Many mothers want or need to express milk for their babies at one time or another. Some mothers need to express their milk if their babies go to the NICU because they are born early, or for some other reason. Many mothers need to express if they are going to work and want to leave breastmilk for their babies. And many mothers want to express their milk occasionally so that they can leave their baby with someone else for an evening out or a trip to the dentist. Some mothers use hand expression exclusively, but many end up choosing to use some kind of breast pump, or a combination of pumping and hand expression.
The first step in pumping is choosing what type of pump will best suit your situation. For mothers pumping for their babies in the NICU, for mothers pumping during the first month after their baby’s birth, or for mothers trying to increase low milk supply, a hospital grade double electric pump is best. For mothers who will be pumping once a day or more, but whose milk supply is already established, a personal double electric breast pump will usually be a good choice. A hospital grade pump would be fine as well, but is not necessary. For mothers who will only be expressing their milk occasionally, a single electric or manual pump, or hand expression will usually be sufficient.
Mothers who have babies born before 38 weeks or under 7 pounds, or mothers trying to increase low supply may be asked to pump their breasts after each breastfeeding, and then to feed that milk (and/or formula) to the baby with an at breast supplementer or a bottle. Many mothers need to continue this regimen of triple feeding for several weeks or occasionally even longer.
For many mothers who are pumping this frequently, pumping can begin to seem like a chore. They understand how important it is for their baby’s nutrition and their milk supply but the extra work can be tiring. Not only is the time spent at the pump time when they are not with their baby, but there is also the washing of the pump parts and bottles to be done, plus the extra feeding of the baby. It is for all pumping mothers, but for these triple feeding or exclusively pumping mothers in particular that I offer the following tips to hopefully help make the time you spend pumping more effective and manageable:
- Find a way to pump hands free - there are many options from special bras you can buy, to rigging up ponytail holders to hold the pump flanges on
- Find a way to relax while you are pumping - a Netflix subscription or a magazine can be great for this
- Some mothers find that looking at pictures of their baby (or even watching videos!) can help them produce more milk at the pump.
- If your baby is not in the NICU or immune compromised, then you do not have to wash and sterilize every pump part after every feeding...breastmilk is safe in the fridge for many days, so many mothers just take the pump flanges and bottles and put them straight in the fridge between pumping sessions, and only wash the parts twice a day or so. You can even pump on top of the milk you pumped in the previous session (assuming the bottle isn’t already full!) and only empty the bottles into storage bottles when they are full.
- Pumping frequency is more important than the length of pumping sessions. Pump for a minute or two past when your milk stops spraying out and then stop. (Usually around 10 minutes for most mothers) And remember, pumping for 10 minutes every 2 hours is usually more effective for your milk supply than pumping for 20 minutes every 4 hours. (Some mothers notice that if they wait longer periods they seem to be able to express more milk, but this is deceptive. Pumping more frequently in the same period would produce a total of the same amount of milk or even more, and is much more effective for increasing supply.)
- Remember to hand express at the end of your pumping session. It gets out the high fat milk that the pump can’t, and increases your supply!
- It is important to pump at night. Most mothers produce more milk between the hours of midnight and 8 am. If you aren’t removing milk from your breasts regularly during this critical time, you are missing an opportunity to optimize your supply, and if milk is allowed to sit in your breasts for long periods during these hours, you may actually be decreasing your supply inadvertently.
- Get support through a mothers group, breastfeeding support group, La Leche League or online forum.
Pumping can be hard work, but the payoff is great in terms of the nutrition, health benefits and the relationship of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers. If you are triple feeding or exclusively pumping, you deserve an extra pat on the back for the effort you are putting in and I am cheering you on!