If you’ve never done it before, breastfeeding is a whole new world. Words like latch, colostrum, engorgement, foremilk and hindmilk, letdown, mastitis, clogged ducts, and thrush can really get your mind spinning.
I really thought I would never get there. But I had more confidence in breastfeeding than pumping. For some reason, the thought of figuring out how to properly use and clean a breast pump was foreign and overwhelming to me.
Thankfully, my pregnancy went to 42 weeks, so I had plenty of down time to figure all of this stuff out. That, combined with a bit of trial and error after my son was born, led me to feel pretty confident with all of it. Here’s a sneak peek at what I learned.
How Breastpumps Work
To preface all of this information, I use a Medela Pump In Style. Using a pump is so simple. The tubing is connected to a tiny hole that pushes out air at a steady rhythm. The other end of that tubing is hooked into the breast shield. The breast shield is twisted on to a bottle or milk storage bag, A little white membrane is attached to a yellow valve and it flips back and forth to create suction so that when the shield is on your breast will cause a letdown. The bottle or bag catches your expressed milk.
While there are a lot of instructions and various fancy ways to use your pump, I kept it simple. Really, the only parts you need to worry about are these. Tubing, membranes, valves & shields. If you can figure out those four words, what they are and how they are used, you will be a pumping pro.
Supplies You Need
- Extra membranes
- Milk storage bags
- Bottle compatible with your pump (should come with the pump)
- A separate bottle(s) for feeding OR a nipple to attach to your pumping bottle (whichever is more convenient for you) – make sure whatever you choose is a SLOW FLOW INFANT nipple.
Creating A Stash
When you first have your babe, you will only have colostrum. This is a thick, golden liquid that is high in protein, fat, and antibodies. It’s the perfect food for your tiny newborn.
Your milk will come in anytime from 2-5 days after birth. You will likely be very engorged and have more than enough for your baby. At first, you make enough milk to feed twins or triplets because your body does not know how many babies you have. It waits to see how much is demanded so it knows how to regulate itself.
Some people say not to pump because you will make your body think you need all that milk. I did not have that experience. I took advantage of my oversupply at first and pumped all that I could. At about 6 weeks, it is very normal for your milk supply to regulate. It feels like you suddenly lost all your milk!
Thankfully, that’s not the case. Once your milk regulates though, you will have to be strategic about stashing away pumped milk.
In the first 6 weeks, your milk is made constantly and stores itself in your breasts. After that transition, your body begins to create milk as baby eats. How cool is that? So that tingly letdown feeling might happen a few times while baby eats.
The best times to pump are in the morning, during one of baby’s longer naps, and at night. Your breasts make a lot more milk from midnight to about ten in the morning than they do the rest of the day.
Usually, if baby ate a little less often at night than during the day, you will have some extra stored up by morning. It is convenient to pump one side while baby eats on the other when you both wake up for the day.
You can also try pumping the fuller side while baby takes one his longer naps during the day, and the remainder from both breasts right after baby goes to sleep for the night.
I pump one side in the morning and one other time during the day. I usually get 4-6 oz each day of extra to stash away. If you want more than that, you may want to look into other, more strategic ways to pump an excess.
Storing & Using Breastmilk
It might seem intimidating, but storing breastmilk isn’t all that complicated. Here are the rules.
- Only store milk in storage bags meant for breastmilk. They have a double seal to make sure no milk leaks (which can cause bacteria to get inside).
- Storing breastmilk:
- Can be kept at room temperature for 6 hours. If it is very warm or humid, 4 hours is the limit.
- Can be kept in an insulated bag or cooler with ice packs for 24 hours.
- Can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days if it is properly sealed and kept in the back of the fridge. 2-3 days is optimal.
- Can be kept in the freezer for 1 year.
- Can be used for 48 hours after being thawed. Within 24 hours is optimal.
- Always store milk towards the middle or back of refrigerator or freezer.
- NEVER REFREEZE THAWED MILK. After thawing, you have 48 hours to use it.
- NEVER MICROWAVE breastmilk. It will destroy all the nutrients. To heat up frozen milk, set in a bowl or sink with very hot water and let thaw. When it is thawed, you can put it in the bottle and swish the bottle around in the water for a speedier heating process.
- Be cautious not to baby milk that is too hot. Cold milk is fine, but baby may refuse it. The bottle is perfect for baby when you cannot feel a droplet on your inner wrist. This means it is body temperature (the same temp as the milk coming from your breast).
- Feed from the bottle slowly. This is called pace feeding. Basically, you are imitating the breast. When a baby suckles from the breast, they start out sucking quickly and almost violently. This means they are trying to cause a let-down (the release of milk from your body). Once this happens (it will feel like little electric tingles), their sucks become slower and rythmic. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that they take a lot of breaks. The way to imitate this while bottle feeding is to make them work for their milk. Don’t worry about not getting air into their tummy – that’s what burping is for! Don’t fill the nipple with milk. Instead, occasionally remove all milk from the nipple and let them suck. If the nipple always has milk it in, they will end up eating too much too quickly and not realizing they are full.
Pumping On The Go
If you have a place to go with an electrical outlet, it is best to have a pumping bag. In my pumping bag I pack:
- Tubing, shields, membranes, + valves
- Storage bags
- Breastpump cleaning wipes
- Burp cloth
- Special zipper pocket to store milk as I pump (you can also take a separate insulated bag or cooler):
- Ice packs
If you are going on a date, a road trip, or are in another situation where you have no outlet, your best bet is a handheld pump.
Hacks For Pumping More
- Grab yourself a haaka. It will catch all the leakage on one breast while you feed on the other. Plus, the suction needed to attach to your breast causes a little extra to flow! I can get 3-4 ounces from one feeding on a good day. You can also use this to pump while you drive (or cook/fold laundry/etc)!
- Get a hands free pumping bra so you can do it more often and still get stuff done!
- Every time you nurse, pump the other side.
- Pump each breast after you nurse on it.
- Don’t force your baby off the breast. If you let baby hang out for a while and use you as a pacifier (if they are desiring it – obviously don’t force your baby to stay on the breast!), this will signal to your body that you need more milk!
- Feed on one side at a time. If you take baby off the breast before he says he is done, it’s likely that there is still milk left. If you leave milk, your body won’t make more. If your babe sucks it dry, more will come! Let your baby suck until another let down comes. Don’t automatically switch to the other side.
- Drink tons and tons of water. I aim for one gallon a day. Get yourself a cute tumbler or water bottle (I use a 32 oz. insulated tumbler). If you like it ice cold, fill it up with lots of ice. Use fruit if that helps you, or essential oils can be tasty too. Make your water tempting so you want to drink it throughout the day! Take it with you everywhere.
- Lactation cookies or granola bars can be helpful, just be wary of too many calories! Just because it helps your milk supply doesn’t mean it will help in your baby-weight losing efforts.
- Feed on demand. Though it isn’t true for all, schedules can mean the death of your supply. Remember how we established that an empty breast means more milk? If you force your baby to wait two hours when he is hungry before, your breasts are just sitting there full of milk…not producing anything. Your body doesn’t know he is hungry. This can cause issues! Sometimes I put baby on even if he is just fussy or sleepy. It always helps him calm down and/or fall asleep. The best thing about the breast is that they won’t necessarily eat if they aren’t hungry. I’ve noticed that when my son is just fussy, he will suck for a minute or two and then just pass out. His light and infrequent “pacifier” sucks will eventually cause a let down and he will pop off with milk pouring out of his mouth. This is awesome because he won’t get overfed, but he is still telling my body to make more milk. Sometimes I put him down to nap and pump what he produced for me. 🙂
Cleaning Your Pump
Cleaning after each use:
- Disconnect breast shields, breast shield connectors, yellow valves, & white membranes.
- Soak them in warm, soapy water.
- Rinse with clear, cold water
- Let dry completely
- Rinse tubing in cool water to remove breast milk
- Wash tubing in warm soapy water
- Connect the tubes to the running breast pump to dry
- Snap off faceplate using the thumb tab
- Soak in warm soapy water for 5 minutes
- Clean with a dishcloth
- Rinse with clear water
- Allow to air dry
- Carefully wipe the entire surface area where any particles or liquid may have accumulated with a clean, damp cloth (no soap)
- Allow all parts to air dry completely before replacing faceplate
- Replacing Parts White membranes: Every 4-6 weeks
- Tubing/Shields/Etc.: Replace if mold is found
When To Replace Parts
- White Membranes: Every 4-6 weeks
- Tubing/Shields/Etc: Replace if mold is found
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