Pumping Breast Milk: What You Should Know

Pumping Breast Milk
Whether you're heading back to work or just out for the evening (and leaving your critter with a sitter), most new mamas eventually need a break from breastfeeding. Enter the breast pump. This handy tool not only allows you to fill a bottle with your precious milk, but it can also help maintain your milk supply, relieve engorgement, and create a backup stash for your freezer. So once you’ve chosen the right type of breast pump, it’s time to get the (pumping) party started.

Pumping Breast Milk Basics: Types, How they work and What's involved

How do I do express milk?

You can express milk by hand or with a breast pump. Different pumps suit different women, so ask for advice or see if you can try one before you buy it. Always make sure that the container or pump is clean and has been sterilized before you use it.

TypeHow it worksWhat's involved.
 Hand expressionYou use your hand to massage and compress your breast to remove milk.Requires practice, skill, and coordination. gets easier with practice; can be as fast as pumping. Good if you are seldom away from the baby or need an option that is always with you. How-to guide: expressing breast milk by hand. Also, see video guide here
Manual pumpYou use your hand and wrist to operate a hand-held device to pump the milk.Requires practice, skill, and coordination. Useful for occasional pumping if you are away from baby once in a while. How-to guide: Expressing milk using a breast pump
An automatic, hospital-grade pumpRuns on battery or plugs into an electrical outlet.

Easy to use. Can pump one breast at a time or both breasts at the same time. Double pumping may collect more milk in less time, so it is helpful if you are going back to work or school full-time. Need places to clean and store the equipment between uses. Suggestions for using an electric breast pump (3-page landscape-style, 2015)

When to start pumping

If your baby is premature or has special needs that don’t allow you to nurse her from birth, start pumping as soon as you can. If you have multiples, talk to your pediatrician or lactation consultant about pumping to build up your breast-milk supply. Otherwise, many experts recommend avoiding nipple confusion by waiting until after the first two or three weeks (assuming nursing is going well) to introduce a bottle. (Plenty of babies, however, go back and forth between bottle and breast from day one, so do what feels right for you.) Even if you don’t feed your baby from a bottle at first, you can pump in the early days and store the milk in your freezer for later use. If you’re planning to go back to work, start pumping a few weeks beforehand to get the hang of it and to build up a stockpile of milk.

Best times to pump

If you're at home and are stockpiling milk or trying to increase your supply, try pumping an hour or so after your sweetie’s morning nursing session (or pump one breast while she’s going to town on the other). If you're pumping at work, try to pump on the same schedule as your baby's feedings so you keep your milk supply going strong.

How to pump

To begin, find a comfortable, quiet spot and relax as much as possible to encourage letdown. A quick breast massage or leaning over and gently shaking your breasts can launch letdown, as can warm compresses. If your baby is close by, try cuddling with her (as long as she doesn't mind being this close to milk she can't have). Away from home? Look at her cute mug in a photo, or close your eyes and imagine her face, her smell, and her blissfully nursing away.

If you're using an electric pump, use the lowest suction at first and then increase the juice when things get moving. Do be patient. It may take a few minutes (or a few days or even weeks) for you to get into a comfortable rhythm. Pump until the milk starts slowing down and your breasts feel empty, and be sure to clean the breast flanges after every use.

How to store your expressed breast milk

Many breast pumps come with custom containers that can be used as storage and feeding bottles; others allow you to use a standard feeding bottle to collect milk. You can also collect expressed breast milk in plastic bags (definitely use the ones specifically designed for breastmilk — plastic bottle liners are too flimsy) and fill them three-quarters full if you'll be freezing them to allow for expansion. Freezing milk in small quantities (three to four ounces at a time) allows for easy thawing. Refrigerate the milk as soon as possible after you express it. It can stay fresh at room temperature for up to six hours as long as it's kept away from the sun or other sources of heat. Milk can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to four days and for three to four months in the freezer (six months in a deep freezer). Always label each container with the date, and make sure to use the oldest milk first.

Bottle feeding

If you are bottle-feeding your baby, make sure you mix the formula so the baby gets the right nutrition. Also, talk to your doctor about when to begin feeding the baby formula with iron.

How, when, and what you feed your baby are all important. Everything from the type of formula, the temperature of the formula, and the types of bottles and nipples matter. You can get help and information from your doctor or clinic.

Make sure to talk to your doctor to find out when your baby can start eating solid baby food. Even though your baby might become curious or begin reaching for the spoon, it’s best to check with the doctor first.
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