If you are having trouble breastfeeding, or if you have decided that breastfeeding isn’t what you want to do, then pumping your breasts and providing your baby with expressed breastmilk may be a solution for you. While pumping and feeding breastmilk by bottle is a temporary practice for some mother baby pairs, other moms have successfully chosen exclusively pumping for the entirety of your breastfeeding relationship. Here are some tips to make the best of it if you decide to exclusively pump breastmilk for your baby.
Get the best pump for you.
This may mean renting a hospital grade electric pump for a while, especially if you have a newborn or if your milk supply is low. Occasionally, a hand pump may be a good fit. Or learning hand expression. But, more often than not, a double electric pump is necessary. Double electric pumps are the most efficient – though this is true for some manufacturers more than for others. Get the best one you can afford. Read reviews and ask other mothers what their experiences are with the pump you intend to buy. Remember that it’s the pump that’s driving your milk supply, not a baby. So the better the model you can get, the more likely it is you’ll be able to continue making enough milk.
Get to know your pump.
Learn about the pump’s settings and preset programs. Are they adjustable? Can you change the program? Can you adjust the pressure or rate of suctions? You don’t necessarily need to have it cranked up the whole way to maximum power to get the most milk. Play around with the settings to find one that’s comfortable and gets the milk flowing.
Make sure the pump’s flanges are comfortable. Most manufacturers make multiple sizes, and should have documentation to let you know how to find the best fit for your nipple size and shape. If the flange feels like it’s pinching or if it’s pulling too much of your areola in, then you likely need another size.
Be certain to check your pump parts regularly to be sure nothing is broken or worn out. Since you’re pumping regularly, you may need to replace parts often to optimize the pump’s functioning. Know the manufacturers recommendations, and have the suction checked if you feel like the motor is failing.
Learn how often you need to pump to keep up your supply.
Breast storage capacity is different from woman to woman. How many ounces you can pump and how often you need to pump to maintain this amount will vary – no two women are the same. A common goal is a total of 120 to 140 minutes of pumping each to maintain your supply with exclusively pumping.
If you notice that your supply is decreasing, other exclusively pumping moms have found that adding a few short pumping sessions rather than another long one or adding minutes to your current sessions works best. Even just changing the times of day you’re pumping works for some moms stuck in a slump.
Maximize each pumping session.
Try ‘hands on pumping’: massage your breasts before starting the pumping session, then turn on the pump. When your milk flow stops, turn the pump off and massage your breasts again. Then continue pumping. You can start and stop several times, as needed. Moms who do this tend to get more milk.
If you’re having trouble letting down to the pump, be sure you are relaxed and not trying to do too much multitasking. Make sure you’re warm enough. Cover the bottles so that you’re not staring at them and willing them to fill. Do relaxation exercises – deep breathing, using imagery, even just listening to calming music. Consider having a piece of clothing that smells like baby or a recording of baby crying or cooing. Both can trigger let-downs.
Online groups are a source of inspiration and support – other moms who have been there, done that are the best cheerleaders! Don’t let well-meaning people discourage you if you’ve decided to give exclusive pumping a try. It is not necessarily easier to “just breastfeed” or give your baby formula. You don’t need to apologize to anyone for the choice you’re making, and you certainly don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. You’re doing the best to give your baby all the benefits of breastmilk.