This is helpful if you are using the pump during your lunch break!)
Mid-range pumps – electric or battery
These are best for mamas who pump about once a day – moms who are usually with baby throughout the day, but want to have some extra milk on hand. They do take a while to use, and won’t get you quite as much milk as quickly, but are less expensive and make sense if you will only be pumping once a day.
These are best for moms who prefer an inexpensive and quiet option. Some women love using manual (or hand-operated) pumps, but if you’re on-the-go or need to build up a big supply, a manual pump may not be the right option for you. Keep in mind that YOU will be doing all the pumping by hand, so this method can be downright exhausting.
Did you hear that U.S. insurance plans are now required to cover the cost of a breast pump?
It’s true! The Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance plans to cover the cost of breastfeeding equipment and lactation consultants for pregnant and nursing women. You’ll find more details on this page.
When should you begin breast pumping and storing milk?
It depends. If you are planning to go back to work, then you can start breast pumping immediately after the baby is born so you have a store ready to go when your maternity leave is up.
This may be too overwhelming at first. If you feel like you simply can’t start breast pumping and need some time, give it a few weeks and do not stress. That stress will lower your milk supply and make having a newborn even more challenging and draining.
Wait 4-8 weeks to introduce baby to the bottle
Though you can start pumping as soon as you like, it is usually best to wait until baby is at least one month old (8 weeks to be safe) and breastfeeding is well established before you introduce a bottle. This will help you avoid “nipple confusion” in your infant. (As I mentioned earlier, some babies won’t latch no matter what you do. It could be tied to a lip or tongue tie, or some other mysterious reason. It’s best to meet with a lactation consultant to to get to bottom of it.)
What’s the deal with “nipple confusion?”
Fact is, nursing can be hard work for a baby! Whereas it’s pretty easy to let gravity do the work when they’re drinking from a bottle.
After their babies begin to drink from a bottle, some moms can have a hard time getting them back onto the breast. This will also cause difficulty for you, because you will not produce as much milk if your baby does not nurse.
For most moms, the longer they wait to introduce the bottle, the better.
How do I use a breast pump?
If you have never seen or used a breast pump, you may be wondering how they work. They may look a bit intimidating, but they are quite simple to use.
First of all, the nurses at the hospital will probably offer to let you use a hospital grade pump for breast pumping. Even if you have no intention of using it right off of the bat, you may want to let them bring it in so you can check it out and give it a try. They will be glad to help you position the cups and get the settings correct. You want to center the cup (also known as a phalange or shield) over your breast and turn the machine on. The rest is up to the machine. If you use a manual pump, you will center the cup over your nipple in the same manner and simply pump with your hands.
Each pump will come with detailed instruction manual and usually an accompanying online video. Follow the directions and you’ll be good to go.
When is the best time of day for breast pumping?
It is best to pump 1 hour after feeding because you will have allowed your breasts some time to refill. If your baby has recently drained them and you’re trying to pump, you may create an unnecessary stressor and you can be doing more harm than good. However, many moms have ample milk a few weeks postpartum and can pump right after nursing and freeze the extra.
Feel pain? Something’s wrong.
When pumping you should never feel pain. There will be a tugging sensation and possibly some discomfort, but it should not hurt. Try starting out on the lowest setting and gradually working your way up.
If you still feel discomfort, try repositioning the cups or talking to a lactation consultant. (Here’s what it’s like to work with a lactation consultant.) There are breast shields and many other tools that can be used to make pumping as easy and comfortable as possible. Some moms find just adding a little olive or coconut oil on their nipples before and after pumping helps. You can also try my DIY sore nipple remedy.
“How can I express the most milk possible?”
Here are some tips to help you get the most milk per breast pumping session:
- Don’t stress. Never stress out about breast milk or sit and watch the bottles fill up. You know the old saying, “a watched pot never boils”? Well, “a watched bottle never fills!”
- Get a hands-free bra for comfort. In a word: Life-changing. It transform staring at a wall holding cones to your breasts to a time when you can read, text message, or drive a car (done it!) The more comfortable and content you are, the more likely you’ll stick to pumping. There are lots of great pumping bras out there and it will seriously transform pumping from a chore to a chance to catch up on things. I really can’t recommend this enough.
- Make sure you are hydrated. Dehydration is your worst enemy when you are breastfeeding (or at any other time in your life, for that matter.) So drink plenty of water. And go easy on coffee or soda.
- Grab a photo of your babe. Sometimes having a photo or video of your baby to look at while you pump will help your body release the appropriate hormones that allow for milk production. This will also help you to de-stress and relax.
- Don’t forget! Wait at least an hour after your last nursing session.
How do I store breast milk?
Now that you have it, what do you do with it? You will need to develop a storage system that is easy for you, your spouse and other caretakers to understand. You can purchase many breast milk labeling systems and storage containers made specifically for breast milk. These can be convenient, but aren’t essential.
Store your breast milk in clean glass or plastic food storage containers. Make sure and label them with the date. It is also easiest to try and store the milk in portion sizes equivalent to what the baby typically eats. That way you have it on hand and ready to go.
You should always refrigerate the milk to keep it safe for baby. You can also freeze your milk, but should only do so when necessary. The freezing process damages some of the antibodies in the milk, but it is still very therapeutic.
How long can breast milk be kept at room temperature?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that breast milk can be kept at room temperature for six to eight hours. It is, however, best to refrigerate it as soon as possible.
How long does breast milk last in the refrigerator?
Breast milk stored in the refrigerator can last up to eight days, provided that your fridge is set to a temperature between 32°-39°F (0°-3.9°C).
How long does breast milk last in the freezer?
If you’ve got one of those freezers that are located inside of your refrigerator (for example, a mini-fridge), breast milk will keep for two weeks.
If you’ve got a large refrigerator, where the freezer is on top or side by side, and if that freezer is kept at a temperature of 0°F (-18°C), your breast milk will last for six to 12 months.
Pro tip: store your breast milk in the back of your freezer and not in the freezer door. The key is to keep the temperature consistent and cold.
How to thaw frozen breast milk
Popular ways to thaw your frozen breast milk include:
- Storing it overnight in the refrigerator
- Running it under warm water
- Soaking it in a jar of warm water
You can also buy bottle warmers if you’re pumping often and need to heat bottles regularly.
Never, ever microwave breast milk. It will kill nutrients and can create hot spots which may burn your baby’s mouth.
Once thawed, breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for 24 hours or at room temperature for about an hour.
What if you have trouble breast pumping?
Having difficulty with pumping can be frustrating and disheartening. If you are having trouble, don’t give up or feel alone. Breastfeeding and breast pumping can be difficult and there will be a learning curve.
Try not to worry
If you are feeling discouraged, try not to worry and follow the tips mentioned earlier for producing the most milk:
- Drink more water
- Look at pictures of your little one as you pump
Could the problem be your pump?
There’s a chance that your pump may not be appropriate for your needs. If that’s the case, you’ll want to consider getting a new one. This is something you can discuss with a lactation consultant or at a La Leche League meeting.
Yes, see a lactation consultant and attend La Leche League meetings
Even if you need to pump full time, you are still a breastfeeding mama, and you can still benefit from the support of a lactation consultant or a community of breastfeeding mothers.
Getting this type of support can be invaluable if you’re struggling with lactation issues, and may help you to feel more secure with this experience.
Feeling guilty about exclusively pumping?
Whatever the reason they choose to pump, some mamas feel guilty or sad about it – like they’re not “really” breastfeeding when they do it from a bottle. If you’re having thoughts like that, I encourage you to feel your feelings of grief and then let them go.
Truth is, you’re working even harder to nourish your baby this way, and showing an even greater dedication to being a natural mama. In fact, you are my hero. Pumping ain’t easy and you’re going the distance, mama.
Always remember: You are not alone
For many moms, exclusive breastfeeding is simply NOT possible. And pumping is the next best thing. Be sure to get yourself that hands-free bra (or make one by cutting small holes in a tight-ish sports bra) and you can multitask your way through each session.
Need breastfeeding help?
How about you?
Did we miss anything in this breast pumping guide? Did any tips or tricks help you along on your pumping journey? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.