Pumping breast milk for a little one can seem a daunting task. Whether you are a mom getting ready to return to work, a stay-at-home mom who needs to be away from the baby for a day, or a mother who chooses to exclusively pump, there are some steps that you can take to make it easier. Using a breast pump does not feel the same as when your baby is taking milk from your breast, so it can take some getting used to. With time and practice you will become a pumping pro!
When to start pumping
You can begin pumping immediately after your baby is born. You should never attempt to pump breast milk while you are still pregnant.
If your baby is born prematurely or has issues forming a proper latch to your breast, pumping milk is an excellent way for them to get the nutrition they need. Premature babies need all of the nutrition that they can get from the colostrum that you will produce after birth. Even if you don’t plan to continue breast feeding or pumping for the long term, most preemie moms are encouraged to pump breast milk at least until their baby is out of the hospital.
If breastfeeding is going well for you, you can still begin to pump shortly after giving birth to boost the amount of milk you produce and help build a stash of breast milk for future use. If your baby is breastfeeding well, you usually are not advised to introduce the bottle until about 10 weeks of age to prevent “nipple confusion” in your baby. They may develop a preference for one nipple (the bottle or your breast) and refuse the other completely.
Get your pump ready
Assemble your breast pump according to the manufacturer’s directions. If the written directions are confusing, there are frequently YouTube videos that demonstrate assembly. The pump should consist of two bottles and two flanges in addition to the motor. The flanges need to be the proper size for your breasts; otherwise, pumping will be uncomfortable and your milk production will not be as high as it should be. Don’t be surprised if the flanges that come with your breast pump are too small or too large even for average-sized breasts. Most pump manufacturers offer flanges of different sizes for purchase, and their websites can show you how to determine if your flanges are the proper size.
Do not worry if your milk output is small or slow at first; it will increase over time. Initially your baby only needs about a tablespoon of milk per feeding. To make sure you build a good milk supply, especially if you are going to exclusively pump, you need to pump your breasts for about 20 minutes every two to three hours, including through the night. Using lanolin on your nipples or around the flanges might make the process feel less uncomfortable.
While you are pumping
While you are pumping, you need to be as relaxed and as comfortable as possible. Try to sit in a position where you can lean forward comfortably and let gravity do some of the work for you. Having a picture of your baby to look at, and a blanket or item of clothing that smells like them, can help you to relax and increase your milk output.
When you are finished pumping, store the milk and clean the pump. Your breast milk goes in a clean, sterile bottle or a new milk storage bag. If you plan to freeze the milk, storage bags will work best.
Breast milk can be refrigerated for up to five days, but must be placed in the coldest part of the fridge, usually toward the back of the middle shelf. Never store breast milk in the refrigerator door.
Breast milk can be frozen for up to a year in a deep freezer or about six months in a standard freezer. Label all breast milk with the date and time of day it was pumped.
Pump parts do not have to be washed after every use if you place them in a clean Ziploc bag and put them in the refrigerator between uses. If that is not an option, you must wash and sterilize the pieces after every use. If you use the refrigerated option, wash and sterilize your pump’s parts once a day.
Time to use the milk
Warm the milk before offering it to your baby, but never, ever microwave breast milk. In addition to potentially scalding your baby, microwaving can change the milk for the worse. If you refrigerated the milk, you can set it on the counter to warm or run it under warm water.
Always test the milk’s temperature on the back of your hand to make sure that it is not too hot. If the milk is frozen, you can put it in the refrigerator overnight to begin the thawing process. After that, warm it just as you would milk that has been in the refrigerator.
Pumping breast milk can be difficult but rewarding. It gets easier with time and practice. If you need support, there are lots of websites, books, and even Facebook groups where you can find help and advice. Your pediatrician should also be able to help you get in touch with a lactation consultant if you need one.