Ten Tips to Pumping Success

With the birth of my first son, I didn’t buy a pump right away. I was planning on being a stay-at-home mother and wanted to breastfeed on demand. When engorgement set in, my husband brought home a Medela hand pump.1 I pumped a handful of times for my son and even less for my second child, who took only one bottle in her entire life.

When my third and fourth children were born, I was thrust into the world of exclusive pumping (EP). It was a new place to be and it was hard to be strapped to a machine in order to feed my baby. Thanks to tips from fellow NICU mothers, working mothers, and others who, for whatever reason, had to express for their babies, I had a basketful of tips and tricks to make life with a breast pump easier. Here are just a few of them:

1. Get fitted!

Flanges or shields, the rounded part that touches your breast, come in different sizes and materials. A proper fit can ensure you pump the maximum amount of milk for your baby. This will also reduce the potential for soreness or plugged ducts. A Lactation Consultant can help you find the best fit for your breast.

2. Get the best!

Buy the best pump you can afford for your needs. Are you pumping during the day so your baby can have a bottle while you are at work? Or are you pumping for a baby who cannot nurse from the breast? Typically, the more sessions you need to pump (versus pumping and nursing), the higher grade pump you will need. Hospital grade pumps may be cost prohibitive to buy but affordable to rent. Call a local hospital, La Leche League Leader or Lactation Consultant for information about where to rent one in your area.

3. Go Hands Free!

Being hands free while pumping allows you to multi-task. Buy a hands-free nursing bra or master the hands free pumping trick on KellyMom. Petra, a working mother of two, also suggests making your own pumping bra by “. . . using an old bra (doesn’t need to be a nursing bra) and cutting [about] one inch slits at the nipple. It’s best to put the bra on and mark it with a pen to make sure you cut in the right place. Next, feed your pump parts through the slits before attaching the bottles.” Not only will hands free pumping allow you to eat, drink, and play with your older children or even drive the car (although I’ve never done it, I have friends who have pumped and drove!), you can . . .

4. Get Distracted!

Many mothers find that sitting and waiting to finish pumping can be boring and stressful. Have your pumping station placed where you can watch TV, surf the Internet, or read a book. This can come in handy for those middle of the night pumping sessions which may seem especially endless. I also found having a receiving blanket over my chest kept me from worrying about how much milk was coming out, which could possibly hinder my supply.

5. Treat your nipples well.

Pumping can be very drying on your nipples. I took a very small amount of olive oil and “greased” my flanges to avoid chafing. Lanolin works well for this too. If you are pumping for a premature infant, ask your hospital’s Lactation Consultant if lanolin is approved for your baby.

6. Treat yourself well.

Get as much rest as you can. Drink water or supply-boosting herbal teas and eat a well-balanced diet. It’s not easy to take care of yourself, a baby, daily life, and pump, but neglecting yourself makes it easy for your supply to take a hit. Let some things go. The house doesn’t need to be perfectly clean and your older children may watch more TV than you would like, but that is simply part of the “give and take” of having a new baby in house.

7. Get a system going.

Create pumping stations around the house with all your pumping needs within reach: extra flanges, bottles, storage bags, burp cloths, the remote, etc. Have a routine for storing milk, carrying milk to and from locations and, if needed, pumping when you are away from the home. Streamlining these processes to fit your needs will allow you to take care of your needs fast and lessen the chance of you forgetting something.

8. Set small goals.

Amy, a working and pumping mother of two boys, says, “Set little manageable goals – 6 weeks, then 3 months, 6 months, 9 months – before you know it you can do a year.”

9. Remain connected to your baby.

If you can, pump near your infant. If you need to pump away from your baby, bring an article of their clothing, a blanket, or a photograph with you. These reminders can help increase milk production and facilitate a let down. Ann-Marie, another working and pumping mother, also suggested calling the day care before pumping, as the baby noises helped her respond to the pump. At home, co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, and baby wearing will help you remain connected with your child.

If you have a hospitalized baby, pumping can help the baby remain connected to you. Place a burp cloth or blanket under your breasts when you pump. The cloth can catch any drips or leaks and will smell like your milk. Place it with your baby and, the next day, take it with you while you pump, placing a new cloth under your breasts.  The constant smell of you and your milk will be comforting to your baby and may help increase the likelihood of success when you being to breastfeed.

10. Get support!

Visit a La Leche League group that is home to other pumping mothers. Speak with co-workers who pump, and find a forum where you can share tips, tricks, successes, and gripes. Emotional support can be key to keeping up with the (milk) flow.

Is pumping hard? Yes, it can be. But any milk you pump to give your baby is a wonderful success!

Photo credit: archhale2008

  1. The product recommendations in this post are the opinions of the author alone and are included for information only. They are not sponsored, and no advertising or affiliation earnings will be generated from this article in order to comply with the WHO code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes.

About The Author: Laura

Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door My NPN Posts

Laura is the mother to a herd of four small children, wife to her Engineer Husband, and owner of a pesky dog. She blogs about her life in the Midwest at Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door.

12 Responses to Ten Tips to Pumping Success

  1. Amy

    My advice: wash your nipples and equipment after each use!!!!! Use white vinegar to clean your nipples, followed by Wise Ways Herbals calendula oil to PREVENT thrush!!!! (I got it TWICE, youch!) I never wanted to pump, but had to because my baby was born with a tongue tie and it took 5 weeks and perseverance for him to get it. http://amyelizabethsmith.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/my-breastfeeding-journey/

  2. Susan

    I am currently EPing for my fourth child, a baby born with a cleft lip and palate, severe enough that he cannot effectively nurse. It was devastating to not be able to nurse him, as I had successfully nursed my other children for a total of 6 years and was still nursing the third when we got the diagnosis of CL/CP at the 20 week U/S.
    *I would suggest refrigerating, or at least keeping in a cooler, your horns and bottles between sessions. I can go all day with one set, just changing bottles as needed, which cuts down on washing. The Medela wipes are helpful too to keep things clean, but I don’t always remember to use them (and speaking of those — I reuse them. I just fold it up and stick it back in the package after using. They cost a lot of money.)
    *Toss things into a bowl of soapy water and then you just need to wash once a day. I have multiples as well for taking with me — I have to pump in the car, at church, or while waiting somewhere for my older kids — and they accumulate over the course of a day.
    *Be prepared, should you choose to EP, to spend about 120 minutes pumping out of every 24 hours until you decide to quit to maintain your supply. That time, combined with feeding the baby (30 minutes 8 times a day) and washing up all the feeders, bottles and pump parts, means I spend about 46 hours a week with all this, as compared to breastfeeding, which, after the first few weeks, saves serious time and is so much cuddlier than a pump! If you have to pump, like I do, that’s one thing, and you make the best of it.
    * DO NOT try to drop sessions too soon. You are establishing supply if you are EPing in the first 12 weeks, and dropping too soon can cut your supply significantly. I see many moms who start EPing and the number 1 problem — lack of supply. But then you ask, and they are only pumping 4 times a day and not getting up at night, with the wrong type of pump. You have to start by pumping every 2 hours and then you can slowly drop back but be ready to pick back up should you notice a change in output. I tried a little too soon, picked back up, and now I’m able to go 5 hours between sessions and still pump 36-40 oz or more a day.
    EPing is a weird and slightly obsessive world, not at all like shown in some articles about how “easy” it is, and not one I would wish on anyone, but any breastmilk you can give is better than none.

    • Laura

      Yes, I agree, EPing is very hard. I wouldn’t blame anyone for stopping and, like you said, it is very time consuming. I am glad you are able to pump for your baby and (((hugs))) to you!

  3. Stephanie B. Cornais  

    Great post!!
    If you look up Exclusive Pumping on Yahoo groups, there is amazing group of women sharing advice and support. I eped for 18 months for my daughter( I JUST HUTH’d, I still have my pump sitting out on my kitchen table…I can’t bear to put it away yet! EP’ing is hard but you can do it!!

    @Amy…thrush is more preventable based on your diet. If you eat healthy and avoid sugar, the yeast will die off. And for me, one of the things that helped keep me pumping for so long, was only washing my parts once a day. I would keep my flanges, in the fridge in between pumps during the day and wash them at the end of the day.

    • Laura

      Yes, there are lots of good groups out there and congrats on hanging up the horns! I recently sorted through all the pumping supplies and bottles to pass onto another mom- it felt good to be done with pumping and to use all those supplies to help another mother!

  4. Stephanie B. Cornais  

    Amy, I thought about it more and I wanted to clarify my comment. If you are currently battling thrush, then yes, you must be diligent about cleaning your nipples and parts because the yeast multiplies rapidly. But if you are are just trying to prevent thrush and don’t have a yeast overgrowth problem then you only need to wash your parts once day.

    @Susan, your pointers are spot on too.
    And I totally agree, it can be slightly obsessive, especially in the beginning. The first 6 months, I tracked every ounces like a hawk to make sure my supply was steady. Because of all my effort I ended up being able to donate lots of milk.
    At 6 months, I calculated how much time I had spent pumping and cleaning parts and it made me sick! Only EP’ers really know how much of your life it taken away from you just to be able to give your child breast milk.

    • Laura

      “Only EP’ers really know how much of your life it taken away from you just to be able to give your child breast milk.”
      Right and very few people understand why you want to do it!
      I tracked my “output” and how much my fourth child eat for a long time because we needed to know how much he was getting since he had been loosing weight because he couldn’t nurse well. (TT discovered when he was 2 weeks old.) I still have those charts and can’t bear to throw them away!

  5. Carrie

    Great post! I just did one myself yesterday on pumping tips! These types of tips can help sooo much when faced with the time consuming task of pumping.

  6. Amy

    @stephanie: I got thrush after eating very healthfully (mostly meat, root veg, fruits), drying nipples after each pumping session, putting equipment in fridge, washing a little more than once a day, so I wanted to suggest tips for preventing them further. To really prevent it, I think, you must wash completely after each use, which is a horrible task. Have not gotten thrush again after those horrid first 5 weeks (of exclusive pumping until my baby learned to nurse, now no need to pump because he can’t take a bottle). Gentian violet got rid of his and I had to take Diflucan after trying every natural remedy known to man. Whenever my nipples are sore (he has 8 teeth), I use the Calendula oil and it works wonders.

  7. Stacey

    Glad to know I’m not the only one that refridgerated pump parts instead of washing between sessions. I always wondered if I was being a bit lazy, but I feel better about it now! =)
    My best advice is keep your nips/parts lubricated. I would use either Medela lanolin or Palmers Nipple Butter before starting to pump. With a total of 5 pumps per day between home & work, that made a huge difference in cutting down on irritation from friction.
    Another bit of advice is to be prepared for ups and downs in supply and try to build up a freezer stash while on mat leave (and any time you pump extra) so you’ll be covered for the “downs.” Stress level, diet, your monthly cycle, and many other things can affect the amount of milk you produce. Be prepared for this and know that as long as you keep up with nursing/pumping during these times, your body will rebound and your supply will come back up. I think a lot of mothers don’t expect this and then give up and start supplementing with formula when they notice a dip in supply. This of course only adds to the problem. Having a freezer stash is a great way to take some of the pressure off when you see dips. Have faith in your body, it knows what to do, and will get back on track if you just keep letting it know what you expect!

  8. Beth

    It’s fun reading all you other EPing mama’s comments. I have not personally known anyone else who have EPed for their baby but when my son was born a 26 weeker and never caught on to nursing I knew that’s what I had to do. I’m excited to be reaching 11 months of EPing (with no supplementation) and am so happy my son has gotten the bm, I really think it had a huge impact on how well he has done since birth. Good work all you mama’s taking on EPing- it’s a lot of hard work but worth it when you see the impact of breast milk on your LO’s health! :)

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