Whether you’re returning to work or storing breastmilk for a babysitter, want your partner to share the feeding experience, or your baby can’t nurse due to a medical or developmental issue, the pumping process can seem daunting in the beginning. When do you start? How do you do it, when, and for how long?
Let us interrupt those swirling questions to say this: Once you get the hang of pumping it’s a relatively easy back-up way to give your baby breastmilk if that’s important to you.
Now let’s get to those questions!
When do I start pumping?
Many experts recommend waiting a few weeks after your baby is born, to give your body time to regulate milk production. In some cases, pumping sooner may result in an oversupply of breastmilk, which can lead to problems like engorgement and discomfort for your baby.
There are reasons to start pumping right away, though, including not being able to nurse your baby due to a medical or developmental issue.
If you plan to return to work, start building a supply of pumped breastmilk about 2-3 weeks before.
When it comes to bottle-feeding breastmilk to a nursing baby, a general rule of thumb is to introduce a daily bottle as soon as your baby has the hang of breastfeeding (by about 4 weeks, although it varies from baby to baby). Although plenty of babies are champs at switching from breast to bottle, some may reject a bottle if you wait too long to introduce it.
How do I use a pump?
How you use a pump depends on the type you have (you can read about the different types of pumps here), so the manufacturer’s instructions are your first go-to. Aside from the mechanics, there are some general things to keep in mind:
- Let-down. Just as your baby needs to suck for several seconds before your milk starts flowing, you’ll need to wait for your milk to “let down” when you’re pumping.
- Cleanliness. Always pump with clean hands and clean pump parts. As soon as you’re finished, wash the pump parts according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Correct flange size. Flanges are the funnel-shaped pieces that fit over your nipple and create suction. For effective pumping it’s important to see a bit of space between your nipple and the edge of the flange.
- The right mood. Stress can slow the flow of breastmilk, so try to relax as much as possible. If you’re pumping at work this may be easier said than done! Amazingly, your body has a built-in mechanism for encouraging your milk to flow: Warm and fuzzy feelings as you gaze at your precious little one. The easiest way to recreate this for pumping is to close your eyes and think of your baby.
When do I pump?
When to pump depends on why you’re pumping:
To build a supply of stored breastmilk while nursing
- Pump in-between feedings twice to several times a day, depending on how much milk you want to store. Try to pump closer to the end of a nursing session rather than the beginning of a new one; this gives your breasts time to fill up again before the next feeding. You may notice that you net more milk after morning feedings, because the body naturally produces more milk earlier in the day.
- If your baby fills up on one breast per feeding, you can pump the other breast while she’s nursing.
- Consider using a hands-free pumping bra that holds the flanges on your breasts for you. It may feel awkward the first time you pump and prepare dinner at the same time, but once you get the hang of it, a hands-free bra is undeniably efficient.
To pump at work
- Try to pump around the same times your baby takes bottles while you’re gone. This will keep your milk supply up to speed with her needs.
- Some working moms swear by wearable, quiet pumps that allow you to pump and, say, be on a conference call at the same time. These models are new to the pumping scene, though (and they’re expensive), so be sure to research carefully before purchasing one. If privacy allows, a hands-free pumping bra can also come in handy at work, allowing you to pump and use your hands at the same time.
To pump exclusively
- If you need to pump exclusively because your baby can’t nurse, you’ll need to pump about every 2-3 hours. It’s important to establish your milk supply and keep it up, so you may want to check in with a lactation consultant for help establishing a pumping routine.
How long do I pump?
Experts recommend pumping until you empty the breast. On average this takes about 10-15 minutes per breast if you’re using a personal electric pump, but it can vary from mom to mom. Hospital-grade pumps, which usually have stronger motors and suction, may speed up the process. If you’re trying to increase your milk supply, pump for about 5 minutes after the last drop.
How much milk should I be pumping?
This varies from mom to mom. Some women naturally produce more milk and can pump several ounces at a time, while others express just a few. Pumping amounts also depend on your situation: If you’re pumping in-between nursing sessions you may net a smaller amount than if you’re pumping at work while your baby takes a bottle at home.
Now that you know the basics of pumping, head over to this article to read about safely storing and serving pumped breastmilk.