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There are various reasons why you may need to pump milk. It can be because you have low milk supply and want to increase milk production. It can be because the baby refuse to directly nurse from breast but you still want to give the benefit of breast milk for her. It can simply to relieve engorgement (which is temporary), or because you will be returning to work and need to build up a freezer stash.
Whatever your reason is, if you decide that you need to pump for a certain period of time, you want to make sure your pumping efforts pays off. That you pump effectively and achieve your pumping goals.
In this series, I would discuss several important aspects on pumping breast milk to help you pump more milk and achieve your pumping goals.
To give you the finest level of details that you need, I divide them into several sub topics and discuss each of them in separate articles:
- 10 things you should know before pumping breast milk
- Getting the correct breast shield size
- How to get let down quickly
- Tips and tricks: effective pumping strategies to pump more milk
- How to maintain milk supply while away from baby (and culprit of sudden milk supply drop)
I’ll update each of them with links to the actual article once I finish writing this series.
(this post may contain affiliate links)
Now let’s start about topic #1:
10 Things You Should Know Before Pumping Breast Milk
There are things you SHOULD know before even start to pump milk. Many times, due to insufficient knowledge, some moms stop pumping because they thought they don’t have milk that they actually have. In another case, some moms need to throw out ounces of milk that she pumped because it cannot be consumed. You don’t want this to happen to you, right. So read on..
And hopefully after reading this, you have a better idea how ‘committing to pumping milk’ looks like and adjust your ‘expectations’.
#1 The amount of milk you pumped is NOT equal to the amount of milk your baby drinks right from the breast
This is the mostly cited reason why a mom decided to stop pumping.
Please remember that babies remove breast milk more effectively compared to a breast pump. (That’s why usually the #1 suggestion to increase milk supply is to nurse and nurse and nurse.)
Now, back to the amount of milk you pump. If you are pumping in between feeding, any amount of milk you get is EXTRA milk, no matter how little it is. As you continue to pump regularly, the amount of milk will increase.
If you pump while not feeding the baby (say, at work) it is very common to get half or even third of what baby usually gets. That’s why before returning to work, you are encouraged to have some extra EBM stash, to help you match your baby’s milk intake.
If you pump and get the exact amount of milk that your baby needs, then kudos for you! You may have oversupply. But if you are not, don’t worry. A lot of moms are like that.
#2 You need to get let down before the milk starts flowing
I read a lot of complaints like this:
The first thing that I suspect is this mom may not achieve let down in the first place and that’s why no milk is flowing.
You need to know the way milk is flowing out from the breast is not the same as turning on a tap to get the water flowing.
Similarly, if you squeeze your breast right now and you see no milk, that does not mean there’s no milk in your breast.
You need to stimulate let down first. If you nurse your baby directly, you may notice that he starts with rapid-shallow sucks to get let down and then followed by deep-long sucks.
There are many other ways to stimulate let down without a baby. And some breast pumps have let-down massage mode which helps you to trigger let downs. I’ll talk about it in details in part 2 of this series.
#3 You may only get a few drops in your first pumping session and that’s okay
Remember, you are still in the learning phase to use your breast pump effectively. Also, that milk drops, no matter how little it is, is extra milk.
Rest assured, as you continue pumping regularly, and as you get to know your pump better, you would see increments in your pumping output. Don’t stop, keep doing this, and you’ll see difference soon.
If you need more encouragement, read my story on how I start building my freezer stash literally from drops of milk.
#4 Your breast keeps producing milk as long as it is removed efficiently
When you start pumping regularly, you may have questions, ‘if I pump my milk out, would my baby get less milk because of that?’ I know how it feels when your baby suddenly flocks to you to nurse all day and you think that’s because you pump.
Trust your breast, that it keeps producing milk all the time. If your baby appears to nurse longer, that’s totally normal. It’s just the breast milk is not readily available to drink and your breast ‘s milk production is going at faster rate to fulfill your baby’s demand.
In fact, it is telling your breast to produce even more milk to fulfill your baby’s need and some extra for your pumping.
#5 The amount of milk you get will vary throughout the day or even across days, and that’s okay
The rate of milk production varies throughout the day. Typically it is faster and more milk in the morning, and getting slower (and less) closer to the evening. This is a normal pattern, and thus it will affect your pumping output throughout several pumping sessions.
Similarly, the pumping output can also vary across the day. I used to worry when I was regularly able to pump 60 ml in each morning pump session but suddenly I only got 40 ml. A lot of things may affect your milk production, remember that it is still largely dependent on your hormone. When you are tired or stressed, you may get less milk. When you feel happy, you may get more. Just know that there will be bad days where you don’t really get a lot of milk. And it’s okay.
Sometimes, it can be pretty depressing if you don’t get the amount of milk that you have expected. I could totally understand. But try not to focus on those numbers. Instead, have a deep breath and be grateful that you are still able to provide some milk to your baby.
#6 Beware of excess lipase issue
Excess what? You may be asking. Lipase is a kind of enzyme that’s present in human body. And it is also present in breast milk. The problem is when the amount of this enzyme is excessive, it may affect the taste and smell of breast milk, when it is stored more than 24 hours. The smell becomes unbearable. The taste is not only bad, but rather, HORRIBLE. And most likely, your baby refuses to drink horrible-taste milk.
I have read stories of moms need to dump away their precious expressed milk because they didn’t know they have excess lipase problem.
Surely, you don’t want to throw away your milk, right?
Watch this video for further details, or get the book to have the step-by-step guide on checking and dealing with excess lipase.
#7 You need to choose the correct size of breast flange / breast shield
Yes, breast shield size matter. While most breast pumps come with standard size breast size, you can not assume that the standard size will fit you. Medela has a great guide on how to choose the correct breast shield, but the only way to know is by trying it and look how your nipple moves inside the breast shield.
By choosing the right breast shield size, not only you can increase the level of comfort while pumping, but also increase the pumping output. For example, I was able to increase my milk output by 20% by using the correct breast shield size.
Not all breast pump offers variety of breast shield size. Here’s some comparison for your information:
Medela: 4 size: 21-mm, 24-mm, 27-mm, 30-mm, 32-mm
Ameda:21-mm, 25-mm, 28-mm, 32-mm, 36-mm
Spectra: 24-mm, 28-mm, 32-mm
Avent: not shield but cushion has two size, standard and large size
Maymom: this is not breast pump brand, but it offers the widest variety of breast shield size, 19, 21, 24, 26, 27, 29, 30, 34, 36 mm one-piece flanges, and 22 mm insert to use with 25 mm flange and 28 mm insert to use with 30 mm flange. I recommend trying this brand you are not able to find the right breast shield size with your current breast pump brand.
#8 Breast pump type matters
Should you choose hospital-grade, personal-user grade, or handheld/manual pump? It all really depends on why you are pumping and how long you will be doing this.
If you just need it for occasional use to relieve engorgement or to prepare occasional stock when you are away from baby for a short time, manual pump is good enough (here’s the one that I recommend).
If you are returning to work, a good personal-user grade double electric pump that offer portability will ease the pumping job for you (check out this little but strong pump).
If you are exclusively pumping or pumping for twins, use a hospital-grade pump like this.
#9 Learn to hand express is useful
Even though you have a breast pump, mastering hand expression technique can be useful. Do you know you can increase your pumping output by doing hand expression after double pumping?
Additionally, if you pump in the early days of colostrum, you may get more colostrum expressed compared to if you use electric breast pump.
And what if you suddenly forgot to bring your breast pump to work? While you won’t be able to completely empty your breast, hand expression will relieve you engorgement and keeps milk being produced. Having said all the benefits, I think it is a wise idea to learn hand expression, don’t you think so?
#10 Pumping takes persistence and a lot of discipline
If you are unable to nurse your baby directly for a long period of time, there’s no other way to maintain your milk production other than pumping.
That means, pumping will become your daily routines. You will be strapped to your pump a few times a day. You will be bored. You will want to throw away your pump. But you want to keep pumping for providing milk for your baby.
That’s why pumping needs a lot of persistence and hard work. You would wish you can just spend time playing with your baby rather than pumping. But remember that your baby grows very fast. Soon, you will have your time for her all the time.
And what would be the sweetest memory from being able to provide what your baby needs from all you have. And celebrate it. Like this mama who buried her pumping set after she stopped pumping.
And there you have it. I hope by knowing these things before you start pumping for your baby, you can start pumping the smart way and adjust all your expectations.
So, are you ready to pump now? Let’s start!
As always, if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to ask. Don’t be shy!
And if you enjoyed the read, please share with others so that they can reap the benefit as well.