Your full guide to pumping breast milk

Most of the breastfeeding moms have tried to pump at least once. There are many different reasons for pumping breast milk: to feed the baby who was born premature and can’t latch, to increase low milk supply, to collect milk that a caregiver can feed the baby when you are away, or deal with breast engorgement. Many mothers are exclusive pumpers, i.e. they only pump and provide the breast milk to their babies in a bottle.

pumping breast milk

How should I pump?

You can either pump or express milk by hand. If you need to express milk occasionally, for example, to soothe breast engorgement, hand expressing may be all you need. A few techniques and a bit of practice will help you to express a good amount of milk without hurting your breasts.  Apply warmth to your breasts before expressing. Lean forward. Hold your breast with your thumb and index finger slightly above your areola to form a C letter with your hand. Press the breast back forward to your chest and then press fingers together. Be careful not to compress your nipple. Practice a bit to find the right technique, and you will see how the milk squirts. Always use clean hands and containers when hand expressing.

Moms that have to pump more frequently prefer breast pumps. They make pumping breast milk a quick and easy process. Breast pumps can be manual, battery powered, and electric. Manual pumps have a special plunger to pull to express milk. It usually takes about 30-45 minutes to pump with a manual pump. Electric or battery powered pumps do the work for you. Double electric pumps allow pumping both breasts simultaneously. Lactation consultants usually recommend pumping each breast at least 15 minutes for effective milk removal.

Good breast pumps should not cause pain, but mimic the sucking action of your baby. If your breast pump hurts, check if the flange(s) fits correctly, does not extend way past the areola, and surrounds the nipple and areola. Start from the lowest suction power and increase it slowly, keeping the sense of to pump breastmilk

If you are not getting enough milk…  

Pumping breast milk doesn’t come easily for everyone. If you are having issues with getting much milk, consider the following tips:

  • Try pumping either 30-60 minutes after nursing or at least an hour before the next feeding session. If you are pumping breast milk right after feeding the baby, you may not get milk because the baby has drained the breasts.
  • Try different pumping patterns by adjusting the suction pressure or the cycling speed;
  • Check the flanges of the pump to become sure they fit correctly. Most pumps come with standard-sized flanges that may be small for you.
  • Stress can impede or delay the letdown. Try to calm down, listen to a relaxing music, or visualize your baby. Apply a warm compress to your breasts or drink a hot tea before pumping breast milk. Many moms look at the picture of their babies to stimulate letdown.
  • Conduct regular pump maintenance. Check the valves and membranes of the pump for cracks or tears. Even small cracks that are invisible to an eye can make your pump to lose its suction.
  • If above-mentioned tips do not help, try another breast pump.

How to store pumped breastmilk?

BPA-free sterilized plastic bottles or plastic breastmilk bags are preferred over glass bottles that may crack.  Bags usually occupy much less space in the freezer than bottles. Remember to mark the name of the baby, the date the milk was stored, and its amount on the container.

Breastmilk can be stored up to six months if certain rules are strictly followed. If you are planning to use the milk in 6-8 hours after pumping, you can keep it at room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the following rules for refrigerating fresh breast milk:

  • 24 hours in an insulated cooler bag with ice packs (5-39°F or -15-4°C). Limit the number of times you open the bag;
  • 5 days in the back of the refrigerator (39°F or 4°C);
  • 2 weeks in a freezer compartment of a refrigerator (5°F or -15°C);
  • 3-6 months in a freezer compartment of a refrigerator with separate doors (0°F or -18°C);
  • 6-12months in a chest or upright deep freezer (-4°F or -20°C).

You can freeze the milk that is in the refrigerator within 48 hours. Thawed breastmilk can be stored in the back of the refrigerator up to 24 hours after it has finished thawing. Never refreeze thawed milk. There are different approaches to whether you can re-use the milk if the baby does not finish the bottle. Some sources argue that is should be discarded, others would advise to refrigerate it and offer again within 1-2 hours.storing breastmilk

How to thaw and warm up the breast milk?

The best way to thaw a frozen breastmilk is to let it defrost in the refrigerator. If you need to defrost ASAP, hold the container under warm water. Never microwave or heat the milk directly. To warm the thawed milk, place it in a cup of a warm water. To check if the milk has the right temperature, put a few drops of milk on your wrist. If it feels just a little warm, or neither warm nor cool, then you can offer it to the baby.

Any other tips on how to pump and store a breast milk? Share them with us.pumping breast milk


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