While there are many ways to provide food for a baby, breast pumping is a great way to generate breast milk on an individual’s own schedule. Breast pumps can be very helpful because they allow for people to pump breast milk at their convenience and then feed it to their child at a later time. This process can give a person more freedom throughout the day and can even allow for a partner or other helpers to take turns feeding the baby. Breast pumping can also create an opportunity for a child to bond with a non-breastfeeding parent. Additionally, pumping can help reduce and avoid the occurrence of engorged breasts, mastitis, and blocked milk ducts.¹ Although the task may seem daunting at first, with time and practice, pumping can become a fast and mindless activity that can lead to significant benefits for both babies and parents.
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There are several types of breast pumps, each of which have advantages and disadvantages. We recommend looking at different models in order to find a breast pump that will suit your needs. Do not hesitate to speak with your doctor, midwife, or a lactation consultant for advice. When choosing a breast pump, there are two options: manual or electric. If you are planning on pumping often, it may be best for you to avoid the manual pump and to choose an electric breast pump, as they are often more efficient.² There is a wide range of prices and qualities of breast pumps. Also, pumps can be “single” (you can only pump from one breast at a time) or “double,” with which you can pump from both breasts simultaneously. It is recommended to decide which pump to purchase based on how often you wish to pump. It is also possible to rent breast pumps if you do not plan on pumping often.
Always wash your hands and ensure that the pump has been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized since the previous use.³ Before beginning, read the product’s specific instructions for assembling and cleaning your breast pump.
It is recommended that breast-feeding is well established with a baby before giving a bottle to them.⁴ It may be helpful to practice a few times before relying exclusively on bottle feeding, in case of any difficulties. Learning how to express milk by hand can also be beneficial in case a breast pump fails or breaks down.
- First off, relax! The letdown (release) of milk often works best if you aren’t tense and if you allow yourself to relax. If you are having problems with the letdown, looking at images of your baby, hearing them cry, smelling their clothing, and compressing the breast with your hands may help trigger the reflex. Depending on the time of the day, you will be able to pump more or less milk. Many people are able to pump the most in the morning, or a few hours after breastfeeding.³
- Place the breast flange (the shield) over your nipple. Take care to place your nipple in the middle of the flange. Be sure you are using the right size flange so that there is no pain, irritation, or pinching.²
- If you are using an electric pump, all you need to do is turn the machine on, and it will begin the suction. It is recommended that you start the suction on the lowest setting to get the flow of milk started. Then you can increase the suction level according to what is comfortable for you.²
- If you are using a manual pump, place the flange on your breast and simply use the hand mechanism.
- If holding the shields in place while pumping seems like a burden to you, you may want to purchase a hands-free pumping bra. As a less expensive alternative, you can easily make one at home by cutting holes in an old sports bra and securing the flange in the hole.²
- Typically, pumping sessions last around 15 minutes; however, they can last from 5 to 45 minutes. If the pumping session is long, it is recommended to take breaks every 5 to 10 minutes to gently massage your breast and to make sure that you are never feeling any pain.³
There are a few common problems that people encounter when breastfeeding and pumping:
- Hormonal contraceptives may have an impact on the quantity of milk produced. Talk to your doctor or lactation consultant about solutions or other birth control options if you are not comfortable with the amount of milk produced. Also note that you should not use a birth control method containing the hormone estrogen for the first three weeks after giving birth. ⁵
- If the suction a breast pump is producing is not as strong as it was when the pump was new, inspect all the parts of the pump to check for any fissures and cracks. Clean it out thoroughly, as there may be some dried-up milk that is blocking airflow. All of the parts of a pump must be clean and dry for it to function properly.²
These minor problems with breast pumps can usually be easily fixed. However, if you are concerned that you have a serious issue or need further advice, never hesitate to contact your doctor or a lactation consultant. If severe pain occurs, discontinue the use of your breast pump and seek advice from a medical professional.
Every person is different, and each baby will need a different amount of breastmilk each day. Amount of milk production can be increased by pumping more frequently throughout the day.² Pumping every three to four hours can help keep breast milk production high. ³ If your breast milk production seems to be slowing down and this is a concern for you, please consult a medical professional or a lactation consultant for further instruction.
It is best to use milk as soon as possible after it has been pumped. If you would like to store it for later use, here are the four optimal storage conditions ⁶ :
- Kept at room temperature for three to four hours
- Stored in a cooler with an ice pack for 24 hours
- Stored in the refrigerator for 72 hours
- Stored in a freezer for up to six months
When storing breast milk, remember to thoroughly wash your hands and ensure that the pump, bottle, and storage containers are all sanitized. If you are thawing frozen milk after storing it in the freezer, you can run it under warm water to speed up the process. However, never put breast milk in the microwave to heat it up. Since microwaves often heat unevenly, they can create hot patches that can burn a baby’s mouth. ⁶
Pumping is a great way to provide your baby with all the great nutrients in breast milk during times when breastfeeding is not possible. Listen to your body to find the model of breast pump and a pumping schedule that works best for you. If you have any concerns regarding milk production, contact your primary care provider for more information.
- “Breast Engorgement.” Chop.edu, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 23 Feb. 2014.
- Chertoff, Jane, “How to Use a Breast Pump: Electric vs. Manual.” Healthline, Postpartum Care, 10 Apr. 2019.
- Healthwise Staff, “Breastfeeding: How to Use a Breast Pump.” Michigan Medicine, Health Library, 8 Oct. 2020.
- Medical News Today, “Breastfeeding vs. Pumping: The Pros and Cons of Each.” Should You Pump or Breastfeed?, MediLexicon International, 22 Aug. 2018.
- Planned Parenthood, “What Are the Best Birth Control Options While Breastfeeding?” Breastfeeding, Planned Parenthood, 2022.
- Healthwise Staff, “Storing Breast Milk.” Michigan Medicine, Health Library, 8 Oct. 2020.
Last Updated 3 March 2022.