Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural choice many mothers make. It’s kind to their children and to the Earth.
Modern day mamas have unique breastfeeding needs and goals. Some mothers pump to increase supply, or to feed their children exclusively through a bottle. Other moms pump to donate or to send to their child’s daycare. Some mamas pump occasionally just to take a break from night feedings and give daddy a turn. Whatever your nursing and pumping goals, we're here to support you! This guide is designed to be a one-stop resource for all your pumping needs - the mama of all breast pumping guides ;)
Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant or medical professional. The wisdom and advice shared in this post is mama to mama, not provider to client. You assume all responsibility and risk when implementing any of these suggestions. Additionally, I have no affiliate relationships with any brands mentioned. I am not receiving any compensation for my recommendations. The products and resources listed are simply ones I found useful in my breastfeeding journey.
The guide is divided into the following sections, for easy access and reading:
We are so unique, and different ideas work for different people. That’s why we’ve put together so many tips for you! Give the ones that feel okay a try and discard what doesn’t work for your family.
Pumping, like breastfeeding, is equal parts relational, mental, and physical. It is a relationship that must be mutually beneficial and desirable for all involved. It is a mindset, a way of life that the pumping mom chooses to adopt. And pumping has many physical elements that must all work in concert to be successful.
Things to keep in mind as you being pumping:
Speaking of pumping goals, let’s define those now.
Complete these statements to get an idea of why expressing breastmilk for your baby is important to you. As you read the recommendations outlined in this article, keep your big picture in mind.
Pumping milk can seem overwhelming at first, simply because of all the extras that are needed! Let’s break down the gear you’ll need (expand to view each).
As with most breastfeeding choices, your goals will largely impact what you need in a breast pump. If you plan to only offer your baby expressed milk occasionally, a simple electric or manual pump should suffice. If you will need to pump frequently or exclusively, it will be worth the investment to use a higher power electric pump or even rent a hospital grade pump. (Particularly if your baby is in the NICU or has frequent hospital stays, ask your facility about a breast pump rental.)
A tip from personal experience, it might be a good idea to wait until baby arrives and breastfeeding has begun before purchasing a pump. You may plan to pump only occasionally, but early hiccups in establishing breastfeeding might mean you pump more frequently for a while. This happened to me. I bought a simple single electric pump, but ended up purchasing a more top of the line double pump when I began needing to pump several times per day. Personally, I use a Medela Freestyle. I’ve also heard Ameda’s double pumps come highly recommended. Many breastfeeding professionals recommend Spectra pump models.
Taking your goals into consideration, these are a few questions you can ask about the features of your breast pump:
Canadian Mamas: Check with your insurance provider, some offer coverage of breast pumps.
US Mamas: “The Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance plans to cover the cost of a breast pump as part of women’s preventative health services.” Visit HHS.gov for more information.
Nipple cream can be a total lifesaver for a nursing mom! It’s common for nipples to feel a bit sore after nursing, especially for first time moms. A good nipple cream can provide needed relief and protection. Creams can also be useful to soften the breast tissue and nipple, making it easier for your baby to latch. Apply after each feeding -- and don’t worry, it’s safe for baby.
If you are having excessive nipple pain or damage, seek help! Many nursing moms are told the unfortunate myth that breastfeeding is supposed to be painful. While soreness is common, it is not necessarily good! If you are experiencing sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples, you may consider using cream for immediate relief, but schedule an appointment with a breastfeeding professional to check for issues.
Nipple cream can also be helpful for pumping. I would put a bit of nipple cream inside of the flanges before I pumped, which made it much more comfortable!
A few nipple cream brands I recommend are:
Today’s mamas are a busy bunch! A hands free pumping bra can be a useful tool for pumping moms. The option for hands free pumping is enticing to many moms, and makes expressing milk even more accessible. As we’ll discuss later in this guide, a hands free bra also allows you to easily do ‘hands on pumping’, which can boost output.
For the Pinterest-savvy mama, you can make a DIY hands free pumping bra. This was my choice. I put on an old bra, and drew dots with a Sharpie on the bra where my nipples were. Then, I cut little slits for the flanges. (For those interested, KellyMom has a DIY hands-free pumping bra tutorial on her website.)
If you want to purchase a pumping bra, a few options are:
Many pumps these days include a custom-fitted carry bag, but you can also purchase your own bag, or designate a bag you already own to do the job.
These pump bags are stylish, convenient options:
Or you may choose to purchase a pump with a custom, included bag.
While you can easily store expressed milk in bottles, many moms use plastic bags for freezing and easier longer storage.
If you’re pumping to donate breast milk, you will need to thoroughly detail the contents (name, date, ounces) and possibly include donor identification information.
Popular milk storage bag options include:
Properly sanitizing your pump, milk collection containers, and bottles is important! Not only will proper sanitation protect your milk and your baby from contaminants, it will extend the life of your pump and accessories.
Here are cleaning tools I regularly use:
When nursing your babe in your arms, you have all you need for a lovely oxytocin rush to trigger a let down and milk production. When pumping, you need to intentionally create an environment that allows you to feel relaxed and comfortable enough to allow your body to let down. I’ll list several ideas that have helped me create an ideal space for pumping.
A universal goal of pumping mothers is to express the most milk possible! Makes sense. Breastmilk runs on a supply and demand model. The greater amount of milk that is removed from the breast (a high demand), a greater amount of milk is created (a high supply).
Here are some go-to techniques many mothers use when pumping to increase the amount of milk they remove from their breasts:
I have found spoken affirmations and guided relaxation to be very beneficial in my pumping experience. My thoughts on the strategy were shaped by Stephen Feher’s study on guided relaxation as a galactogogue. In summary, researchers compared the effects of guided relaxation on milk production (in this study, mothers of infants in the NICU). The average difference in milk production between the two groups was 63%! The impact of guided relaxation on my pumping was phenomenal. Not only did it increase my output, it made pumping a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. I’ve included a free guided relaxation track, which we’ve created specifically for pumping mamas, for you to use. You can download it right here, give it a try and let me how it works for you!
Adding in breast compressions or massage while pumping can stimulate more milk removal from the breast, which will prompt more milk creation. Compressions were made popular by the work of Dr. Jack Newman and the International Breastfeeding Centre. With your hand in a C-shape, squeeze and hold the breast until milk is expressed, then release.
Incorporating breast massage can also stimulate milk production while pumping. The "Massage-Stroke-Shake" (M-S-S) technique as described by La Leche League is a commonly practiced one. Their method is as follows:
If you’d like to see exactly how to use your hands when pumping, this video is great: http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction.html
Every nursing mom should know how to hand express! It can be helpful when you need to relieve just a bit of pressure, and some moms even find hand expression is more efficient than using an electric pump. Mothers with children in the NICU may also benefit from hand expressing milk, to ensure their supply stays strong.
The basics of hand expression are fairly straightforward:
Stanford Medicine produced a video tutorial on hand expression which I found helpful. Our tried and true friend KellyMom.com :) put together a wonderful collection of articles and tips on hand expression that I like.
Your comfort isn’t just a bonus, it’s crucial to your body’s ability to let down and will have a big impact on your pumping output. Pumping should be comfortable!
An ill-fitting flange can restrict the amount of milk a mother is able to express. Your flange should fit like a glove! Many mothers find an increase in the amount of milk they’re able to produce when they adjust flange size. This video tutorial helpfully explains how a flange should fit. These flange-fit diagrams from Ameda are also helpful.
Many breast pump models have settings that allow you to adjust the suction, and it’s a good idea to experiment with the suction settings on your pump. Some (like many Medela models) have a ‘let down’ setting. You can try cycling back to the ‘let down’ setting a couple of times each session to produce additional let downs. If pumping is painful, try to adjust the suction to a lesser level. It may seem that stronger is better, but many moms find that turning down the suction will actually yield more milk and increase comfort.
You can also try rubbing a bit of nipple cream inside the flanges. This can help your nipples to glide more freely and, hence, be more comfortable.
Pumping can be a truly beautiful, wonderful way to bond with your baby from afar. But it can also be a lot of work! A tired and stressed mama will have a harder time expressing milk and maintaining her supply than a rested, relaxed one. Take a break when you need to. Recognize the hard work you’re doing for your baby and appreciate yourself. Try to take some time each day just for you. Relax in a big bubble bath or take an extra long shower. Encourage yourself if things get tough or tiring. I found that it helped to save an encouraging image to my phone screensaver as a gentle reminder of my goals.
You want to take care of the milk you worked so hard to produce! Storing expressed milk isn’t hard, but you do need to be aware of the guidelines.
According to the experts:
Fresh milk can be stored at room temperature for 4 hours.
Fresh milk can be stored in an insulated cooler for 24 hours.
Fresh milk can be stored in a refrigerator for 72 hours.
Frozen milk can last in a freezer for 3 to 6 months.
Frozen milk will keep in a deep freezer 6 to 12 months.
(See section Pumping at Work or Traveling below for more on traveling with stored milk, especially on airlines.)
To prepare a bottle of thawed breast milk, set the frozen milk into a container of heated water or use a bottle warmer. Never microwave or heat human on a stove!
It is normal for the fats in expressed breastmilk to separate in a container. When preparing a bottle for baby, simply swirl (don’t shake!) the milk to reincorporate. (If a bottle is shaken, the enzymes will break down. More on those in a moment.)
A tip on freezing storage bags, lay the bag flat in your freezer as it’s more compact and easier to transport. You may even repurpose a wipe container (they’re the perfect size!) to lay the bags flat and keep everything organized.
Some mamas may be concerned about the freshness of their milk. If you follow storage guidelines, your milk should be perfectly safe for you and your baby. Soured human milk will have a very distinct odor, much like bad cow’s milk. If you have concerns about the freshness of your expressed milk, dispose of it. Following best practices for expressed milk will prevent spoilage.
Some mothers notice their milk has a soapy smell and taste, even if properly collected and stored. The “speculation is that these mothers have an excess of the enzyme lipase in their milk, which begins to break down the milk fat soon after the milk is expressed.” If you think excess lipase in your milk may be an issue, you can find more information on KellyMom.com.
When setting up a pumping routine, the most important thing to consider is your goal, and how often you will need to express milk to meet that goal. Following a set pumping schedule can be very helpful in maintaining your needed supply, but strict schedules don’t always makes sense for mamas with little ones. If you are a stay-at-home mom who nurses on demand, a strict schedule may not give you the flexibility to respond to your baby’s cues. Maybe a loose routine will be more appropriate. If you’re a mama that works outside-of-the-home with a varying work schedule, you’ll need to figure out a system that works with that fluctuation. That’s why I find it helpful to think about these plans as pumping “routines” instead of “schedules.”
Remember - routines are not set in stone, and a million different things will come along to change your baby’s routine from day to day - growth spurts, teething, ear infections, travelling, etc. Remain flexible. If it’s not working, change it. Be gentle with yourself. This is not about perfection, it’s about making things work for you and your family.
So let’s set up a routine that will work for you! (Note: All of these routines are available as a free printable in your Breast Pumping Care Package)
When pumping to boost supply, it’s important to remember the supply and demand concept. The more often your breasts are emptied, the more often they’ll fill back up, and the more milk you’ll produce. So the goal in this situation is to empty the breast of milk as often as possible. This is why moms are often advised to nurse “on demand” instead of on a schedule. When you nurse on demand, your baby is in charge of how much and how often they eat. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that babies don’t always grow at an even pace. Some days they might be hungrier than others, or simply want to nurse more for comfort. That’s ok! In fact, nursing often and on demand is one of the most effective way to build your supply! If you’re nursing on demand, you may want to consider writing out a loose routine that gives you the flexibility to respond to your baby’s cues.
If baby is doing a good job of emptying your breasts, then you will probably just need to add pumping sessions to your nursing routine. If baby isn’t emptying your breasts efficiently, it might be more effective for you to try pumping immediately after each nursing session to ensure your breasts are emptied fully. In any case, it’s a good idea to make sure your breasts are fully emptied at least every 3 hours.
Baby is not latching well yet, and mama is using a nipple shield. Mama doesn’t feel that her breasts are being fully emptied when baby nurses, so she chooses to pump after most feeds (about every 3 hours, depending on how often baby nurses that day) and once during baby’s 6 hour stretch of sleep. This is a tough routine, but it’s only short term. As her supply improves and baby begins to latch better (hopefully with the help of a breastfeeding professional!), she is able to pump less and less. This mama’s routine varies quite a bit from day to day, and she allows for that flexibility. Here’s her plan:
7:20am: Nurse, then pump
10:00am: Nurse, then pump
1:10pm: Nurse, then pump
4:00pm: Nurse then pump
7:20pm: Nurse, then pump
8:00pm - 10:00pm: Baby cluster feeds on and off
10:00pm: Nurse, then pump
1:00am: Pump while baby sleeps
4:05am: Nurse then pump
You can also try a “Power Pumping” schedule to boost your supply. Power pumping is defined nicely by La Leche League, “increase the frequency of pumping times by shortening the interval between pumping times instead of increasing the duration of pumping (e.g., pump three times for 15-20 minutes versus two times for 30 minutes if you're away 8-10 hours). This way you're pumping about the same number of total minutes, but you're stimulating your breasts more frequently, which triggers milk production.” This mimics cluster feeding and the increased stimulation should increase milk supply.
If you are pumping to exclusively bottle feed your baby with breast milk, you’ll want to set up a routine that mimics baby’s supply and demand process as closely as possible. Of course, many pumping mamas are also working full or part-time and that will certainly impact your routine. Keep in mind that a ‘perfect routine’ is one that works for you and your lifestyle!
Baby is twelve weeks old a nursing well, and mama’s supply is good. It’s time for her to head back to work full-time. She hopes to pump enough to supply baby with breast milk while he’s at daycare 8 hours per day and nurse in the evenings and on the weekend. She’s never responded well to pumping, and is a bit concerned that she won’t be able to keep up. Baby eats about 10 times per day, about 3 oz per feed. Mama expects baby to need about 3 - 4 feeds each day at daycare, so she’ll want to pump about 12 oz per day to keep up. She plans her routine as follows:
6:00am: Pump while baby sleeps (3 oz)
7:00am: Nurse when baby wakes up
8:45am: Nurse when dropping off baby at daycare
10:00am: Pump at work (2 oz)
12:30pm: Pump at work (2 oz)
3:00pm: Pump at work (2 oz)
10:30pm: Pump before bed (3 oz)
11:00pm - 6:00am: Mama and baby cosleep and baby nurses a few times throughout the night
Some mamas may pump to have a bottle or two on hand for the babysitter, or get a bit of a stash started for an upcoming vacation they’re planning. Perhaps they pump to donate extra milk to a local milk bank, or so that dad can give baby a bedtime bottle. Occasional pumping is very common and often easier to fit into our daily routine. Many mamas find that pumping during baby’s longest stretch of sleep works the best (our supply is often highest late at night and in early morning). Of course, this will depend on your baby’s sleep habits. You might find it’s most convenient to fit a pumping session in during naptime, or right before you go to bed at night. For occasional pumping, following a set schedule will be less crucial - just find a time when you can relax for a few moments on a regular basis and go from there!
Baby is six months old and nursing is well established. Mama would like to leave baby with his grandparents to enjoy a date night with her partner from time to time, so she plans to build up a small stash of milk.
7:00am: Nurse when baby wakes up
2:00pm: Pump while baby naps
10:30pm: Pump before bed
It’s important to consider how much milk baby will actually need need while you’re away, and how much you typically pump per session. So how much will baby need? KellyMom.com suggests that babies between one and six months will usually drink 19 - 30 oz (570 - 900 mL) per day. Use this figure as estimate and divide by the number of times your baby usually eats to get an idea of how much he’ll need per feeding. KellyMom.com provides a handy calculator to help you estimate your goal amount for yourself.
It’s understandable to be concerned about the amount of milk you will be able to store for your baby in your absence! Having a healthy, realistic perspective can set a mother’s mind at ease. You don’t need a freezer full of breastmilk to leave your baby for the day. You simply need enough. Be kind to yourself, you’re doing a wonderful job!
Use the directions provided in your individual pump to maintain it for optimal use. But these tips from my experience will useful, regardless of your pump style!
Protecting the health of your baby by practicing good breast pump hygiene is paramount. When considering whether or not to use used pump parts, weigh the benefits and risks. Full disclosure should be given, and the used pump in question thoroughly researched, so moms can make an informed decision.
A ‘galactagogue’ is a food or drug which increases milk flow. They are particularly helpful for mothers who are experiencing low supply, or who want to maintain supply while pumping.
Talk to your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant before attempting any of these treatments!
Breast pumps are wonderful tools to help mothers continue breastfeeding while being away from their babies. Many women pump when meeting the demands of work or travel.
These tips should make pumping at work or traveling easier.
Weaning off the pump will look different for each mother. Especially for mothers who have been exclusively pumping, ending their pumping relationship will mirror a mother who gently weans her nursling from the breast. Rapid changes really rock the boat, for everyone.
That said, here are a few tips for weaning off the pump:
Finding good support and help is a huge contributor to breastfeeding success. Some of my favorite go-to resources for my breastfeeding journey have been:
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