Breastfeeding: Tips for Pumping

by Meghan

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Two weeks ago, I published my best tips for breastfeeding to get you and your baby off to a great start in your first weeks, leading to long-term breastfeeding success.  Today, I’m going to offer up my best tips for pumping.  While we all would love to be there to feed our baby for every feeding, for many women this is not an option.  I hope these tips will help maximize your pumping production and sustain a long-term breastfeeding relationship with your child.

Breastfeeding - Tips for Pumping

Breastfeeding: Tips for Pumping

The connection you feel to your little bundle of joy while breastfeeding was one of the first maternal experiences that really bonded me with my baby.  That being said, many moms eventually need to express milk, whether to continue to feed their baby breastmilk once they return to work, or even just to produce some back-up supply for the occasional date night.

Let me start out by saying that in your first weeks, while your supply is being established, directly breastfeeding your baby is key.  A baby, with a good latch, will always be more efficient at draining your breasts than any pump.  That being said, if you do have to offer a bottle – due to illness, separation from your child, or any reason – be sure to pump as often as you would be feeding your baby, at least every 3 hours during the day, and every 4-5 at night, or any time you substitute a bottle for a feeding.  You may have to have multiple pumping sessions to produce enough milk to feed your baby what they would eat in a single feeding.  Once your supply is well-established, you can be more flexible about your pumping schedule.

Breastmilk Production

Your body produces milk all day long, and feedings (or simulation of feedings via a pump) stimulate its release and draining of the breasts facilitates more production.  If you pump exclusively, you may notice your body produces the most milk in the early morning, and quantities wane over the course of the day.  Often a baby goes longer between feedings at night.  This, coupled with higher oxytocin levels, the hormone responsible for milk letdown, will often give you greater quantities of milk in AM pumping sessions, making that the best time of day to pump!  Sessions later in the day, particularly in the afternoon hours, often produce less, and be required more frequently.

Basic Pumping Tips

A Good Pump

First and foremost you need a good pump.  I highly recommend the Medela Pump In Style.  You can get this basic version, depicted below, or I loved the next level up, which included a simple black tote to store the pump, all the pump parts, as well as an insulated bag with ice pack for milk storage.  It has lasted me through two children, including exclusively pumping for 3-4 months with each towards the end.

For easy traveling I also recommend the manual, Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump.  For weekend trips or overnights, this hand pump, and all its accessories will fit in a gallon size Ziploc bag, which can be carried in an oversized purse or tucked into your overnight bag.  At just over $30, it is totally worth it for it’s compactness, effectiveness and convenience.  I would bring it and the insulated storage bag and ice pack.

Typical Pumping Session

To maximize milk production in a pumping session, you want to follow a few key tips.

  1. Think about your baby. Ever notice you’re out to lunch and you hear another baby cry, and all the sudden feel your milk letdown?  Or similarly, you’re away from your child but get a picture from the babysitter and are suddenly grateful for those pads in your nursing bra?  Nursing and pumping can be very psychological.  Thinking about your baby, looking at their picture or even smelling their blanket will help stimulate the production of oxytocin which leads to generate milk letdown.
  2. Pump at same time, place every time. If you are pumping to replace a feeding, pump at the same time your feeding would occur.  Often your breasts will remind you anyway, if you don’t.  It can also be helpful to pump in the same place every day, or in the same place you feed your baby.
  3. Use the ‘letdown’ button.  On Medela pumps, and even the hand pump, you can alternate between the speed and frequency of suction while pumping.  At first, frequent sucking stimulates your breast just as your baby would, to indicate it’s time for a feeding.  When oxytocin is released, your milk lets down.  You often feel this as a tingling sensation, followed by a significant increase in milk flow.  When this happens, use the letdown button.  This shifts the pump into slower, longer suction, simulating your babies eating and maximizing the milk drawn from your breast during this increased period of flow.  When flow ceases, hit the button again to stimulate a second letdown.
  4. Use the highest setting comfortable to you.  Turning your pump to the max setting does not equal more production.  Find the setting that is most comfortable for you, that effectively drains milk from your breast.  It shouldn’t be painful.
  5. Pump for 15 minutes, minimum.  While your baby may eat faster than that, pumps are less efficient.  Double pump (both breasts at the same time) for at least 15 minutes to maximize production.  If flow slows, hit the letdown button again to resume rapid suction until a second (or third) letdown is stimulated.  And every woman is different – you may find if you pump for 17 minutes you get a second letdown every time, generating an additional 1-2 ounces per feeding.
  6. Use breast compression, massage.  If you are prone to blocked ducts, or want to fully empty your breast, breast compression and massage can help pumping production as well.

Once your milk is flowing, relax… read a book, watch TV.  Try not to watch the clock or the bottles.

Normal Pumping Production

Unless necessary, don’t pump until supply is well-established and feedings are regular.  Typically, by about 4-5 weeks of age, a newborn will eat 3 to 4 ounces per feeding and 25-30 ounces per day (though every baby is different).  If you are pumping between feedings to build a back-up supply, it is normal to expect to pump 1.5 – 2 ounces from a session, though this may be greater in the morning.  If you are pumping to replace a feeding entirely, it is normal to expect to pump 3 – 4 ounces from a session.  However, remember – every mother is different.  Our breast storage capacity, the frequency with which our baby feeds, and quantity they eat varies.

Pumping to Relieve Oversupply

I suffered from oversupply. And especially with Lil’ M, who would nurse and be done in 5 minutes leaving me with full breasts, ended up with blocked ducts and several infections.  If you’ve ever had mastitis, it’s something you want to avoid at all costs – it pretty much feels like the worst body flu of your life: aches, chills and 102+ F fever, and often sets on out of nowhere.  At the recommendation of my midwives, after 3 bouts of mastitis, I would pump to empty once a day, typically after Lil’ M’s first morning feeding, pumping anywhere from 8-10 ounces… and best of all, no more blocked ducts or infections! Note that is not normal production!

Tips for Breastmilk Storage

All this pumping -how do you store and preserve all that liquid gold?  This handy chart from Medela is a great starting point.  Know how long it is safe to store your milk under each condition:



I found it easiest to pump into the Medela bottles that fit my pump, and store them in the refrigerator.  To keep track of their age, I loved these Medela Breastmilk Labeling Lids.  You turn the lid to label the day and time of day the milk was pumped.

Once the milk is chilled, for storage longer than 3-8 days, I would pour it into bags to freeze in the freezer.  I love the Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags.  They are designed for easy date labeling with permanent marker (before filling), have a double seal to insure they don’t leak and will lay flat for easy freezer storage.

Ideally, if you are going to pump exclusively or are working to build a supply for when you return to work, you should use a deep freezer to store your milk.

Serving Pumped Milk

To serve pumped milk, you should follow a few simple tips:

  1. Cardinal rule above all – NEVER microwave breastmilk.  It can alter the composition of the milk, as well as overheat it and scald your baby’s mouth.
  2. Instead, place refrigerated milk into warm water to heat.  I was partial to a glass measuring cup – heat water in the measuring cup in the microwave, then place the refrigerated bottle into the the heated water.
  3. Use as slow a flow nipple as your baby will tolerate.  This best simulates feeding from the breast, and will alleviate any potential frustrations when alternating between breast and bottle feedings.

Breastfeeding Tips for Pumping

Hopefully, you find these tips helpful in producing milk for your baby, whether you have to return to work, need to build a supply for times away from your baby or even just the occasional date night.  Both my girls by about 8-9 months, were more interested in the world around them than sitting still to nurse and I exclusively pumped until they were weaned around a year.  For more great baby tips, be sure to follow our What To Expect Board on Pinterest! What has been your pumping experience?  Any products you would recommend that we missed?

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Nell May 7, 2015 - 12:28 am

These are fantastic tips for new moms — thank you for this amazing resource 🙂

PGPBMeghan May 7, 2015 - 3:33 pm

Thanks and thanks for visiting! 🙂

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