If you haven’t used a milk pump before, or if it’s been a while since you’ve last used one, the task of pumping out breastmilk can be daunting. After all, there are so many kinds of milk pumps nowadays that it can be difficult to know the proper way to do it correctly. You will still have to choose the right milk pump, which can allow you to shop around and determine which one is the best for your particular needs. On the other hand, you may already have one or have been given one, which can be economical but may require you to work within the specific limitations of the model.
Fortunately, however, pumping breastmilk still does follow a few basic principles regardless of what pump is used. All that needs to be done is to pretty much adjust these principles depending on the kind of pump you’re using. It might help to read the manufacturer’s instructions as there may be directions that are specific to your model. Online forums for breastfeeding moms may also offer a wealth of advice that can help you troubleshoot any milk pumping problems that are encountered.
For a start, we’ve compiled fifteen of the general methods involved in milk pump usage. These tips cover the preparations and aftercare necessary for pumping milk, as well as a run-through on the different kinds of milk pumps and how they’re used. Hopefully after this, you’ll be pumping out breastmilk like a pro in no time at all.
The first thing you’ll need to think about when using a milk pump is the place where you’re actually going to pump. Many women underestimate the value of choosing just the right place. After all, it can be difficult to begin let-down when you’re pumping while uncomfortable. If you’re pumping primarily at home, this may not be a huge problem. The home allows for the kind of privacy where it can be easy to look for your own private nook to get pumping away.
If you have to pump at the workplace or somewhere away from home, however, you might run into some problems. It can help if the workplace has a breastfeeding area, where you can get things done in private. Ideally, the pumping area should be private and relaxing, allowing you to focus on the steps necessary to trigger letdown and pump out milk in just the right way.
Next, make preparations to ensure that the entire process of pumping will go smoothly. The items you’ll need to prepare will, of course, depend on the type of pump that you’re using. It’s best to keep everything within easy reach so as not to interrupt the flow of milk extractions. Some pumps pump directly into milk bags, while others into a big container, so it’s best to keep the receptacle handy. If you have an ice box, also keep it in the room so that the milk is stored at the proper temperature soon after extraction.
For comfort, you might want to keep a few pillows in the room and, perhaps, some music for comfort. A ready container of wipes should also be handy just in case you make a mess. This can keep you from making a big mess over your nice office shirt! You’ll want to ensure that your pump cleaning supplies are ready for when you’re done. Make sure also to wash your hands before you begin pumping.
13 Triggering Letdown
Prior to using a pump of any sort, it will help if you first trigger the letdown reflex. This is because pumps don’t exactly mimic the sucking motion of an infant, which can make it quite hard for your breasts to associate this with your little one. Triggering letdown beforehand rather than hoping that the pump will do it for you can save plenty of time and effort.
You can help trigger letdown by using a hot compress to stimulate blood flow to your breasts. You could also try a gentle massage, working from the outer portion of your breast, going towards your areola. Finally, simply thinking about the baby can help trigger the letdown reflex! You might want to use this time to give the little one back home a call or, if he’s asleep, make a recording of him crying for milk. That should help get the milk flowing.
12 Choosing Vacuum Level
The reason why pumps work is that they apply negative pressure or a vacuum over your nipple. This results in the milk inside your breast, which exerts a positive pressure, to transfer into the area of negative pressure.
You might think that it is best to choose a vacuum level that sucks milk as fast as possible. However, it’s important to remember that if you go too fast, you may risk pain or soreness on your breasts. This is why it’s best to go at the highest possible setting that’s still comfortable. This is pretty straightforward with battery or electric pumps as you only need to adjust the dial. It may take some experimentation to find the right vacuum level that does this. With manual pumps, you’ll need to adjust the squeeze of the lever as well as the speed of extraction by hand. For this reason, moms who experience breast pain with electric pumps may find manual pumping more comfortable.
11 Nip Shields
One thing you might want to opt for when pumping are nipple shields. This is especially if you’re experiencing problems like cracked or sore nipples, especially if they’re the result of a fungal infection. Your painful nips may get even more irritated while pumping. It’s important to choose a shield that’s comfortable and fits your nipple just right. Otherwise, your nipple is going to get even more sore and irritated than before.
Make sure also to check the type of pump to make sure you’re getting a nipple shield that is appropriate for it. Using a size that’s too small or large may give you trouble while pumping. In any case, when your nipple problems are done, you can do away with the shield. This is because prolonged use can reduce breast stimulation, lowering down your milk supply. Not something you’d want when you plan on breastfeeding for the long term.
10 Manual Pumps
Manual and electric pumps are operated in different ways. A manual pump will use physical pressure that you might exert by pumping a bulb or a lever, depending on the brand. If you’re confused, it might help to read the manual or to look up a video online that demonstrates the pump usage.
Make sure to position the pump properly, with the nipple at the center, without any leaks at the perimeter. As you’re pumping, adjust the rate as necessary. If you think it’s too painful, go slowly on pressing and releasing the lever. If you’re having trouble controlling the release, don’t press too hard to begin with. Ideally, your rate should mimic that of a baby’s sucking motions. Take about five minutes to pump alternately on each breast, allowing them to rest in between. You should be able to pump for a total of thirty minutes, or fifteen minutes on each breast.
9 Battery-Powered Pumps
Battery-operated pumps are slightly cheaper than full-electric pumps, although they may not have as much power, at least in terms of vacuum intensity. However, they do also have the advantage of being more compact and discreet, which makes them still a popular option among working moms. When using a battery-powered pump, make sure to check the battery level prior to use. Ideally, you want to pump continuously rather than having to interrupt to change batteries. It may help to bring along a bunch of spare batteries just in case you run out.
Unlike manual pumps, which require both hands to operate, you only require one hand to hold this sort of pump in place. Positioning a battery-powered pump pretty much similar to that of a manual pump. Pretty much all you need to do is set the suction level and then pump away. This might take more time than with using a full-electric pump, however, so bring something to read while you’re pumping!
8 Electric Pumps
An electric breast pump is pretty much similar in use to the battery-operated pump. The main difference is that it does pump milk out faster. Because of this, it’s extra important to regulate the level of suction to one that’s comfortable. If, at any time, the pump is out of place or if you’ve run out of milk, make sure to turn off the suction immediately. Any undue pressure on your nips may, after all, cause irritation and soreness. If you feel that the suction is painful, it’s best to turn it down a little bit or rest for a few minutes.
Some electric pumps require you to be near a power outlet for use. Most modern pumps, however, now have built-in battery units which you simply recharge like a cellphone. With both electric and battery-operated pumps, make sure that milk does not get into the motor. If this happens, stop pumping and clean out your unit immediately.
7 Single Extraction
Most breast pumps available in the market work by single extraction. This includes practically all manual pumps, as well as most of the battery and electric powered versions. Manual pumps are single extraction for obvious reasons. You’re going to need one hand to pump and the other to hold the flange in place.
With electric or battery pumps, however, you can just hold the pump in place with one hand. You can then use your other hand to do other tasks. The important bit is that you monitor the placement of the pump periodically. Make sure it’s not out of place, otherwise you’ll have to deal with some epic breast pain later! Using single extraction pumps will, naturally, mean that more time is spent pumping so you might want to schedule pumping sessions during tea breaks. They do, however, have the advantage of being relatively less costly than double extraction pumps.
6 Double Extraction
Double extraction pumps are electric and battery powered pumps that have two collection units – one for each breast. This allows you to finish up with pumping faster, as you’re tackling both breasts at a time. A double extraction pump is ideal for women who work, and so may not have a lot of time to pump in between breaks. They are, after all, faster than single extraction pumps and may therefore be far more expensive.
To use a double extraction pump, simply turn on the machine to the desired level of suction. After that, place both flanges in the proper position over each breast. You simply then have to wait for the pump to finish. This can be tedious as it’s hard to do anything with both your hands busy! However, there are a few pump types and tools that can allow you to free a hand or two while pumping milk. We’ll talk about those next.
5 Hands-Free Pumps
A hands-free pump allows the freedom of use of both your hands! This is great for the mom who just wants to get as much work done as possible, perhaps so she can get back to the baby sooner! These hands-free pumps, however, can be pricier than the regular kind. How you operate these pumps depends on the technology used by the particular manufacturer. Some pumps allow you to just secure the flanges under your bra.
Yet others come with their own bras or bustiers that have nipple flaps that you can open. These will come with areas where you can secure the pump so it doesn’t move around during the process. If, however, you’re not willing to shell out the large price that these pumps require, you can opt for pumping bras (which we’ll discuss later) or a clever elastic band method to help keep the pump in place.
4 Hands-Free Pumping Bras
If you’ve already got an electric or battery-operated pump of your own, there’s no reason why you still can’t go hands-free. All you have to do is get a pumping bra, which is designed for use with different brands of pumps. Some of these bras have Velcro panels, on which you can secure the flanges of your pump. Yet others simply have adjustable openings in which you can insert the flanges easily.
With these bras, you can carry on with work or other daily activities (provided you’re sitting still) while pumping. However, it’s important to check the positions of the pump occasionally, just to make sure that your nipples don’t get irritated when they shift around. If you like, you can change the angle a bit to pump from hard-to-reach areas of your breast, make sure the nipple stays right at the center to ensure that you don’t get any soreness afterwards.
One important thing you’ll have to consider no matter the type of milk pump you use is adequate support. It can, after all, be fine when you’re holding the milk pump in one position for the first minute or so. After quite some time, your arms might get sore. This can make you pretty resentful about pumping in the long term. When you’re pumping, you will therefore want to bring along a pillow or two to support your arms. This allows for easy, stress-free and comfortable pumping.
You might also want to take along pillows to support your back and your head. Some manufacturers even sell special pumping cushions that provide support to the most common pumping positions. If you have a hands-free pumping systems, you might not think you’ll need support. However, something that supports the weight of the bottle and the extraction system is always handy to prevent accidental release of the suction.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, some pumping systems allow you one or both hands free. In this case, you might want to think of just the right diversions while you’re pumping. After all, thinking about only milk and staring at the walls of the breastfeeding room can get boring. You might want to read a book or, perhaps, play a good computer game while you pump away. If you’re at work, you might want to give your baby a call for a little bit of motivation, not to mention letdown stimulation, as well!
But if you’re pumping manually, that doesn’t mean that you can’t bring along a bit of entertainment as well. In this case you might want to watch, perhaps, an episode of your favorite TV series, or simply tune in to a good radio station. The whole point here is that pumping should never be a chore and should be something to look forward to!
1 Cleaning Up
Finally, it’s important to clean up after pumping milk. This not only applies to any accidental milk spills, however. Perhaps far more important than that is to transfer your milk to a good storage bag, if your pump does not do this directly already. If possible, store it in an ice box or a freezer immediately so that it’s as safe and fresh as possible for future use.
Afterwards, it’s important to wash your equipment right away. This helps ensure that there is no stagnant milk in the system, which could encourage the growth of microorganisms. While breastmilk is reputed to have antibiotic properties, milk that remains stagnant in one area over time can lose this protective quality. Microbes present in the pump could, after all, cause a stomach infection in the little one. It is therefore best that you wash your pump thoroughly according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and then let it dry.