Pumping your breast milk doesn’t have to be fraught with frustration. Dietician and lactation consultant Carey Haupt shares some tips to make the job easier.
Whether you are expressing milk for a baby in NICU, or at work, or just to quickly go to the shops, no one wants to spend copious amounts of time and effort and only get a few precious drops of breast milk.
So how do you move from getting only a few drops to filling your bottles and baby’s tummy? Here are my top tips.
Get a good quality breast pump
Not all pumps are created equal. If you need to pump with speed and have higher volume outputs, then using a double electric breast pump is key. This way you save time by expressing both breasts at the same time, and have higher milk output than if only expressing one breast at a time.
Make sure when you buy a pump, that it is of good quality and that there are reliable after-sales service channels.
Look for a true closed system pump, as they are more hygienic than open systems. A back-flow protector protects your pump from milk moving back into the tubing and also back into the pump, while a true closed system pump prevents the movement and growth of possible viruses, bacteria or mould in your pump and tubing.
If you need to increase your supply, make sure that you have a pump that stimulates your breasts rather than just collecting breast milk. The stimulation helps to increase the amount of milk produced rather than producing just a passive negative pressure.
Make sure that your pump fits you properly! If the flanges (the cupped part that attaches to your breast) are too small or big, it can have a major effect on the breast pump’s ability to express milk. If too much of your breast is being pulled into the funnel of the flange, then your ducts tend to become squashed closed, making it more difficult for your milk to flow. If your nipple is too big and it rubs against the sides of the funnel, this can cause pain and blisters, which will also affect how well your milk flows. Did you know that there are more than seven different sized flanges available, depending on the pump that you use?
To find the perfect flange size, ensure that the nipple moves easily in and out of the funnel without any redness or pain. If you are unsure, then ask the supplier for measuring guidelines for using their flanges.
Find your sweet spot on your pump’s settings
Not all women are comfortable and respond to the highest setting of the pump. This means that you might express more milk at lower settings. Take your time to find the best setting for you and make sure that you are always comfortable while pumping. This will aid in getting the best results.
After the quality of your breast pump, the number of times you empty your breast is the next most important factor. This means that how often you pump is particularly important.
Breast milk is made by hormones. The higher the level of the hormones (prolactin and oxytocin), the more milk your body is able to make. Regularly stimulating and emptying your breasts results in more milk.
If you are an exclusive pumper, then you need to express as many times a day as a baby would naturally feed. As your baby gets older, the number of times needed to express will decrease. If you are pumping to increase milk supply, you can power pump to imitate cluster feeding and increase your supply, as well as adding an extra pump session between feeds, or pump after a feed, to make sure that the breast has emptied completely.
Use heat and massage
The use of warmth on your breast just before you express helps your body release oxytocin, which is responsible for the milk let-down (starting to flow). The massage helps to “wake up“ your breasts and get the milk flowing.
If you are expressing and your milk has slowed, you can use warmth and massage during a pump session. Ways that you can use warmth is a warm bean bag, baby bottle with hot water inside, warm wet cloth or a small hot water bottle. When you massage, start at your chest and move toward your nipple. You can use circular motions, long sweeping motions, or gentle tapping with your fingers.
Volume over 24 hours is more important than volume per pump session. Mothers tend to get more milk in the morning or after a good sleep. Expect to pump less in the late afternoons or after a direct breast feed. Rather look at how much milk you have pumped over a 24-hour period and how many times you pump in that period.
Breastpumps can be a great tool in managing your milk supply when used correctly. If you are not getting the results that you need, rethink how you are using your pump. Make sure there are no air leaks (sound of air escaping as this may be a valve issue), that your pump fits you correctly, that you are expressing or emptying your breasts often, and that your pump’s motor is working correctly.