Using Breastfeeding Pumps

Valorie Delp
Breast Pump Machine

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for about the first six months of life, and breastfeeding in conjunction with other foods for the first year of life. A breastfeeding pump can help mothers fulfill this recommendation.

Breastfeeding Pump Benefits

Many working mothers use pumps so that they can continue to breastfeed even after going back to work. Studies show that breastfed babies are less sick and parents actually miss less work overall if the mom continues to nurse. However, breastfeeding pumps are not only for the working mother; they help all mothers to express milk effectively.

  • When a mother is sick and will spend time in the hospital or require risky medication for a period of time, a pump ensures that breastfeeding can continue.
  • If your baby is too sick to breastfeed, breast pumps can help keep the milk supply strong.
  • Occasional uses of the breast pump will alleviate engorgement issues.
  • A breast pump is an important tool for feeding a premature baby or one with health issues that make it difficult for them to nurse from the breast.
  • Pumping milk for the occasional separation provides mom needed time away.
  • Pumping can help mothers cope with an oversupply issue.

Tips for Pumping

Once the pump has been bought and taken home, the real challenge begins. All quality breastfeeding pumps will come with instructions and hotline numbers to facilitate the individual differences of the chosen pump. You can also call your local La Leche League if you are having problems pumping.

Getting Started

  • Take your time assembling the parts. Follow the instructions and make sure you understand how the pieces work.
  • Sit in a comfortable chair, with the breast pump on a nearby table or the floor.
  • Make your pumping environment as relaxing as possible.
  • Think about your baby, look at your baby, or bring along a picture of your baby to help with your let-down reflex.
  • Be patient. It may take a couple of minutes for your let-down reflex to kick in.
  • If your pump has several suction settings, use the gentlest one first, however, don't be afraid to increase the suction as long as you are comfortable.

Massaging your breasts before you pump can also be helpful.

Once Your Milk Is Flowing

  • Pump for 10 to 15 minutes on each side, especially if you are trying to establish a supply.
  • Continue to pump for a minute or two after the milk stops flowing to see if you can trigger more milk.

If your goal is simply to relieve engorgement, pump until your breasts don't feel as full.

To Help Establish a Supply

  • Pump on a routine that mimics baby's routine - generally every two to three hours if your baby is newborn.
  • Eat and drink enough calories to ensure you have adequate milk. The Mayo Clinic says that breastfeeding moms need 400 to 500 additional calories per day.
  • To help establish supply and trigger let-down to store more milk, you can nurse your baby on one side and pump on the other.

Many women find that pumping both breasts at the same time is helpful.

When You're Finished Pumping

  • Date your breast milk on your storage container.
  • If your nipples get sore, use lanolin-based cream or express a drop of milk to dry on your nipples.
  • Always clean the parts of your breast pump that come into contact with your milk or breast by washing the parts in hot, soapy water. You may be able to put some pump parts in the dishwasher. Consult the manual that came with the breast pump.

Freezing, Storing and Thawing Tips

The CDC offers a thorough list of guidelines for storing and using stored breastmilk. Among these important guidelines, it's important to remember to:

  • Avoid adding new breastmilk to already frozen or pumped breastmilk.
  • Date your breastmilk so that you know how long it's been in the freezer.
  • Freeze milk that you don't plan on using soon.
  • Throw leftover milk in a bottle away. Do not refreeze leftover milk.
  • Thaw milk in the refrigerator, or by placing the bottle in a bowl of warm water.

According to the CDC, milk is good for several hours at room temperature, and up to a week in the fridge.

Avoiding Nipple Confusion

While it is common to feed your baby pumped breast milk through a bottle, many experts discourage giving a breastfed baby a bottle (or any artificial nipple) for the first three to four weeks of life as doing so can lead to what is known as 'nipple confusion.' Consequently, if you have an option, you can try other means in order to feed your baby (particularly a newborn):

  • Use a sippy cup - As your baby opens his mouth, use a sippy cup that does not have the reverse flow stop, to dribble milk into his mouth.
  • Use an eye dropper or a medicine dropper - This is especially effective for preemies who are not able to suck well.
  • Use a plastic-coated spoon - Use a baby spoon to dribble milk into his mouth
  • Use a supplemental nursing system - This is a bag attached to a tube which you attach to your breast. Baby suckles at the breast, but gets nutrition from the tube attached to the bag that you fill with breastmilk. This is ideal for preemies.

All of these methods take a great deal of patience. Fortunately, since newborn babies only take in a few ounces at each feeding, it is doable.

Choosing a Breastfeeding Pump

What type of pump you get will depend on your reason for pumping.

Hospital Pumps

Hospital pumps have a stronger suction and are able to help a mother establish a milk supply more easily than a store-bought pump would. In addition, they are electric, so mom doesn't have to sit for hours on end hand-pumping.

They can generally pump both breasts at a time, and the suction and speed are adjustable. They are also typically on wheels, so you can move the pump across the hall, but they are not portable in the sense that you could take them to work with you. You need a hospital pump if:

  • Your baby is premature.
  • Your baby, who is less than six months, becomes ill and is staying in the hospital for an extended length of time.

You can find a hospital pump:

  • At the hospital - you can generally use it at the hospital for free, although check first as different hospitals have different policies
  • Through your local La Leche League
  • Through WIC if you qualify; ask your local case worker

Hospital-Grade Portable Pumps

Hospital-grade portable pumps are as close as you can get to the suction of a hospital pump. They are not easily portable in your diaper bag, as they have a bulky motor to carry, however they are designed so that you can move them from the hospital to your house or from room to room in your house. You need this type of pump if:

  • Your baby will be in the NICU for a long period of time, and your milk supply has been established.
  • You are having trouble establishing your supply because your baby cannot nurse as frequently as he should.
  • You will be away from your baby for an extended period of time, and you do not have an established supply of milk.
  • You are trying to store up milk quickly because you are having surgery, or will be away from your baby for an extended period.

Hospital-grade pumps may be covered by your insurance, and are also available for rent. You can obtain this type of pump from Medela.

Portable Electric Pumps

These pumps save mom's arm by inducing the suction action of the pump through an electric motor. They are portable, so you can use it at home, at work, in the car and just about anywhere else. They can be a bit noisy, but do offer a strong suction to help keep an established supply going while mom is away from baby. You may want an electric pump if:

  • You work more than three hours away from your baby every day.
  • You have to 'pump and dump' for a week or more because of a medication you are taking.
  • Your baby will not nurse for a week or more.
  • You need to store up a lot of breastmilk.

You can get this kind of breast pump from any retail store that sells baby items.

Manual Pump

A manual pump is small and extremely portable, generally fitting inside your purse or diaper bag easily. It is ideal for moms who:

  • Only need to pump occasionally
  • Want to use a pump to relieve engorgement
  • Do not need to store breastmilk, but would like to just in case

You can get a manual pump anywhere where bottle feeding supplies are sold.

Pumping Is Doable

While pumping does require you to establish good habits right from the start, it is a doable option for mothers who want to breastfeed but cannot do so due to work or illness. It's also a great option to help give moms a break during those early months.

Using Breastfeeding Pumps