Human breastmilk is the biologically normal food for human infants. The modern woman, however, may have need of pumping her milk and feeding her baby from a bottle for a variety of reasons.
Pumping, though sometimes necessary, may not always come naturally or easily. Simply grabbing the first pump you find and hooking up does not always yield the results you need! Thousands of women have spent countless hours and learned much about effective pumping. Learning from them can help you on your pumping journey.
We asked our instructors and doulas for their favorite tips for successfully pumping their breastmilk so that they can continue giving their baby needed food even if work or other health issues make nursing at the breast impossible all the time.
Here are our favorite tips for pumping your breastmilk.
Get the right accessories
“I struggled a lot with responding to the pump. Pumpin pal flanges were a game changer for me. I got more milk and they were more comfortable.”
Brooke Harralson, doula in Keller, TX
Make sure you are comfortable with the flanges you are using. I loved Pumping Pals flanges as well. Don’t be surprised if you need different sizes at different times during your breastfeeding/pumping journey. Cutting some holes in a sports bra to make pumping hands free so you can do other things while pumping is helpful too.
Heather Whitcomb, doula in Ashland, PA
“Hands down my biggest tip is to buy the milk collection cups. They work with most pumps and are awesome. They go inside your bra so you are totally hands-freee.
Also, pump in the mornings so you get the best volume and always drink a glass of water while you pump.”
Andrea Felton Brannock, doula and childbirth educator in Keller, TX
“I was able to pump so much more milk with a manual pump! It isn’t nearly as much of a pain as it sounds! With my second baby, I skipped the electric pump and went with the manual from the start.
Pump a minute or so after the milk stops flowing as you massage your breasts to make sure you’re not leaving clogged ducts & it will help stimulate additional production.
Putting your pump parts in the refrigerator between pump sessions was a game changer for my sanity when I was working! Washing everything after each session was such a time suck but a gallon ziplock bag became my best friend!”
Rebekah Lewis, doula in Denton, TX
“Buy a Milk Saver. I wore one while my son nursed the other side and filled my freezer. I often got three or four ounces at a time. Overactive letdown for the win!
Also, don’t underestimate hand expressing. I remember hand expressing 24 ounces in 24hours the first time I left my son for a weekend. He was eighteen months old, but apparently still nursing quite a bit.”
Jillian Hilton Blakeman, childbirth educator, Keller, TX
“Definitely go for a double pump if possible to save time and make sure to get the right size flanges. I did use a single electric pump when traveling (it’s smaller) and just popped the milk in a cooler until we got back. Heat helps too so I’d get a rice pack if i was too full. Hand express before pumping if you are engorged.”
Rachael Bradley, doula and childbirth educator in Sugarland, TX
Take emotions into account
“I would get the most volume in the morning so I focused on the good production then and stopped fretting about late day pumps.”
Melissa McCauley, childbirth educator in Lubbock, TX
“Anything that has oxytocin as part of its hormonal cocktail-Sex, labor, birth, breastfeeding – has an emotional and mental component to it. Because of this element, your milk letdown reflex requires you being comfortable, non-stressed, and connected to your baby. You can be more effective in pumping your breasts if you first have a private & comfortable place to do it. Thus the challenge with pumping as opposed to breastfeeding your baby. Your baby causes several let downs during your breastfeeding sessions with her.
Then record your baby doing cute things and making her cute sounds. Have a blanket or clothes that have her smell on them. Start pumping with hand messaging and continue this throughout the pumping. (This is more easily done if you have the double pump bra on so your hands are free to massage your breasts) while watching your baby recording and smelling her blanket or clothes.
Make sure the flange fits well – I.e., your nipple doesn’t rub when being pulled into it. This can cause pain and irritation. Morning pumps will usually yield more milk than other times of the day. Always remember to chill all milk to same temperature before adding them together for the same day. Relax and pump on!”
Debbe Cannone, childbirth educator and doula in San Diego, CA
“I have to be really distracted (my phone, a book) or I need to have my eyes closed and actively visualize my baby eating. I can’t pump a drop of I’m upset, stressed, my kids are running around being loud, or I’m in a hurry.”
Bekah Danielle Smith, childbirth educator in Fishers, Indiana
“I always pumped more milk if I did so while watching my son’s birth video or looking at images of him nursing.”
Hailie Sue Wolfe, childbirth educator and doula in Abilene, TX
“When pumping for going back to work: I always took the pajamas my son slept in the night before with me. I would smell his pjs each time while pumping to help with let down. I also would try not to watch the drops in the beginning because I always pumped less the more I tried to watch and worry about it!
When pumping to increase milk supply: If you are trying to build a stash for when you go back to work, even pumping 1-2 oz per day will be helpful. If you pump too much extra each day, you can create oversupply issues. Experimenting with times of day will help you find what works best for you. Some women may have more milk in the morning, but others find they have extra at night! And for both: pumping shouldn’t ever hurt! You may need to try a different size flange or turn down the suction!”
Shazia Lackey, childbirth educator, Arlington Texas
Pumping isn’t a must for every mom
“Don’t feel like you need to pump if you don’t have to! I stay home, so trying to pump one bottle for my kids to take to the church nursery was so much more of a hassle than me walking to the back and feeding them. At 7 months, I transitioned them to a sippy cup with water or coconut milk as they added in solids, but pumping a bottle for someone else to feed was not necessary for me. It’s ok to to exclusively breastfeed.”
Michelle Davidson, childbirth educator in Buda, TX
(While not specifically pumping advice, we included this quote because sometimes women feel lots of pressure to pump and bottle feed their babies in public. Breastpumps are included as free products from some organizations and are listed on most registries. Pumping is a fabulous too, but if it isn’t needed for you, don’t feel pressure to do it.)
Find the timing that works for you
“I worked 12 hour shifts in an ER, which could have easily de-railed my awesome milk supply. But I made it a point to go pump, even if it was for just 5-10 minutes, every 4 hours. My job can be pretty stressful (and stress can hinder letdown), so I kept a magazine or book in my bag to relax. I also had a cooler for my milk, so coworkers wouldn’t accidentally throw it out. A couple other things I kept in my bag: my phone (for easy-access to baby pictures, which helped my letdown); mother’s milk tea; oatmeal; chapstick; a filled water bottle; and my hands-free pumping hair ties.”
Laura Simpson, childbirth instructor in Cheyenne. WY
(Here is the hands-free pumping hair ties instructions)
It can be hard to find good information about pumping breastmilk- but good information can make it so much easier. Truly, knowledge and the right support can make pumping that much more successful.
Happy pumping! May the letdown be with you
I breastfed my first baby and I want to do the same when we have another but i didn’t have a good support party. I want to eat the right stuff drink more water but I’m sure there is more i should be doing. I already have a breast pump and I know how to use it. Sadly I was only able to breast feed for 4 months due to poor knowledge of what to do and not to do.