After giving birth, your child’s first source of nutrition will come from breastfeeding. Breast milk can contain all of the important nutrients and vitamins that their little bodies need. However, whether you are going back to work or your baby isn’t latching on, for some moms, using a breast pump can provide a safe and effective way to make sure your child gets what they need. There can be some confusion as to how to use a breast pump and we wanted to try and provide a helpful guide to using one for the first time.
Types of Breast Pump
When you first start looking for a breast pump, making the right choice can be difficult without having the information you need first can lead to you possibly choosing an option that doesn’t work best for you.
When you go shopping for a breast pump, you may run into a lot of fancy buzzwords and hype that will try to persuade you into buying one pump over another. In reality, there are only two words that you need to pay attention to when looking for a breast pump: Electric and manual.
Let’s take a look at both types
With electric pumps, choosing one may not be as simple as choosing the first one that you see. Depending on your needs, you may need to choose one that is equipped to help you extract milk depending on your situation. There can be two major variations out there:
- Hospital Grade
A hospital grade electric pump is typically recommended for mothers who are having trouble breastfeeding. Equipped with powerful motors that can produce more extractions per minute, meaning that the turnaround time when you pump can be very quick when compared to other options. While it has a powerful motor, the noise that it can produce is very minimal. Being a top of the line product, these can be a very expensive option for a new mom, with costs sometimes reaching around $1000 – so renting one is often an available option.
- Personal Use Electric Pumps
In today’s busy world, most new mothers take maternity leave to take care of their newborn for the first 6 to 8 weeks of their life and then go back to work. This can make feeding your child tough, especially if they are in daycare or being taken care of by a family member. To help, there are electric pumps on the market that can efficiently pump milk from both breasts at the same time. A major benefit to these types of pumps is that they may come packaged in a convenient carrying case which will hold everything including the plug or battery pack. Best of all, these are styled in a contemporary way, looking more like a backpack or tote bag than a breast pump. These can typically cost between $100 and $400 and may be covered by your medical insurance.
An electric pump works by plugging the pump into an outlet or using a battery pack and uses suction to extract milk into an attached container. While it may feel strange at first, using an electric pump can be easy to get used to and can also save time if you are a busy mom. In about 10 to 15 minutes, both breasts can be pumped successfully.
Manual pumps can be a great option on the go if your breasts are engorged with milk and you need some relief from the pain that can occur. They are also easier to take with you when you are going out. Many electric pumps come with a carry case these days, however, you might not be able to plug it in or the battery pack may not have a charge so having a manual can also be a great back up.
Like an electric pump, manual pumps use a phalange that you place over your nipple, but instead of the automatic sucking that comes from an electric pump, to extract milk you would need to operate a squeeze mechanism or pull on a plunger by hand. While this can be a great back up and can cost much less, it is definitely not faster. It can take up to 45 minutes to pump both breasts.
When Should I Start Pumping?
Deciding when you should start using a breast pump to extract milk for your baby can be very dependent on the experience that the two of you are having breastfeeding. After childbirth and during recovery, many hospitals and women’s centers will have a lactation consultant help a new mom and baby latch and feed properly. For some, this can be a perfect option and their baby will latch on each and every time, getting the nutrition that they need.
However, while many experts don’t recommend pumping for the first four to eight weeks as a baby’s natural sucking rhythm can help mom’s milk supply increase which a pump is unable to do, there can be circumstances where a new mom might need to pump sooner. These reasons sare typically one of the following:
- Premature birth weight or other health issues
The number one situation that many lactation consultants would suggest that a new mom start pumping breast milk would be if their newborn is unable to breastfeed. This may happen if they have been born premature, is in the neonatal intensive care unit, has a health issue or has to be separated from mom for another reason.
- Weight Loss
It can be tough the first few times that you work with your new little bundle of joy to have them latch on and eat. If they continue to have trouble, they may start losing weight. While it is perfectly normal for them to drop a few ounces, if they aren’t getting enough milk from nursing, pumping will let mom bottle-feed them with breast milk so that they get the nutrition that they need without continuing to lose weight.
- Back to work
With a lot of moms, especially these days, after they give birth and once their maternity leave is over, they will likely need to return to work to help support the newest member of their family. It’s suggested that about three weeks before returning to work, that a new mom may want to begin pumping and storing breast milk. This way she can have the time that might be needed to store enough breast milk for those first few days back at work.
How Much Should I Be Pumping?
The amount of milk that you should be pumping is dependent on two things: your milk supply and the age and weight of your baby. New moms can typically provide their child with enough milk, about a liter a day, that can meet their child’s daily needs.
The amount of milk that can be pumped per day is largely dependent on mom. While some moms may only be able to pump an additional amount of milk on top of what they are feeding their child can be as much as 3 to 6 ounces. There are moms that are able to store close to the same amount they are already feeding their child.
Now, if you’re still breastfeeding your child or if you choose to use a breast pump exclusively, this can also help you discover just how much breast milk to pump. Prior to returning to work, if you decide to pump soon after breastfeeding your child, your output may only be between a 0.5 and one ounces per session. But once you return to work and pumping replaces breastfeeding completely, you should be able to pump the same amount of breast milk that meets what your baby takes from a bottle feeding. Don’t worry if you pump more, that’s a very good thing.
How Often Should I Be Pumping?
This is a question that many new moms who choose to exclusively pump may wonder about. A good practice is that you should pump whenever your little one is being fed from a bottle. This helps your body still get the signal that it needs to produce more milk.
If you’re getting closer to returning to work, you will want to begin pumping about two times a day, each time after your child has breastfed. Pumping too soon before the next time they are breastfed can leave your little one with not a lot of milk to eat, which can result in a poor feeding session.
Once you have returned to work, you want to try and pump about every three hours or so. If you’re at work and your little one takes three bottles while you’re gone, you will want to make sure that you pump three times when not at home. If they take 4 bottles, be sure to pump four times over the course of your workday.
How to Pump Breast Milk
While knowing how much to pump and how often, as well as the type of pump you should use are all pieces of helpful information, if you do not know how to use a breast pump, it’s all for naught. There can be a variety of ways to pump breast milk. When you first start, learning how to express breast milk using your own hands can help new moms get comfortable with the process of expressing milk for their child to feed.
While hand expression is in some ways to most comfortable way to do so, pumping breast milk can also be accomplished with either an electric pump or hand pump. The way you use one of these devices can depend on the type of pump that you choose to use as they can be slightly different from handheld, single electric (single breast at a time), double (both breasts at a time), hands-free and so on.
There is no one list of directions that will work for every new mom out there when it comes to how to use a breast pump. However, there are some general instructions when it comes to pumping breast milk that can help a new mom get started:
- Make sure that you always have clean hands and clean bottle equipment before you start.
- Place the flanges over your breast tissue. Ensure that the opening of the flange is centered around the nipple.
- With your thumb, hold the parts of the pump against your breast at the top part of the flange and use your remaining fingers that is lying flat on the bottom part of the flange. Don’t press too hard on the breast tissue. Pressing too hard can leave marks on the skin.
- When it’s time to set the dials, follow the instructions that come with your pump. Normally, you will want to begin with a low suction and a quick speed. Once a steady flow has been established, which can take from one to three minutes, then you can lower the speed and increase the suction. In about 15 to 20 minutes, you should be able to complete a full session.
- Once you have finished, break off the suction from the flanges gently and remove them from your breast. Carefully, remove the bottle from the flanges and set them on a flat surface. Place a cover on each bottle and keep cold. Unplug the pump and clean the parts as described in the manufacturer’s instructions.
Storage and Shelf Life
Once you have finished pumping, you will want to place it in the fridge so that it stays fresh for when your newborn is ready to feed. However, there are many new parents who ask how they can store breast milk that they have pumped or how long it will stay fresh after you have finished pumping.
Storing breast milk is usually done by using either a bottle, such as the one that the breast milk was expressed into or into a plastic bag that is manufactured specifically for holding breast milk. These bags are suitable for storage in the refrigerator or can go into the freezer. However, if you are going to freeze breast milk, doesn’t fill the bag all the way to allow for expansion.
You want to be sure that you write the date on the bag so you know that the bag you’re defrosting is the right bag to give your child. The shelf life of breast milk can have its own share of opinions as to what is best.
Fresh Breast Milk
While it’s always best to refrigerate breast milk if it’s not going to be used right away, the CDC has stated that it can be kept at room temperature for six to eight hours. However, if you refrigerate it, be sure to use it within five days.
Frozen Breast Milk
Freezing breast milk and the length that you can freezer can differ depending on the type of freezer you choose to use. If the freezer is part of the refrigerator, you can store breast milk for up to two weeks. If the freezer compartment has a separate door, you can store the breast milk for three to six months. With a chest freezer, it can be stored even longer, from six to twelve months.
Breast Pumping Tips
As we went through the writing of this article, we wanted to share some tips that have been shared by other moms with regards to how to use a breast pump. We wanted to close out our article with some of our best tips. These include:
- Do Your Research
Before you ever lay down a cent on a breast pump, research and know what you need from a breast pump and the criteria you need it to meet – cost, portability, your child’s needs – and also ask your doctor and other friends who are moms for their opinions. It is likely that they may suggest one over another because of a feature you may not have known about. Check with your insurance plan, as some plans cover the cost of a breast pump. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to spend a good amount of money on a quality pump that will be worth every penny spent.
- Make sure the fit is right
It may sound a bit odd, but having a good fit for your breast pump is extremely important. Having a little bit of space around your nipple, which will let it move freely in the flange which will keep it from rubbing against the side of the flanges, causing an irritation.
- Be in a good mood
If you’re stressed out over work or other issues, can affect the volume of breast milk that you might produce. Being relaxed and in a good mood can help produce more milk for you to feed your little one. How you do that can differ from mom to mom. Whether its pictures of your kids, a good movie, music, or a good book, choosing a way to relax can be beneficial to your breast milk production.
- Don’t skip
After your child is born, sleep can be at a premium, we get it. A lot of times, mom will pump extra milk before bedtime so that their partner can give the baby a bottle in the middle of the night when the baby is hungry. You have to be careful doing this though. While your baby gets a feeding in, your body will see this as a missed feeding. If you do this too often, it can affect the milk supply.