Expressing your breast milk can give some extra options when it comes to feeding your baby.
By pumping milk you can build up a breast milk freezer stash, give yourself an occasional break from a feed by getting someone else to feed baby from a bottle or attend a wedding without your baby.
I remember dashing off to a back room at a wedding venue when my youngest daughter was about five months old.
I had left her at home with her dad and a few bottles of expressed breast milk in the fridge, but my boobs were still producing milk so I had to express a couple of times at the wedding for comfort.
It’s great that you can easily continue to feed your baby breast milk without being joined at the hip, or the nip.
This post is for mothers who want to either gradually build up a breast milk stash in their freezer or express some milk for an occasional bottle-feed for their baby.
I have an entire post about exclusive pumping which I did with my first baby over on another post.
These tips will give you everything you need to know about how often to express your milk, how long to pump for and extra hacks for helping you to pump more breast milk.
Pumping and breastfeeding routine
Before we get to the tips, here’s a sample pumping and breastfeeding routine to give you an idea of how to fit it all in. This works for a baby of just a few weeks’ old assuming they can manage an awake time of an hour or less.
This pumping schedule assumes you want to build up a bit of a stash in your fridge and freezer. If you only want to build up a small amount to offer the odd bottle, then simply try pumping once per day. The morning session tends to yield the most milk.
|7am||Wake-up and breastfeed|
|8am||Put baby down for nap|
|8.15am||Mum pumps for 30 minutes|
|9.30am||Baby wakes up|
|11am||Pump for 30 minutes|
|12.30pm||Wake-up and breastfeed|
|3.30pm||Wake-up and breastfeed|
|5.30pm||Wake-up and play|
|8pm||Pump for 30 minutes|
|10pm||Breastfeed and then resettle baby|
You may also like:
20 beginner’s tips for breastfeeding
How to boost your breast milk supply fast
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Get an electric pump
When you’re a parent of a baby your time is precious. So you want to make expressing your breast milk as easy as possible.
An electric pump will work so much for efficiently and be less work for you compared to a manual pump.
This is my favourite breast pump and it’s honestly such a great investment. It features two-phase action that imitates how a baby feeds, with rapid suckling at the start of a feed to stimulate lockdown followed by slower rhythmic suckling.
If you plan to pump a lot, for example if you want to build up a big breast milk stash in your freezer before going back to work, then you may want to consider investing in a double pump.
In the US, under the Affordable Care Act many insurance plans will offer new mamas a free pump. Check out your policy to see if you are eligible because it can save you a LOT of cash.
Check the flange fits
A pump will come with a standard flange (the bit that goes on your boob) but this may not be the best fit for you.
A poorly fitting flange may hurt or won’t remove milk efficiently from the breast.
The manufacturer where you buy your pump from should provide you with a guide to what the best fit is for your size.
But as a general rule the flange fits if:
- Your nipple is centred inside the flange and during pumping you can see it moving freely in the tunnel of the flange/pump.
- You are not feeling pain during pumping.
- The pump is removing milk from the entire breast. You can check this by feeling the breast after pumping. If there are some hard lumps anywhere then the pump may not be working efficiently enough to remove your milk.
Decide how much you actually want or even need to express
Think about your purpose for pumping and this will help you come up with a schedule for pumping.
If you just want to be able to offer one bottle a day, or even one bottle occasionally so that you can have a break from feeding, then you won’t need to pump often.
If you want to build up a good stash of milk in your freezer then you need to think about how much exactly you want to pump and how long you have to do it.
There are loads of tips on building up a breast milk freezer stash plus how much you will need to pump to feed your baby per day over on this post.
Keep a record of how much you are able to pump in each session over a few days and this will give you an idea of how often you may need to pump to reach your stash goals.
Pumping at different times of day may yield different results, and we will talk about that more in a bit!
Pump for at least 15 minutes each side
Pumping isn’t something you can do for a couple of minutes and get an entire bottle. Unfortunately you need to give it a little time.
I recommend 15 minutes on each side for each pumping session. Always pump from both sides at each session. Otherwise you risk getting an uneven supply.
How much you actually pump in that time will depend on so many things so it’s impossible to tell.
I generally would pump an entire feed for my baby in this time (around 5oz). However some mothers will pump 2ozs at each session.
However you can just consolidate the milk you pump from different sessions. You could store the milk separately in different breast milk storage bags.
You can add freshly pumped milk to frozen or refrigerated milk. However you should cool the fresh milk first so that it doesn’t cause frozen milk to thaw.
Catch your milk while feeding
When you feed your baby it causes a letdown reaction in both breasts. During this letdown milk is released from both nipples.
To prevent wastage and help you build up your stash quicker, catch the milk from the other breast while feeding.
Even if you only get a few ml when you do this, it can add up over the course of a day.
Hold a picture of your baby
It sounds weird but it seriously works!
Looking at a picture of your baby will help get the letdown response going quicker.
You should also try to relax and clear your mind before pumping, as stress can hamper your supply.
Have a big glass of water to drink too as staying hydrated will be a massive help to your supply.
Try pumping in the early hours or early in the morning
It’s kind of unfair, but your most effective pumping times will be in the middle of the night when your prolactin levels – which help to make more milk – are highest.
So if you have been struggling to pump any milk, I recommend trying to squeeze in a pumping session in the early hours. If your baby is still waking for night feeds, you could try pumping after feeding them.
Alternatively try pumping first thing in the morning after giving your baby their morning feed.
Watch out for oversupply
If you use the pump five times a day for a week then suddenly go back to just breastfeeding your baby, you are very likely to become engorged.
Engorgement hurts and can lead to an infection of the breast called mastitis. There are tons of tips for relieving clogged milk ducts that can result from engorgement over on this post.
To avoid engorgement, try to get into a regular pumping schedule. If you then need to cut back on the number of pumps you are doing, drop them one at a time.
If you’re only pumping once a day and you want to stop, then try dropping it and see how you get on. If you’re in discomfort you could pump to take the edge off the discomfort, or hand express, for a few minutes.
Service your pump
One day I was using my electric breast pump the Medela Swing when I realised I was getting hardly any milk in the bottle.
It was making the same noises as before, but the milk just wasn’t dripping through. Then I tilted the bottle and a ton of milk dropped from the valve (the bit between the flange on my boob and the bottle). The milk should be dripping steady from this bit so I knew there was an issue.
After a quick trip to Google, I realised that I should have paid closer attention to the pump’s instructions!
Turns out the Medela Swing pump needs its valves and membranes replaced roughly every eight weeks.
Another issue that can happen with pumps is the tubing can get water inside it. This causes an issue with suction.
The answer is to rinse out the tubing thoroughly with water and then hang upright so all the liquid can drip out and it dries off properly before you use it again.
What I’m saying is, don’t make my mistake and ignore the instruction manual! Whatever pump you get, have a proper read of all the things it needs to be maintained properly.
Store your milk safely
The great thing about breast milk is that it can be stored safely both in and outside of the fridge for way longer than formula.
If you are storing in the freezer, then get some breast milk storage bags as it’s way more efficient on space.
If you are pumping to offer a single bottle of milk per day or less, then you can just store the milk in your fridge in a bottle.
These are the general guidelines for storing your breast milk in different settings:
- Room temperature. Stays safe for up to six hours. If room is warm it is best to use within four hours.
- Insulated cooler. When you’re on the go and need to take your milk with you in a chilled bag, the milk will keep safely for up to one day.
- Fridge. Store at the back of the fridge for up to five days.
- Deep freezer. Can be stored for up to 12 months.
Take a break if you need it
If the pumping is getting too much for you, then take a break!
The first year of motherhood is something to be enjoyed. So if you’re not on a tough schedule of pumping so you won’t get engorged if you stop, why not skip it for a few days?
Your milk supply will actually do so much better if you are relaxed and happy.
Final thoughts on expressing breast milk tips for breastfeeding mamas
This should give you everything you need to pump milk for your baby!
Remember to label your breast milk if you are trying to build a freezer stash, so that you can use the oldest pack of milk first.
If you are struggling to fit in enough pumping sessions, then have a rethink of when you can do them.
It may not be practical to only pump when your baby is napping, so consider pumping on the floor sat next to your baby while your little one plays on a play mat.
You can play with your baby with one hand, while holding your pump with another.
Sometimes it’s just about getting creative to find the time to get stuff done!
Happy pumping mama.