Whether you’re breastfeeding or exclusively pumping, getting the most out of your pump is the added advantage that can really take the stress off taking care of your baby.
Pumping and feeding expressed breast milk (EBM) is essential for mums going back to the offices, for babies at daycare or their grandparents’, or for dads in the middle of night to let mum catch up on an essential extra few hours of sleep.
Milk production supply comes in over the first 2-4 weeks, where your baby’s appetite will set the standard for your continued supply for the next year or two. That’s right, whatever baby is eating at 4 weeks old is all he’s going to get for the rest of his breastfeeding days.
Brand new mums will want these breastfeeding and pumping tips to start pumping in that first 2-4 weeks, especially if baby has some trouble latching. The EBM can feed your newborn while he learns to suckle, and there’s less chance of your supply taking a hit. Mums with premature babies often pump all day long because a tiny preemie 4-week-old is unlikely to be wakeful or hungry enough to demand what she’s going to need later down the track.
There are also many mums and bubs that can’t breastfeed straight from the nipple, for a myriad of reasons, medical, genetic, or practical. Pumping is not as efficient as a baby suckling, so exclusive pumpers really have their work cut out for them.
Whether you’re looking for exclusive pumping tips and tricks or just looking to get the best out of your pump, this list of helpful hints from real mums will have you bottling your liquid gold in no time.
1. Eat, drink, feed, sleep
The best tip we can give to produce a consistent pumpable milk supply that will meet your baby’s needs is to prioritise your own health. Eat well, stay well-hydrated, and get plenty of rest to stay at the top of your milk game. Make a habit of keeping a filled water bottle next to where you pump or breastfeed.
Self-care is often the last thing on our minds when we’re sleep deprived and managing a crying baby, but feeding is a self-sustaining cycle. If you’re well-fed and getting plenty of sleep, your baby gets more milk, allowing him to sleep more deeply, meaning he wakes up hungrier, and will suck more efficiently to drink more milk. That cycle builds demand on your supply to produce extra milk, giving you better flexibility to siphon off the extra with pumping and be able to pump more milk more frequently.
2. Get to know your breasts and their schedule
Most women find that the best time of day for their milk supply is in the morning, while some have noticed their breast milk flowing best just before bed. (We’re suspicious this may just be the time of day when mums are their least tired and stressed!)
In any case, you may notice signs you’re ready to feed when your breasts swell, they may become hard or even lumpy, and you may notice a prickling sensation as the milk begins to flow from the lactation ducts into the breast.
If your baby is not around, this is the perfect time to start pumping and express more milk because your breasts have already prepared for a let down. Even if the baby's awake and crying for food, which is often what has triggered the let down, this is a great time to feed your baby with one breast while you express the other.
3. Take advantage of grazing days
Mums can often get nervous when their baby has a full day of sleeping without much to eat, but feel free to celebrate! Just like us, babies will never eat exactly the same number of calories each and every day, nor at each and every meal. Sometimes we humans just feel like a light brunch, other times we want to inhale the entire breakfast buffet.
Of course, mums also don’t produce the same amounts of milk every day or for every meal. The ideal milk production would average out to perhaps 110-120% of your baby’s needs, because many times your baby may ask for more than you can produce, or you may produce more than your baby asks for.
Take advantage of days when your baby only wants to graze by pumping as much as you can. This artificially creates demand on your supply to keep producing, and gives you better flexibility to feed her what she wants on her hungriest days.
4. Prepare your baby gear so you can go with the flow
When you feel your breasts prickle and harden, it’s best to start pumping immediately to take advantage of the let down process to get the most milk.
Rather than waste precious minutes on finding the pump pieces and washing out a bottle, have them collected in a bag or container, ready to go. We recommend washing and collecting before bed, especially if you’ve been finding early and late morning is your best time.
Your kit should contain:
- Breast pump (if electric, fully charged or with spare batteries)
- Your pumping bustier, if you use one
- Clean flange, connector, and tubing, already assembled
- Clean bottles with matching lids, or new breastmilk storage bags (at least one more than however many you anticipate needing)
- A pen
Mums pumping at the office will find keeping their equipment and lunch separated in an inconspicuous “breaktime bag” keeps their kit ready to go, but may not have the luxury of being able to stop and pump immediately when they feel the cues.
These days, talking to your manager about being flexible with your break times is usually met with understanding, but if you can’t get away, you’ll also want some breast pads and a cold compress to deal with leaking and sore breasts.
5. The labelling system
It is sooo tempting to just pop the bottle in the fridge and think, “I don’t have time to label but there are only two, today’s and Thursday’s, I’ll remember that”. But after an interrupted sleep, it’s easy to get confused. “Thursday was top shelf, yesterday’s was in the door... right?” If your partner has helpfully moved both bottles to the door, you’ll have to treat them both as Thursday’s. Trust us, it happens a lot.
Labels can be fast and it’s as easy as keeping labels and a pen in your kit, or rubber banded to your pump. Ignore the 10-field form to fill out on the milk storage bag, it’s unnecessary and pen on plastic will smear, even on treated plastic designed to be labeled.
You really only need the date and time (and a name if it’s going to daycare).
Keep your system consistent, so that damaged labels are still informative. I started out with
- 25/10/21 10:45pm
However, between fridge, freezer, and condensation, this often became something like
- 2XxX/21 1Xx45xx
There is nothing sadder than having to toss milk just because you don’t know when it expires. Spell the month with letters instead of digits, skip the year, use “p” for pm and nothing for am, and round your time to reduce characters. Less characters means less information to damage, and can be written larger for less smudging. The same label now looks like this:
- 25 Oct - 11p
Even with bad condensation and damage, this kind of label can become something like
- 2X OxX - XXx
It’s not ideal, but this damaged label shows the milk was expressed some evening in late October, and in the freezer needs to be used by 20 January.
6. Breastfeeding and pumping tips
Your baby is the most efficient pump, so pumping is easiest while you breastfeed. If this option is available to you, try feeding your baby with your “better” breast (you will know within a few days which breast is easier to get a latch on) while you pump breast milk from the other breast to take full advantage of your baby’s ability to spark a let down.
Doing this is so much easier that you may find success pumping with only a cheap little silicone breast pump (often called a “haakaa” after the first successful brand), to catch the run-off produced by the let down.
If you feed on both sides, let the baby have the second breast after you’ve finished pumping to get the remainder. That remainder is often more than you realise, because babies are far more efficient at drawing the milk out than a machine can be. Giving your baby the last go can help stimulate better supply, and the fattier “hindmilk” at the back can help your little one feel fuller and sleep better.
7. Exclusive pumping tips
If your baby is the most efficient pump, your pump is the second most efficient pump. When baby’s not around or breastfeeding hasn’t been working out, you can pump both breasts, a method that works on the same principle and is nearly as efficiently.
A double pump only costs a little more than a single pump, but usually takes less than half the time, due to the let down process affecting both breasts. The downside is that double pumping means using two hands, so to play with your phone or click around the web you’ll need to invest extra for a hands-free pumping bustier.
If you’re not keen on the extra cost and bulk of a double pump, you might also try a combination of an electric pump with a silicone haakaa pump, or other milk collector, to draw out the run-off.
8. Electric vs manual breast pump (and some troubleshooting tips)
Electric and manual breast pumps work the same way, so you should collect similar results with either. However, there’s no denying the laziness factor, the electric pump is ultimately more effective because it’s easier and more comfortable to use.
If you pump for minutes and do not get anything, check that you can visually see the pump pulling at the nipple evenly from the very centre of the flange.
If the nipple is not moving, turn the pump off and check all the parts are clipped together securely. Then double-check - you’d be amazed how often this turns out to be the problem!
Make sure the nipple is dead centre of the flange and try again. It can be hard to tell from above if the nipple is centred, so it’s better to check in a mirror.
It’s also possible for the pump to block the milk ducts, obstructing flow. Flatter and larger nipples are more likely to get blocked by the flange, and it has nothing at all to do with breast size. There are multiple sizes of flange other than the ones your pump came with, so women with flatter or larger nipples might consider trying a larger one.
9. Relax and look at cutie!
While you pump breast milk, it’s YOU Time. Forget your work emails, stress inhibits the flow! You’re doing the job you need to do just by sitting there, so make this private time your own. Play relaxing music, lean forward, and massage and compress your breast tissue to help the milk through.
Your baby is the expert at getting your milk flowing, so this is the perfect excuse to scroll through your phone staring goo-goo eyed at pics and videos of your gorgeous little milk muncher! Adorable smiles and giggly ones seem to work best, both for triggering a let down and for making your pumping sessions something to look forward to.
10. Feeding is an essential part of parenthood, pumping is not
If pumping feels like a time-consuming chore, you’re not alone. Many mums agree this isn’t really a super fun task, being stuck sitting down with one hand on your chest. Try to make the most of your “stuck” time by doing what you really enjoy, listen to music, have a snack, or video call home to see the baby.
However, if pumping is starting to feel like a fight, there’s no shame in winning the battle with formula, or by getting help from professional lactation consultants. For a list of lactation consultants available near you, you can visit this website.
Our job as mums isn’t to breastfeed or to pump, it’s to feed our babies. While there’s evidence that breast milk is technically slightly better for babies than formula, it only counts as a net gain if it’s a painless and stress-free experience for mum, too. If your baby is safe, fed, and happy, you’re a great mum, no matter which strategy you use.