Using a breast pump is something that has to be learned. Be patient, even if you are not able to meet your expectations right away. There are a number of tips that will help you get used to your pumping routine and help you handle your pump correctly.
Pumping works best when you are relaxed
The following list of tips may help you find your own routine. Pumping can even provide you with welcome breaks from everyday stress.
- Following a routine may help you to stimulate a good milk flow. If you establish a fixed time of the day to pump, your body can prepare for the extra demand on your milk supply.
- It is easier to express milk when you are relaxed. Take your time. Feeling rushed will impair your let-down. You may also try deep breathing exercises, relaxation exercises from your antenatal class or positive visualisation (e.g. sitting in the sun at the shore of a lake).
- Seek privacy and avoid distractions.
- Have everything you might need within reach.
- Apply warm compresses to your breasts to enhance let-down and milk flow.
- Some women prefer to massage their breasts before pumping to encourage the let-down reflex.
- Relax your shoulders and make sure your back and arms are well supported.
- Hold the breast shield from your pump set between your thumb and index finger. Use your palm and the other fingers to support your breast. This helps to maintain a good seal between the breast shield and the breast and avoids pushing the edges of the breast shield into your breast tissue, which can cause blocked milk ducts.
- Many mums find it easier to express their milk in front of their baby. If you are separated from your baby, you could look at a picture of your little one, listen to a recording of their voice or smell a piece of their clothing.
- Have a nice drink and a healthy snack handy before and during the pumping session.
- Get as much rest as possible.
Using your breast pump
- Find a comfortable place to express your milk.
- Select the correct size breast shield (the part of the pump that is shaped like a funnel) for your breast. The breast shield should closely surround your nipple but leave enough space so that your nipple does not rub against the wall of the shield and can move freely back and forth. Medela provides breast shields in different sizes.
- Pump at Maximum Comfort Vacuum. The Maximum Comfort Vacuum is the highest vacuum a mother can tolerate and still be comfortable. You can determine your own Maximum Comfort Vacuum by increasing the vacuum until pumping feels slightly uncomfortable (not painful), then decreasing the vacuum slightly.
- The key for successful milk expression is stimulating your let-down reflex. Discomfort or pain will hamper your let-down.
- Massage your breasts before and occasionally during pumping to encourage your let-down and milk flow.
- Double pumping cuts your pumping time in half. Your prolactin level is higher when you use a double pump, so you may produce more milk over time.
- When you pump one breast at a time, switch from one side to the other several times.
- Milk expression should never be painful. If you feel any pain, stop pumping immediately and ask your lactation consultant for advice. Do not risk damaging your sensitive breast tissue by using your breast pump incorrectly!
Breast pumping to have milk in stock or to enhance milk supply?
- If you are breast pumping with the aim of having milk in stock, pump one hour after the end of a morning session. In the morning you are not as tired as you will be in the afternoon or evening and your milk flows more easily.
- If your goal is to enhance your milk supply, pump after every second breastfeeding session for about 15 minutes, even if there is only a little milk being expressed. This additional suction stimulates your body to produce more milk.
Hygiene during breast pumping
- Whether you hand express or use a breast pump, wash your hands before you start expressing and follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning the pump and the pump set.
- Good hygiene is mandatory if you want to give your expressed milk to your baby. All parts of the breast pump and the containers used to collect and store your milk should be cleaned and disinfected before use. If your baby is sick or born prematurely, follow the hospital guidelines strictly.
A breast pump is a machine and will not stimulate the same feelings as your baby. But after a while you will learn to trigger your let-down with pumping. Be patient and be gentle with yourself.