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Pumping breast milk- whether you’ve chosen this feeding method, nursing didn’t work out, or returning to work and need a supply of milk, it’s easy to find yourself confused and overwhelmed by the process.
I want to share everything you need to know to be successful at pumping and have it worth your time.
I remember trying to nurse my newborn daughter for the first time; it was like learning to ride a bike or write in cursive. I felt insecure and unsure of what I was doing- after all, I was a new mother. The nurses gave me encouragement as did the lactation consultant on staff, but I went home feeling uncertain if I would be able to keep it up.
Despite the endless pamphlets and brochures on breastfeeding, I still couldn’t quite remember how often to feed my daughter, how much she should be taking in, and how to keep track of alternating breasts (to prevent engorgement).
Nursing was starting to be a lot harder than it looked. I tried everything to make it work out: those uncomfortable nipple shields, skin-to-skin contact, even removing my daughter’s clothes in the middle of a feed when she started falling asleep. But it still wasn’t working and she wasn’t staying consistent with it; I was done in and heartbroken.
I found myself renting a breast pump and googling everything I could about pumping. The amount of information out there was overwhelming. Who would have thought that choosing an alternative to nursing could be so complicated?
But I did it- for an entire ten months!
I learned so much during that time, and I want to share my tips with you in hopes that you will have as much of a successful journey as I did. Some of you are in a situation where pumping is your last resort and you’re heartbroken about not being able to nurse. I understand those feelings, mama. I really do.
What it takes to be successful at breast pumping are three things: a good pump, scheduling, and proper storage. I know it sounds obvious, but those three things are key to a long and happy pumping journey.
Finding a Breast Pump that Works
If you’re going to be solely relying on pumping to help feed your child, it’s so important to find a pump that works. You don’t want to buy one that seems nice at first but breaks down after a few weeks of use. This does mean that you will have to spend a little bit of extra money, but there are options.
Some insurance companies help pay for a breast pump or give you a free one altogether. Another option is to contact your local WIC office (if you have one nearby) and ask if they rent out pumps. I rented my first pump from a WIC office and found it to be the high quality, expensive hospital-grade type.
If I could recommend any breast pump, it would be any sold by the brand Medela. I used their products for both of my children and wouldn’t be lying when I say they are truly the best.
If you want a lightweight, portable, and easy to use pump, go with the Medela Pump in Style. You can take it on the go for traveling, running errands, or working. It’s just as great for home use as well! It comes with everything you need to get started: travel bag, milk storage bottles, double pump set, cooler system, AC adapter, and battery pack for on-the-go.
You can also go with a manual breast pump, but I will warn you that it is very time consuming and makes your hands cramp up (seriously, they are the plague)! Whatever pump you choose, make sure it’s not a manual.
Creating a Schedule
A schedule is the most important thing needed to make pumping successful! Our breasts take cues from how often the milk is being consumed (or taken out) and how much is used each time.
For example, if you are only pumping 4x a day, you’ll be making less milk than another woman who pumps 12 times a day. It’s all about keeping a consistent schedule that is similar to how often your child normally eats.
If your child is eating every 2 hours, it’s best that you pump just as often. As the child gets older, you can slowly decrease the amount of time between pumping sessions (yay!). I would always pump just before I fed my daughter her bottle or right after. Doing it that way allowed me to be in sync with her feeding times.
There is an exception to this rule, however.
Pumping at night requires getting up and pumping even if your child is sleeping. If you were to stop pumping at night, you run the risk of decreasing your supply or becoming engorged. Engorgement is where the breasts become too full of milk (it’s painful). Trust me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way!
The best way to come up with a schedule is either writing down when your child feeds or pumping every two or three hours. I know that seems like a lot of work and I’ll be honest, it is. But the more you stick with it, the more you’ll notice an increase in your supply; you may even end up with extra to store in the freezer!
Just remember to pump both breasts during each session until they are completely empty. What this does it let your breasts know to keep making more milk and increases supply.
The time does vary with how long a pumping session usually takes- mine were around 10 to 20 minutes long. I found that over time, my sessions took less and less time and my breasts completely emptied more quickly.
Storing Your Milk
You’ve spent all of that time pumping the milk, now you need to put it somewhere!
When I first started pumping, I didn’t know much other than to put pumped milk in the fridge until ready to use. So that’s what I did for awhile; I pumped every two hours, poured the milk into bottles, and stored it all in the fridge. What I didn’t realize at the time, was there was a lot more to it than that.
The hospital actually gave me a really great magnet with Medela storage guidelines.
Breastmilk needs to be stored differently depending on where and how it’s stored. If you’re storing everything in the refrigerator, it can safely be kept for 3 to 8 days as long as the temperature is 39° or lower.
If you’re wondering how I kept everything organized, it’s really simple!
Whenever I had a pumping session, I would pour the milk into a new bottle or an existing bottle that was already in the fridge. I organized the bottles that were in the fridge into a line from front to back; the oldest pumped milk would be at the front of the fridge while the newer milk was in the back.
I never really had to worry about giving my daughter milk that was more than 8 days old as she would go through most of the fridge in a few days. If it’s different for your situation and your child consumes more than you can pump in a day, I’d label each bottle by writing on a piece of tape and attaching it to the side.
My husband and I used to joke about my excessive fridge supply by calling it the “milk train”. But let’s be real, it kind of does end up looking like a train made of milk!
That chart above will come in handy for everything you need to know about storing milk; you can download it free from Medela’s website by clicking here!
For those of you who are needing advice on pumping because nursing didn’t work out, I’m giving you *hugs*. I’ve been there and know what you are going through; it’s hard to have expectations that are let down. Just know, however you are feeding your child, it’s what’s best for both of you.
For those of you who are needing advice on pumping because you are returning to work or simply need an extra supply, kudos to you! Pumping alone was a lot of work for me- I can’t imagine doing both! High five, mama.
Feel free to post in the comments below with other questions you may have and let me know how your journey is going. I’m here for you!