8 Tips For Successful Pumping

by kayris on October 8, 2009

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As a brand new mom to my first child, now 5, I suffered a lot of common breastfeeding ailments. Sore cracked nipples, engorgement, thrush, etc. With the help of a fantastic lactation consultant and plenty of advice from other moms, I was able to overcome those early difficulties and settle into the groove of nursing my newborn.

When it came time to start using a breast pump, however, advice was not as easy to come by. It was crucial that I make it work, though, because I was returning to work part-time and needed to express milk for my husband to feed while I was away. I figured it out eventually, but some help would have been nice.

If you are new to pumping or will eventually be pumping, here are eight pieces of advice to keep in mind.

  1. Choose the right pump for your needs–This one is probably the most important. You won’t be successful at pumping if your pump is incapable of meeting your needs. I started out pumping just a couple of times per week and the inexpensive single pump I had was fine for that. But when my milk supply suddenly dropped and I was constantly pumping to bring my supply back up, the cheap pump couldn’t keep up. I replaced it with an Ameda Purely Yours, which I bought through my lactation consultant and was very happy with its performance. If you’re returning to work full time, be sure to get the double electric pump to save time. If you’re a stay home mom pumping infrequently, you could probably get by with a cheaper pump or even a good quality manual pump.
  2. Get comfortable–Pumping takes time, so make sure you have a comfortable place to sit that is not too hot and not too cold. If your baby is napping, turn off the monitor so you aren’t distracted. Have a drink or a snack handy if you need one, and make sure you have something to do. I used to catch up on TV or read magazines while I pumped. And be sure to visit the bathroom first!
  3. Check your pump parts frequently–If you feel like you have milk to express, but nothing is coming out, check the valves and connections on your pump. With repeated use, some parts will wear out and can change the effectiveness of your pump. At one point with my son, I knew I was full but wasn’t able to express much milk. When I changed the valves, suddenly I was able to express milk again. Routinely inspect your pump when cleaning it to to make sure it’s in good working order.
  4. Consider herbals for increasing your milk supply–If you are a working mom and are pumping to store milk for your childcare provider to feed, consider using herbal supplements to increase your supply. You can find a list and helpful tips at Kellymom.com.
  5. Check your suction–If the pump isn’t correctly positioned on your breast, you won’t be able to express milk and you can even injure your breast. Read the manual for your pump for suggestions. You should feel a definite suction of the flange to your breast when the pump is turned on, and your nipple should be pulled into the neck of the flange. If you don’t see and feel this, you don’t have enough suction. Turn the pump off and reposition, and if that doesn’t work, check your pump to make sure it is assembled correctly and everything is working.
  6. Encourage letdown–Pumping is hard if you are stressed or worried about not being able to pump enough. Try to relax and concentrate on your baby and how much you love him. Having a photo or a blanket with his scent on it can help. You could also try a lavender scented neck wrap while pumping.
  7. Keep in mind the last time you pumped or fed your baby–If it’s only been an hour since you nursed your baby, don’t be surprised if you aren’t able to express a lot. If you are working, try to pump at frequent intervals to avoid engorgement.
  8. Have reasonable expectations–Even the best pump is not as efficient as a baby. With the right tools, you can be successful at expressing milk, but it takes effort and not every mother is able to pump enough to exclusively feed breastmilk. Whenever possible, feed your baby from the breast.

Pumping moms, do you have any other tips to add?

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kayris (29 Posts)


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Johanna S October 8, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Something that helped me was to put a warm rice sock on my breast to help with letdown.

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Evony October 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm

I used nipple cream before and after pumping…it saved my nipples from becoming cracked.

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justine October 9, 2009 at 11:00 am

I certainly tried all of these in the past and have never had success at pumping… I have successfully pumped about 1/2 oz at any given pumping–and that would be the result of a 30-45 minute pumping session. I have had four babies (one more on the way) and have always had an ample milk supply with no other feeding issues. I have run into other “large breasted” momma’s who also have had little or no success at pumping. I have tried hand pumps, electric pumps, and hospital grade pumps…the suction/motor power does not seem to be the issue, it is a fundamental issue of the part that fits on my nipple just simply not affecting my nipple in anyway that would get milk out of it! If I am really full of milk and then have a letdown, I can sometimes just let it flow into the pump–but it would have done that into a cup just as easily. As soon as the “burst” of the let down fades, the flow trickles off and the suction is useless, as well as painful. Luckily, I am not in a position to HAVE to pump for my babies…but there have been times when it would have made my hubby’s life much easier! Numerous LC’s and breastfeeding books have not really been helpful, since all of the advice they have to give is essentially what you have said in your post.

Have other momma’s had this problem? Were you able to figure out a solution? I know that for my friends who pump successfully, they scratch their heads and cannot understand why there is any difficulty…surely I just have not tried the right pump or tried hard enough…but I think that I can safely say that after 21 years of parenting 4 kids that I have wasted tons of money and time trying to do this with no success! I’d love any help anyone can offer!

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Kayris October 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Justine–I’m not large breasted, but I have heard of this problem from other BF moms with ample chests. I can’t obviously speak from experience, but the thing I heard over and over again was that the brand pump makes all the difference. Pumps with a harder flange (such as the Ameda pump I had) were easier to use that pumps with softer, rubbery parts. And a friend said she would have to pump for seriously 20 minutes before anything would happen, at which point the milk would come so quickly that she would express 6 to 8 ounces PER BREAST in a matter of minutes. I was rarely able to pump that much total, so I was jealous, but she said she discovered this after getting immersed in a TV show and not realizing how much time had gone by. She always thought pumping didn’t work for her, because she quit at the 15 minute mark. I hated pumping so much that I probably would have quit too, but she also worked FT and really needed to make it work.

That said, on my last API post about pumping, LOTS of moms said pumping never worked for them. So if it doesn’t work for you and you don’t need to do it, I wouldn’t bother with it. They are so little for so short a time anyway.

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justine October 9, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Thanks Kayris :) It just feels icky to run up against a parenting/breastfeeding challenge that I can’t seem to overcome. It seems like a pretty straightforward process and I go about it with the highest of hopes each time!

Although I will almost never *need* to have milk handy for my baby except from the source, I will try pumping again after this newest baby since I would love to have a backup supply in the freezer, or be able to donate milk if needed in an emergency for another family, or even to keep up my supply after my babe is done in case we chose to adopt someday…so I will let you know if I find the magic pump or technique so we can share it with everyone and have 9 Tips For Successful Pumping!

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Maria October 9, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I pumped for a year (my daughter would not nurse well during the day, but she nursed at night). Here are my tips:

1. Get yourself a hands-free set up. I liked the Made By Moms pumping band, but others use the Easy Expressions bra. This will transform your pumping experience. You can eat, type, read, surf the web, etc. Plus I got more milk this way because of the pressure the band put on my breasts.

2. After you are done pumping, turn off the pump, wait 5 minutes, and then turn the pump on again. I would get at least another .5 ounce this way, sometimes up to an additional 2 ounces!

3. Get a GOOD pump. If you are pumping on a daily basis, there are only 2 pumps to consider: the Ameda Purely Yours or the Medela Pump In Style. There’s also the Lansinoh purple double electric pump, which is the same as the Ameda, just marketed different. (Oh, and now there’s the Medela hands-free Freestyle.) Anyway, if you buy a cheap pump, it will not work and you will lose your milk supply. Check with your insurance company – many times they will help pay for a pump.

4. Join a supportive online group. I was a member of three yahoo groups: breastfeeding, pumpmoms, and bfworkingmoms — all three provided me with invaluable support when I had questions. After all, there were about 3000+ moms who were members, so someone had always had experience with whatever situation I had!

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Carrie October 11, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Thank you so much for posting this – I would definitely recommend a GOOD, double electric pump (like Medela or the above brands mentioned) for any mom that plans to breastfeed – breastfeeding didn’t ‘work’ for my son for the first six weeks, and I ended up having to pump everything for him for those weeks. Then he latched on & nursed the rest of the year – he refused to even take a bottle after he was 7 months old! I pumped after his morning & evening feedings – 15-20 mins. each time, and saved the milk (all good hindmilk) for when I needed a bottle for him (just once or twice a week on average). I am very large breasted and only had good success with a hospital grade electric Medela pump that I rented from the WIC office. Although I hope to nurse my little girl (due in 10 weeks) exclusively this time, and not pump or use bottles nearly as much, I am planning on renting a pump again just in case there are issues, I will have it on hand and not have to supplement with formula.

As far as letdown goes, I remember that when I stopped producing while pumping, I would have to sit and voluntarily relax my neck & shoulders, and then more milk would typically let down. And if I watched my baby across the room, that made it easier, too. :)

Also, I am hoping to make my own Easy Expressions thing this time, by cutting small holes in an old nursing bra- hands-free would be so nice. :)

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Petra November 18, 2013 at 11:52 pm

I have been pumping for over 4 months already using lansinoh breast pump.I had preemie baby so she got used to bottle in hospital. I do pump enough and my baby girl is on breast milk only. Though i am getting really tired of pumping every 3 hours.

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