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5 Pumping tips for breastfeeding moms

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

How to make pumping breastmilk easier when you're a mom

Pumping breast milk is one of those things that you’re never really quite prepared for until after you’ve had your baby.

And even then, can we ever truly prepare ourselves to be sitting all alone in a small room while at work, a little machine sucking away at our breasts? But the fact remains that many moms end up pumping for a variety of reasons, and we’re here to help make it just a little bit easier.

More: 20 Breathtaking photos to celebrate the beauty & benefits of breastfeeding

We spoke with some breastfeeding professionals to get all the tips and tricks to help make your experience with pumping the best it can be. Before jumping into pumping, it can be useful to get as many details as you can in place. Lauren Weinsier, a La Leche League Leader from Massachusetts, says that she usually asks a bunch of questions when a new mom is thinking about pumping: What are Mom's goals for nursing/bottle feeding/pumping? How old is the baby? How many hours will Mom and Baby be separated? Where is Mom going to be pumping? Who is caring for Baby while Mom and Baby are apart, and will they be far away or close by? What kind of pump will she have access to?

Once these questions have been considered and pumping has begun, here are some useful pumping tips that can help see you through the experience.

How to make pumping breastmilk easier when you're a mom
Image: Design by Becci Burkhart/SheKnows; Image via Getty Images

1. Don't start pumping too early.

Certified Lactation Counselor Cory Ellen Gatrall suggests holding off on pumping as long as possible, unless there’s a necessity. “In the early days and weeks, skin-to-skin time and frequent nursing will do more than pumping to help establish supply.”

More: Breastfeeding moms stop traffic in stunning photograph

2. Pump to meet your own goals.

Because every baby’s needs and every mom’s schedule are different, pumping routines will vary by situation. When starting to pump (especially if you are exclusively pumping), try to get in 8-10 pumping sessions/day. Figure out a routine that works for you, but it’s recommended not to go longer than 5-6 hours between pumping sessions. You don’t want to deal with engorgement (painful overfilling of breasts) or a decrease in output because you’ve waited too long in between sessions.

3. Pump productively.

Gatrall says that depending on your goals and how your body responds to the pump, you should probably be pumping between 10 and 30 minutes per session. You can have more than one letdown in every pumping cycle, but you should not continue pumping for more than five minutes after you saw the last drop.

4. Pick the pump that’s right for you.

Again, every situation is different, so the type of pump that may work best for you might not work for your co-worker, neighbor or sister-in-law. Carolyn Levy, a lactation consultant based in Connecticut, notes that each type of pump has different benefits. “I would recommend a double electric pump if it is needed to replace a meal at breast for Baby. For a mom who needs to up her milk production if Baby isn’t sucking well enough, I’d recommend renting a hospital-grade pump. If a pump is needed for engorgement relief, I would actually recommend hand expression and not a pump.”

More: 10 Terrible reasons to breastfeed

And don’t forget to check your insurance. Under the ACA, pump coverage is mandatory for almost all plans, but according to Gatrall, some plans only cover manual pumps. “If you are planning to pump for a return to work or to build a stash, a manual pump is not what you want,” she explains.

5. Try to relax.

While this is easier said than done, especially when it comes to feeding your baby, do your best not to put so much pressure on yourself. According to Gatrall, the amount you make for the pump does not reflect how much you are making for your baby. “If you are frustrated with how little you are getting, please don't worry that your baby at the breast isn't getting enough,” Gatrall says. She also notes that some women find that they do better with hand expression than pumping.

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