How To Master Pumping Breast Milk: A Midwife and Mama Of 4 Guide – Part 1

A midwife nurse and mama of four shares her tips for success – Part 1

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This is a series on how to master pumping breast milk. You can read the other articles of the series here:

Some moms choose to breast pump exclusively and are called exclusively pumping (EP) mamas. Others pump regularly for work. Most people don’t address the real-life breast pumping tips, tricks, and solutions.

I’ve been both an EP, NICU, and at work mama. I know firsthand how challenging can pumping breast milk be.

From feeling like you’re locked away from the world to feeling frustrated with a decrease in milk production, breast pumping comes with its caveats.

It’s perfectly acceptable to cry over spilled milk. Let’s explore some of the unknowns of pumping breast milk and learn how to thrive.

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Do I Need a Breast Pump?

In the first few days after birth, your best “pump” is your hands. Hand expressing has many benefits throughout your breastfeeding journey.

It is recommended instead of pumping for the first few days, as it is the most effective at obtaining small amounts of colostrum.

Hand expression can also be used later on in your breastfeeding relationship to remove milk from breasts that are full and tender, nipples that are in pain, or when you do not have access to a manual or electric pump.

However, if you need to effectively remove milk from your breast due to breastfeeding issues or when you are away from your infant, you will need a breast pump.

What Type of Pump?

A baby is the best tool for complete milk removal. However, there are many reasons why a breast pump is necessary.

To maintain or build your milk supply, start with the best possible pump– a double electric breast pump. These pumps are the closest to mimicking a babies suckling.

Manual pumps are cheap and can fit in a purse for a date night. There are single electric breast pumps that are much cheaper and take up less space.

However, they are not as effective and are reserved for pumping breast milk occasionally.

Double electric breast pumps run about $300. Concerned about cost? Speak with your health insurance company. Some United States insurance companies cover breast pumps.

What Tools Make Pumping Easier?

If you find yourself pumping for a majority of your feeds, find some tools that make your task easier. Freemies collection cups are a hands-free device that you place over your breasts and under a t-shirt.

If you want to minimize cost, try a hands-free pumping bra that will hold the breast shields of your pump in place while you care for children, type, or talk on the phone.

If you have this equipment, it will encourage you to pump more often as you are not stuck holding two pump parts while feeling lonely and unproductive.

What Tricks Improve Milk Supply?

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Jamie Grill Photographer

Stay hydrated and well-nourished. Since the extra fluid is leaving your body, you need to replace what you’re putting out. You don’t have to overdo it, but it’s important to stay hydrated.

Breastfeeding gives baby minerals and calories to your baby. You will burn 400 to 500 calories per day.

Pump Up Your Oxytocin. Look at photos, videos, or babe while pumping. When you stare lovingly at your babe, it will increase a hormone called oxytocin. When that hormone is flowing, it will increase the amount of milk you pump per session.

Pumping Schedule. Recommendations are dependent on the age of the baby and your breast milk output. However, a good starting point is to breastfeed every two to three hours around the clock for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Pump Frequently. Pump often instead of pumping for a longer duration. You will have more milk production pumping four 15-20 minutes during the day, instead of pumping breast milk two thirty minute sessions.

Double pumping both breasts simultaneously will yield an abundant amount of milk. Check your settings on your pump.

If the suction is high enough to cause pain, it will increase the risk of nipple and breast tissue damage and decrease your breast milk output.

Breast Massage. Massaging the breast may improve the flow of milk and empty the breasts effectively. In one study, a group of newly postpartum mothers was given two thirty-minute breast massages in the first ten days after giving birth. Babies suckled more at the breast after a breast massage.

Flange Size: An improperly sized flange can cause nipple pain, breast tissue, and decreased milk supply. There are ways to tell if your flanges fit.

The following should occur:

  • Nipple centered in the flange
  • The areola isn’t inside the tunnel
  • All areas of the breast should feel empty of milk
  • Nipples are pain-free and not blanch during pumping

How Can I Build My Milk Stash?

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Many mamas must start pumping breast milk while on maternity leave to gather a stash for returning to work.

Try to establish a stable breastfeeding relationship with your baby for the first 4-6 weeks before introducing the breast pump. The following tips will help to build your freezer supply.

Pump in the Morning. Prolactin is the hormone that tells your body it’s time to make more milk. You make the most milk first thing in the morning due to an increase in prolactin between midnight and 6 AM.

Pumping breast milk in this window of time will provide your highest output and milk with higher fat content.

Supply and Demand. Start pumping in between breastfeeding sessions. The more you demand milk from your body, the higher your supply will increase.

Pump about 30-60 minutes after a breastfeeding session or one hour before nursing to ensure that your babe has enough milk at your next session.

If baby decides they want to breastfeed right after you finish pumping, let them! It may take a bit longer to get what they need, but it will help to build up your milk supply.

However, in the rare case that you have an oversupply, this may further increase your milk production!

Maintain your Pumping Schedule. Skipping a single pump can negatively affect your milk supply in the future.

Even if you can only pump a few minutes, it’s better than none. Worst case scenario? Hand express and dump the milk.

Don’t Rely on Your Breast Pump Output. Remember that your baby is a better vacuum than the pump and will usually remove more milk.

If you start pumping soon after birth, you will see a minuscule volume of milk in your bottles. If you are breastfeeding, you are not aware specifically of the volume that you are producing.

When you fixate on this amount or any other negative aspects of pumping breast milk, you become more likely to stop breastfeeding.

Babies lose an average of 7% of weight in the first few days of life, but they will gain weight after your milk come in.

Your little bundle of joy should have one wet and one dirty diaper until day four of life. After day four, they should have four dirty diapers and five to six wet diapers per day.

As long as baby is gaining weight and having the appropriate number of wet and dirty diapers, you are doing well!

If you are having nipple or breast pain that is irresolvable or are not making enough milk, seek the help of an educated lactation consultant.

how to master pumping breast milk
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Written by Caitlin Goodwin

Caitlin Goodwin is a board certified nurse-midwife, runs the family travel and autism blog, Typically Twitterpated and is a mom to four children. In her spare time, she and her family follow a gluten-free diet and share a love of all things travel, especially Disney.