Breast Pump Tips

Peggy V. Helmerich Women's Health Center lactation consultant Cheryl Coleman shares these tips to help nursing mothers when it comes time to pump.

Many new mothers choose to pump and store expressed milk to feed their infants while they are at work, school, or for many other reasons.  Pumping may seem easy, but there are several differences between the pump and your baby – and from pump to pump – that can influence your success.

First, select a breast pump to meet your needs. Evaluate how often you plan to pump. If you will be pumping daily or several times each day, you may need a heavier-duty pump and should even consider renting a hospital-grade breast pump. Be aware that just because a pump is electric doesn’t mean that it is a quality breast pump. Talk to other mothers who have pumped and your lactation consultant about which types and brands they like.  Also, check with your insurance company to see what breast pump they may provide.

It would be best to wait to begin pumping and storing breast milk until your milk supply is well established, approximately 3-4 weeks after your baby is born. Your baby will be nursing frequently during that time and he or she will do the best job at building your milk supply. If you pump during that time, consider it practice time in order to get comfortable with the breast pump. Your body needs time and practice to adjust to the pump. Note how your breasts feel when you pump.  
•    Do you feel as though they are emptying with pumping? Or do they still feel quite full?  If they continue to feel full, the pump may not be good enough to move your milk.
•    Is it painful? Pumping should NEVER be painful. Call your lactation consultant for help.  
•    Does your nipple move freely in the flange (the part that you hold to your breast that tugs the nipple)?  If your nipple fills the flange and rubs on the sides of the flange, it is too small. A small flange will not empty the breasts well and may lead to sore nipples. Select a pump that allows you to change the flange size to meet your needs.

If you will have a set routine for pumping once you return to work, try to get into that routine a week or two before returning. That will help you see how the routine works for you and the length of time you will need for pumping. Be sure to pack a picture of baby or have a video, with sounds, of your baby to watch while you pump. You might also have a blanket, burp rag, or other item that will remind you of the baby and help the hormones do their job of releasing the milk.

You may notice that you don’t get as much milk when you pump at work. This is common and is often due to the stresses of the work day. Just keep pumping and breastfeed your baby often when you are with him/her.

Pumped milk is easily stored. The best storage containers are made of hard plastic or glass. While not the best, many mothers choose to use breast milk storage bags as well. If you are pumping away from home you should always label your milk with your name and the date it is pumped. Once pumped, your milk may be kept at room temperature for six hours. It should be kept away from heat sources and direct sunlight, however. Breast milk may also be kept in an insulated cooler bag for 24 hours. If available, it would be best to place the pumped milk in a refrigerator where it may be stored for five days. If it will be longer than that before you use the pumped milk, you may store it in a refrigerator freezer for six months or in a deep freeze for 12 months. Fresh or refrigerated milk retains more of the nutrients and immune properties than frozen milk. Be aware that your milk is not pasteurized, so it will separate when stored. In addition, many mothers are surprised at the color of their milk. Sometimes you may notice a blue, green or even orange tint to your breast milk. Many times this is due to foods that you have eaten. If you have any concerns, call your lactation consultant.

You should thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator or in a container of lukewarm water. If you wish to warm the milk, you should also do that in a container of warm, not hot, water. If you are warming the milk prior to feeding it to your baby, heat the milk to body temperature. At body temperature, you should not feel the drop of milk that you drip on your wrist as many people do to test temperature. If it feels warm it is too warm. NEVER use a microwave to either thaw or warm breast milk. Microwaves create uneven heating and destroy valuable properties of the milk.

Being able to pump and store breast milk allows many mothers to continue this special bond and special protection for their babies even though they must be separated. Each mother will need to find her own routine that works best for her. Contact your lactation consultant if you want to explore different ways to create your own routine.