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Whether you’re an exclusive pumper or a pump when you need kind of Mama, there’s a certain art to pumping breastmilk that can help you get the most out of your pumping session. Because let’s face it, we don’t want to be attached to that burring machine for any longer than we need to do we?
When my son was in NICU I had to exclusively pump for the first 10 weeks, and continued to mix between pumping and breastfeeding after that. I’ve also had to deal with the challenges of returning to work while still breastfeeding and having to pump at work.
I’ve gone through both the highs and lows of pumping, from enjoying being able to do it to feeling like a dairy cow hooked up to machines all the time. But at the end of the day, I have always been grateful to be able to have this alternative to directly breastfeeding.
So, here’s what I can share to help you with your experience in pumping. Use these tips to help you make pumping breastmilk easier and to help you express more milk in a session.
1 – Get To Know Your Pump
Not all pumps are created equally and, much to my surprise, they don’t all work as well as each other.
I had no idea when my son was born that I was going to need a pump. To say I wasn’t prepared is an understatement. Not all women need one, at least not straight away, but I did because he wasn’t allowed to feed at all. Which meant I was left to buy whatever pump I could get my hands on. I figured they’d all do the same thing.
I was wrong.
The pump I had bought wasn’t portable, it was loud and had completely different settings to the ones we used at the hospital. Once I got to know the pump better and how it was designed to be used, I was able to pump a lot easier.
Did you know there are different sized flanges available for pumps based on what suits your breast? The difference between a poorly fitting flange and a perfect sized flange can range from being able to pump more effectively through to being able to pump without pain or injury.
Get to know your pump, how to use it effectively and ensure the fittings are right for you
2 – Make Yourself A Pumping Basket
When you sit down to pump, you want to be as efficient as possible, which is where your pumping basket (or bag, or box) comes in.
Ensure you have everything you need in there for your pumping session. From spare batteries, storage bags, a bottle of water, snacks or even spare parts. Anything and everything you need for your pumping session should be in this basket so you can sit and get to it without having to worry about starting and stopping or finding bits and pieces.
3 – Pay Attention To Your Let Down
Did you know it’s normal to have multiple let downs in a single pumping session? And that pumping beyond a single letdown can sometimes even double the amount of milk you are able to express?
If you’re feeding your baby and pumping occasionally, pay attention to your let down when you’re feeding babe. If you don’t physically feel your let down, you can notice when it happens because baby’s drinking will go from short, quick sucking, to long, deep (almost) gulping.
Other things to consider are paying attention to what triggers your let down. For many women let down can happen at times when our baby isn’t even feeding – like when you’re grocery shopping and you hear a baby cry and all of a sudden you’ve soaked through your last clean shirt. (Or was that just me?)
Knowing how to trigger your let down can help you when you’re pumping and can help you to have multiple let downs in a single pumping session.
4 – Keep Something Of Your Baby’s Close By
If you’re not sure how to trigger your let down, this is a great way to do it. As mothers, our senses are pretty darn good, and nothing smells quite as good as our own baby. Keep a swaddle your baby has been using or a beanie they’ve been wearing close by and smell it when you’re pumping to help trigger a letdown.
This honestly works. When my son was in NICU, I had the beanie he had first worn before his surgery and it still smelled like him for at least a week or two after he was born. I would keep this close and smell it while pumping at night when I was away from him and it worked like a charm.
If you can’t keep something of your baby’s close by, take a video of them breastfeeding, or making suckling noises. This also works really well as it can help your mind make the connection between your baby and pumping.
5 – Service Your Pump And Replace Parts As Needed
While you most likely know you need to wash the parts of your pump after using them (please tell me you know this…) it’s also recommended that you replace certain parts after a certain period of time.
Again, each pump is different so I can only speak generally, but check your pump specs and see what needs to be replaced and how often.
I didn’t realise this with one of my pumps and when I was told to replace the simple $5 part, my machine started working like new again and pumping was far more efficient.
6 – Use A Combo Of Hand And Pump
When my milk first came in, I damaged my nipples by using an electric pump (I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to use them before you milk had come in…). So much pain. Which meant I had to get really good at hand expressing.
The silver lining is that afterwards, I would use a combination of electric pump and hand expressing to be able to get as much milk out of my breasts as quickly as possible.
Learn how to pump with just your hand (you can do this in the shower to help control the ‘mess’) and use this skill while pumping with your pump. It takes a little extra work but it is far more efficient and effective.
7 – Not All Milk Needs To Be Consumed
I would always find it difficult mentally to get into the habit of pumping breastmilk when I didn’t have a safe place to store it so my baby could drink it later. I felt like it was such a waste. But at the same time, I knew it was important to pump because breastmilk is a supply and demand deal (not to mention the pain of engorgement and risk of mastitis if I didn’t).
Once I realised not all milk needed to be consumed and there were other things I could do with it like use it for my baby’s bath to help her skin or to help with her eczema, I found pumping a lot easier to deal with at these times.
Pumping breastmilk isn’t always the most enjoyable experience – it can feel rewarding and honestly sometimes makes me feel like a superhero (who else can produce such a powerful substance) but it isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Use these tips to help make pumping breastmilk easier and hopefully a little more enjoyable for you.