New and expectant mothers often hear the phrase “breast is best.” While it is true that breast milk is the best thing you can offer your little one, it can put undue pressure on a mother who may not be able to breastfeed directly.
With the increasing number in working mothers, breastfeeding is becoming less common. Many mothers are resorting to the use of formula so their babies can still be fed when they aren’t able to be home.
This can often leave mothers with a sense of guilt, feeling as though they are denying their babies wholesome nutrition.
However, there is another way that you can still provide the best nutrition for your baby even if you aren’t home: breast pumping.
Now, it’s no easy feat and will take time and commitment to make it work, but with a little bit of help from these easy to follow tips, you can make it happen.
1. Research Your Options
If you think all breast pumps are created equal, think again. Every breast pump is different. They differ in size, shape, volume/capacity, ease of use, and build quality. Because your pump is something you will use quite frequently and because they can be quite expensive, you want to do your research to ensure you make the right decision the first time.
This should start before your baby even arrives as you will likely want to start using it as soon as your milk comes in. Start by asking your OB for recommendations or find a lactation consultant that can answer your questions. Feel free to reach out to other moms you know to see if they have one that they like to use.
2. Know Your Systems
Part of your research should include learning the difference between a closed system and an open system breast pump. To put it in simpler terms, it is simply whether or not there is a barrier between the breast pump and your expressed milk.
It may not make a huge difference to you, but it could make a difference with how easy it is to clean and how it affects the quality of your breast milk.
3. Open System
An open system breast pump does not have a barrier, which means that the pump’s motor can be exposed to your breast milk. As you are pumping, milk can be drawn into the tubing between your pump motor and the capture container.
This can make the pump parts very difficult to clean as the tubing is too small to clean inside. As a result, mold may grow within the tubing or even around the motor itself where it cannot be seen. Though the chances of this happening are very small, it may not be worth the risk to put your milk quality and your child’s health at risk.
4. Closed System
A closed system breast pump is more often recommended due to the barrier that is present between the pump’s motor and your breast milk. It keeps every drop of your milk where it is supposed to be – right in the storage container – and keeps it out of the tubing and motor.
This makes it easier to clean and puts your mind at ease knowing that your milk’s quality is not compromised. A closed pump is also much safer to use long term over the course of several years and several babies since the barrier keeps it cleaner.
5. Decide on Your Pumping Frequency
Another decision you need to make when choosing a breast pump is whether you will go with a manual or electric pump, and this decision will be highly influenced by how often you plan to pump.
Occasional pumping may only require a manual pump, but if you are primarily pumping or pumping while you are at work, your hand will become very tired if you try pumping by hand.
Another difference between these pumps is the strength behind the suction. If you are trying to pump at work, you likely don’t have a very long break to drain your breasts completely. You will probably want something with quite a bit of suction power.
Let’s break down each of these types a little further.
6. Manual Pumps
Manual breast pumps have the simplest design. They have a breast flange, milk storage container, and a pump handle that is squeezed in order to draw the milk out.
Because of their simple design, they are the easiest to clean, requiring very little maintenance. For busy moms, this may be ideal. However, if you are exclusively pumping or trying to pump at work, this pump is not the best for you. Rather, this pump would be best for mothers who are primarily breastfeeding but just want to have a small backup supply in case of an emergency.
7. Electric Pumps
For all other mothers who are primarly pumping, whether that means exclusively or just pumping at work, you will likely want an electric pump instead.
Now, not all electric pumps are created equal. Some are battery powered and some require an electrical outlet. There is also a big difference between the suction speed and strength amongst electric pump models.
It is going to take a bit of research on your part to determine what is best for you and your lifestyle.
8. Hospital Grade Pumps
The highest quality breast pump you can use is a hospital grade pump. They offer a stronger suction as well as a special wavelength and programming that help a mother produce the maximum amount of breast milk possible.
These are not for everyone as they are usually offered as rentals to mothers who cannot breastfeed properly. It could be that her baby has a genetic issue and needs to stay in the NICU or simply that the baby is too small to breastfeed on the bare breast at first.
9. Check with Your Insurance
Of course, the problem with electric breast pumps – especially hospital-grade – is that they are expensive. Price can often be a deterrent for moms on small budgets, causing them to go for the less efficient manual pump.
Don’t let price deter you from getting an electric pump if you need it. Start by calling your insurance company and asking about their coverage for breast pumps.
Many insurance companies will actually cover the full cost of a breast pump. Some will cover it up front; others will reimburse you. It is important that you get all of the details so you know what to expect.
You also need to ask about model coverage as some insurance companies are very specific about the companies you may purchase from or the breast pump models they will reimburse for.
10. Purchasing from a Medical Supply Company
The first step is to talk with your insurance provider. Find out which medical suppliers they work with so you don’t have any issues with your claim being denied. Once you have this information, it is relatively easy to move forward with ordering your pump.
Now, these supply companies often have limited selection for breast pumps, so you will want to thoroughly research each one and determine if one of their options will work for you.
After you have made your decision, it is relatively easy to place your order. In fact, once you go to the checkout page, there is typically an area to put in your insurance info so they can bill your plan directly. All you have to do is wait for your delivery.
11. Filing for Reimbursement
Purchasing a pump on your own and filing for reimbursement is a little bit trickier. You can go about selecting your pump one of two ways. You can either research the options available on the market first to determine which you want or you can call your insurance first to see which ones they cover.
Either way, you will need to have their approval for the particular model you want to purchase. After you have made your purchase, you will likely have to fill out a claim for yourself to send – with a receipt – to your insurance company in order to receive your reimbursement.
Getting your money back and having your claim approved can take some time, so be sure you budget for your pump so you don’t find yourself in a financial pinch while you wait.
12. Buy New
Initial breast pump sticker shock can also have mothers searching for a cheaper option, which may include looking at used breast pumps.
There is a common misconception that used breast pumps are okay since there are companies that rent them out for multiple mother use. A word of caution: never buy a used pump. Even pumps previously used by close friends are not a good idea.
Rental pumps are FDA regulated; they have very specific criteria that must be met – special filters and barriers in place – in order for a pump to be considered suitable as a rental. The problem with personal use pumps is that they don’t meet these guidelines.
There is no guarantee that the previous owner properly cleaned the pump after every use, putting your milk and your baby at risk for contamination and illness should there be any sort of unseen bacterial growth in the pump.
13. Select the Right Flange Sizes
No two breasts are the same, sometimes not even the two that are on your own body. That means that generic breast pump shields and flanges won’t fit every woman the same.
Most breast pumps come with an average size breast flange (24 mm), but most manufacturers have other sizes available for you to choose from so you can find the size that fits right.
Improper flange size can cause damage to your nipples and may even interfere with your milk flow. Too small and your nipple is subject to unnecessary friction and blistering as well as potential blocked ducts; too large and your nipple stretches too much, making it difficult to get milk flowing at all.
To measure for the correct breast flange size, use a ruler or tape measure to measure the diameter (in mm) straight across the middle of the nipple at the base. Do not measure the areola. From there, check with your manufacturer for the shield size range and options.
14. Stock Up on Bags and Bottles
What’s the point in pumping your milk if you have nothing to store it in? You will want to make sure you have plenty of bags for storing and bottles for feeding.
Bags are especially useful for a couple of reasons. They take up less room in the fridge or freezer than bottles do. It is easy to thaw the frozen milk by running the bag under warm water. Storage bags also come with labels that allow you to write down the date and time that you pumped so you know which bags to use first.
You will be thankful for a large stock of bottles once your baby arrives. Clean bottles and nipples should be used at every feeding, and with as busy as you will be with your new baby, the last thing you will want to do is clean the same bottle multiple times a day.
15. Consider your Feeding System
The way you pump, transfer milk, and feed your baby can make a difference with your baby’s overall comfort and feeding experience. Bottles are notorious for trapping excess air which is then ingested by your baby and can cause painful and troublesome gas.
The less the milk is transferred between containers, the less air is likely to become trapped in the bottle. Your best plan is to fins a system that allows you to pump directly into the storage bag and then feed from that bag (attached to a bottle) so there is no milk or air transfer.
16. Find Your Spot
One of the key factors that affects the quality of your pumping sessions is comfort, believe it or not. Stress affects milk flow, and if you don’t have a relaxing environment when it comes time to pump, you may end up with less milk that you should at that particular sitting.
Start by finding a place in your home that you can designate as your pumping spot. It should be somewhere relatively quiet and out of the way with a nice comfy chair.
Make this spot your own. Keep a small table or cabinet nearby so you can always have everything you need right as your fingertips. This includes your pump and bags as well as magazines or your current novel.
Snacks are also a good idea as breastfeeding and pumping burns a lot of calories. You need energy and nutrition in order to produce.
17. Clean between Each Use
We already mentioned that the difference between a closed and an open system pump can drastically affect the cleanliness of your pump. However, just because you may have chosen a closed system pump for sanitary reasons doesn’t mean you can go without cleaning it.
Bacteria hides anywhere it can, and it is often difficult to get rid of it. It can be tedious work to keep your pump clean, but it is crucial that everything that comes into contact with your baby is as clean as it can possibly be. If you develop a cleaning routine with your breast pump, it will be a lot easier to manage.
Take the entire unit apart when you are ready to clean it. Check the cleaning directions in your user’s manual as there may be parts that are dishwasher safe – meaning they will be easier to sanitize. When you are ready to use the unit again, assembly it with clean and dry parts, pumping with clean hands.
18. Inspect for Damage or Questionable Areas
Every time you pump your pump together, you should also inspect it thoroughly. Open system pumps can cause milk to become trapped in the tubing which can result in mold growth. Improper cleaning or storage can also result in cracked tubing.
You want to ensure you always have all the pieces as you assemble your pump and that everything is in pristine condition so you do not lose any milk, it does not become contaminated, and your baby stays healthy and happy.
19. Create a Pumping Schedule
Your body works best when it’s on a schedule, able to determine and prepare for what is coming next. This is especially true when it comes to pumping breast milk.
Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. The body knows that it needs to replace what it used, whether it is pumped or fed directly to your baby, so each time you drain your breasts, it signals your body to produce more.
However, the opposite is true too. If you don’t keep to your schedule, going longer between pumping sessions or spreading them out over irregular intervals, you are at risk for low milk supply.
It is best to stick to the same times during the day, starting first thing in the morning when you get the most milk. Pumping each side for at least 20 minutes will ensure you completely drain your breasts so they will produce again.
20. Exclusive Pumping
If you plan to exclusively pump, you will be able to easily create a schedule that works for your body as you are not trying to juggle a breastfeeding baby at the same time. You will still want to mimic a baby’s natural feeding patterns and listen to your body’s needs, but it will be much easier for you to create and stick to a schedule.
Start by pumping at least 8-10 times during a 24-hour period, aiming to produce about 25-35 ounces per day. Once you have reached this goal, you simply need to maintain that supply. This means you can have longer pumping sessions less frequently throughout the day.
You may even want to consider pumping both sides at once to be more efficient and keep both breasts on the same schedule.
21. Supplemental Breastfeeding
Some mothers may still want to breastfeed directly on occasion; this is actually recommended by most mothers and medical professionals. They may simply need to pump at work and want to breastfeed at home, or just want the occasional bonding moments with their little one.
This schedule can be somewhat hard to determine as you can’t control when you baby will want to feed while you are at home.
Start the same way you would while exclusively pumping in order to build your supply. Once your supply is established, you can stick to just pumping at work or you can plan to pump 30-60 minutes after your baby feeds, which will give your body about an hour or so to recover before it’s feeding time again.
22. Boosting Milk Supply
There are some cases that may require a slight boost in milk supply. Perhaps you need to pump out an extra supply when preparing to return to work or your baby is in the NICU and unable to breastfeed regularly.
In these cases, herbs called galactagogues can be very helpful in giving your supply a temporary boost. They are not 100% fool proof and may not work for everyone, but they have received good reviews from most mothers who are looking to increase their milk supply.
Some of these galactagogues include:
- Fennel seed
- Red raspberry leaf
- Brewer’s yeast
- Milk thistle
- Anise seed
- Blessed thistle
- Chaste tree
- Goat’s rue
While most of these can be taken as supplements, most are also popularly used in lactation cookie recipes or lactation teas.
23. Utilize All Features of Your Pump
It is important that your pump mimics both the strength and pace of an actual baby in order for it to be efficient.
Your pump should have adjustable speed and strength, and you need to know how to use these features in order to get the most out of your pumping sessions. This means it’s important to know what a baby’s natural rhythm is like so you can try to replicate it with your pump.
When babies initially latch at a feeding, their sucks are very quick and shallow as they are trying to get the milk flowing. So, when you first sit down to start pumping, increase the speed while keeping the strength lower.
Once the baby starts getting milk, their sucks become a bit stronger but much slower as they draw in milk with each suck. So, once you see your milk start flowing, lower the speed and increase the strength.
It may take a bit of playing with your pump to find what works right for you, but with practice, you will become a pro.
24. Prepare for Pumping at Work
Returning to work after the birth of a baby is difficult for every mom. Not only is it difficult to leave your baby in the hands of someone else, but you need to also have a plan in place so you can pump at work.
Because, you see, milk production doesn’t take breaks just because you aren’t around your baby; it’s not something you can just turn on and off. It’s either you pump at work to keep your supply up or you don’t pump, become painfully engorged, and risk a drop in milk production.
So, how do you successfully pump at work?
If you are lucky to have your own office, this is easy. Just draw the curtains and put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign until you are finished. However, most do not have this luxury.
Most companies should have policies in place that protect a mother’s rights to pump at work, giving them the time they need and supplying a place for her to do it. Talk to your boss and see what needs to be done to make this happen.
Just relax – and make sure you wear clothes to work that are easy to pump in!
25. Create a To-Go Bag
For the times when you do need to pump outside of the house – whether you are at work or just out of the house for the day – it’s best to have a to-go bag packed and ready so you don’t forget anything and you’re not scrambling to grab things while you rush out the door.
Some must-have items to include in your to-go bag include:
- Breast pump (duh!)
- Storage bags
- Small cooler with cold packs
- Breast pads
- Nursing cover (in case you don't have privacy)
- Extra shirt (leaks will happen sometimes)
- Water bottle
- Something to keep you busy: book, magazine, phone, journal, computer, etc.
Having your bag always ready and stocked will prevent stress and headaches in the future.
26. Know How to Store Pumped Milk
Since you are pumping milk for future use and aren’t able to feed it to your baby immediately, you need to know how to store your milk appropriately. It is very easy for breast milk to spoil, and improper storage can cause your baby to become very sick.
- Freezer (0°F / -18°C): This is the best way to store your milk as it will keep up to 6 months safely in the freezer. Try to only freeze in small amounts (1-2 oz.) as it will take less time to thaw.
- Fridge (39°F / 4°C): If you are planning to use your breast milk within a short amount of time and don’t want to have to thaw it, it will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Room temperature (60-77°F / 16-25°C): In rare cases, you may pump with the intention of immediately feeding your baby. In these cases, you can keep your milk at room temperature for up to 4 hours; a maximum of 2 hours is best for quality, though.
It is very important that you learn to thaw your milk appropriately. NEVER microwave breast milk as it can affect the composition and may burn the inside of your baby’s mouth due to uneven thawing. ALWAYS thaw in the fridge or run under warm water to thaw evenly and NEVER refreeze breast milk.
27. Take Care of Your Body
As a mom, it is easy to put all of your time and energy into the well-being of your little one, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you are doing both of you a disservice. You will eventually experience burnout and may even begin to affect your milk supply.
Keep yourself well hydrated and fed. A healthy, balanced diet is best so your body has the energy it needs to push through the day and continue to produce milk.
Sometimes your nipples will need a little TLC too. The most common issues that nursing mothers encounter are redness, dry skin, rash, and painful nipples. This is especially the case when breast pumping as you don’t have any lubricant like the milk mixed with your baby’s saliva. Keep lanolin cream nearby if you need a bit of relief.
Rest is also essential to ensure you are healthy and continue to produce milk. I know, I know – it’s easier said than done for a new mother, but you need to find the time. Nap when your baby does or use a hands-free pump bra to you can get a few minutes of shut-eye during your pumping sessions.
28. Chat with Other Moms
Women have a special bond both during and after their pregnancies, and there is much that they can learn from one another. Use this opportunity to connect with other moms who may also be breastfeeding or pumping.
They may have come up with new pumping tricks that no one has yet heard of, or perhaps they found the perfect cream on the market for treating sore nipples. Whatever it may be, finding support in others is always a good thing. Not only can you learn from them, but you can also share your own experiences, becoming a source of help and support yourself.
Moms are a great moral and emotional support for each other, and you will feel much less stressed when you know that someone else might be going through the same problems as you are. Connect through blogs and social media, meetings at the park, or just a friend who also has a kid.
It can also be a great opportunity to get some adult bonding time where you can use real words instead of “goo goo gah gah.”
29. Breastfeed when You Can
Breast pumps have certainly come a long way over the years, but there’s nothing that can truly replace actual breastfeeding.
Frequent pumping without breaks can cause a lot of wear on the body. Some frequent problems that mothers face are suction problems, irritation from the pump materials, or simply exhaustion.
In order to avoid both physical and mental strain that can come with the breast pump, give yourself two days off to let you mind and body recuperate. Instead of pumping, try breastfeeding instead if your body is up to it.
Breastfeeding skin to skin is not only good for your body but it heals your soul. It allows you to form that deep bond with your baby, holding them close enough to feel their breathing and smell that new baby smell. Nothing is better than that.
30. Don't Focus on Quantity
A big source of stress that pumping mothers come across results from focusing on the quantity that is produced. They may be worried that they didn’t produce as much at one sitting as they did at another.
During your pumping time, you should focus more on the time you spend pumping rather than the amount. Your body isn’t a machine that needs to produce a quota; there will be occasional fluctuations in your production and that’s okay.
If you stress to much about it, the quality of your pumping sessions will also suffer. You should use these times to relax so your body can do what it was made to do. Just breathe and trust your body’s instincts.
31. Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself
Even though obstacles to natural milk production are rare, they aren’t unheard of. Some mothers, regardless of their good willed intentions, simply can’t produce milk naturally for their babies. Other mothers start out fine but find that their bodies can’t keep up with the demand and stop producing altogether.
If you find that your body is rebelling against you or you just can’t handle the physical toll that pumping puts on your body, do not feel guilty. Full-time pumping is a huge commitment and may not be for every mother.
It is easy to develop feelings of guilt or shame, thinking you’ve let your baby and yourself down, but there is no reason to feel this way. There are always alternative options that will ensure your baby still grows strong and receives the nutrition they deserve.
Keep your head up mom; you’re Super Woman after all.