Pumping tips for breastfeeding mums

Jessica Bosco
Jessica Bosco
Jessica is a writer, editor and professional wrangler of two boys. Working in women's lifestyle publishing for over 15 years she has written about everything from fashion and beauty to royal weddings and true crime. These days she loves helping parents navigate pregnancy and the early years of raising little ones...
Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 8 mins read

There are many reasons breastfeeding mothers will choose or need to pump milk for their baby. The most common reasons include establishing milk supply, storing milk for when you can’t be with your baby, easing pain from engorgement, or if your baby is having trouble feeding at your breast.

Some mums may have to pump exclusively as their baby can’t breastfeed due to sickness or a health condition, or because they are separated. Or perhaps you’re heading back to work and are looking for tips on how to pump at work.

Whatever the reason may be, using a breast pump and learning to express milk can be tricky business. So here are some helpful pumping tips to help you get that milk flowing, mama.

When to start pumping?

Depending on your personal situation, if you don’t have a reason to need to pump earlier (e.g. boating supply or you are separated from your baby and cannot feed them at the breast), then it is typically recommended to start pumping at around 4–6 weeks.

Choosing the right pump

Once you’ve decided you are going to pump, you need to choose the right breast pump. The three main types are:

  • Manual
  • Elective (single or double)
  • Hospital-grade

Manual pumps are cheaper than electric models and quieter, so they can be used anywhere (and discreetly) on the go. They can be helpful to take with you to ease engorgement or to use occasionally, but are not typically recommended if you plan to be pumping a lot of milk.

Manual pumps can also be helpful to capture the letdown during breastfeeding that often goes unused.

Electric breast pumps are great if you plan to pump milk often and can be helpful in increasing and maintaining your breast milk supply. A double pump is the most efficient option as it draws from both breasts at the same time.  On average, a double breast pump delivers 18% more milk in less time  than pumping from each breast in turn, which is what you want if you are an exclusive pumper or are returning to work.

Hospital-grade breast pumps are primarily used, as the name suggests, in a hospital setting, often for mums with premature babies or babies who are in special care or who cannot breastfeed but want to establish or maintain their supply.

Make sure you get the right size nipple shield

You want to make sure that you select the right size attachments for your breasts for optimal milk flow and to ensure no pain or discomfort.

Tip: If you plan to be pumping a lot, invest in a hands-free pumping bra so that you have a little more freedom while your breasts are pumping the good stuff.

Is it OK to pump while breastfeeding?

Breast milk works off a supply and demand process, so the more you tell your boobs you need it, the more they’ll make. So don’t worry about pumping and not leaving enough for your little one at mealtimes. Once you start the process of pumping, your breasts will adjust accordingly. Pretty amazing!

How many times a day should I pump while breastfeeding?

You might be wondering, how often should I pump to increase my milk supply? This will really depend on you and your baby’s schedule, needs, and their age. If your baby only feeds off one breast per feed, then you can pump the other boob while they do. Otherwise, you may choose to pump after they have finished with both boobs.

If you are really looking to build your supply up, then you may choose to pump between feeds. For example, if your baby feeds every 4 hours, then you may want to pump at 2 hours. Find a routine that works for you and your baby.

How long should I pump for?

This will again depend on your personal needs as well as your supply. If you have a lower supply, you might need to pump longer to achieve the same results as someone who is producing lots of milk.

Generally, it is recommended that you should pump for around 15–20 minutes per breast. Some women may need to pump for 30 mins, and some will be done after 10. How much you get per feed will be different for everyone.

To work out how much breastmilk a baby should take at a feed, the Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends that breastfed babies between 1–6 months take an average of 750–800mL/day. So, to work out how much you would need to pump, use this amount and divide by the number of feeds your baby commonly has in 24 hours — generally between 8–12.

Take care of your boobs

Your breasts are working double time — literally! So they need lots of TLC right now — nipple cream between feeds, a warm compress before feeds, and a cool compress after feeds can help care for them.

Massage can also be very helpful for painful breasts but can also help stimulate your flow, so try massaging them while you are pumping.

Set up an expressing station

Have a pump zone set up and ready to go with everything you need within arm’s reach. Have water, snacks, TV remote, phone + charger, and anything else you might need so you don’t have to stop and start.

Drink LOTS of water

Breastfeeding is thirsty work — but when you add pumping into the mix, it’s vital that you’re drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and help give your body what it needs to keep making that precious milk.

Start slow

Don’t go for full suction right off the bat. Let your boobs ease into and get used to it (it’s quite the odd sensation!) and then build up to the higher settings when you’re ready.

Leaking boobs

You’re probably used to the leaking boobs by now if you’ve been breastfeeding, but pumping can bring on a whole new level of leakage and mess. So don’t forget to keep wearing those breast pads and keep towels handy for spills or mess when you’re pumping.

Tip: Milk collection shells are great to have on hand for collecting excess milk during or between feeds.

Storing breast milk

You will have to figure out what kind of storage system you prefer for your breastmilk. You can either use breastmilk storage bags or containers.

But either way, once you’re building up that supply and starting to freeze some milk, make sure you only freeze them in the amount your baby can drink to avoid wastage.

Breast milk can last:

  • 6–8 hours at room temperature
  • 72 hours in the refrigerator
  • 3 months in the freezer

Cleaning your breast pump

Your pump does not need to be sterilised between feeds (for a healthy, full-term baby), however, it should be properly cleaned once every 24 hours. In between feeds, you can simply store the parts in the fridge, in a clean container or plastic bag.

Tips for pumping at work

Once you return to work, you might decide to continue breastfeeding your baby and may want to express milk to keep the supply up — and so that your baby has breast milk when you are not with them.

Depending on what stage of your breastfeeding journey you are at and how often you are pumping, it can be a good idea to speak with your employer before you return to ensure you have the flexibility to pump when you need to as well as ensuring you have a quiet place to pump in private — and someone to store your milk if needed.

How can I pump breast milk more effectively?

Once you’re all set up with everything you need, it can be as simple as sitting down and trying to relax (not easy as a new mama, we know!) but here are a few final tips:

  • Try to relax — drink a warm cup of tea, look at photos of your baby, or put on your favourite TV show. Take some deep breaths or listen to a meditation.
  • Warmth is good for milk flow, so take a warm shower beforehand or place a warm compress on your breasts for a few moments before starting.
  • Gentle massage can help get that milk moving freely through the milk ducts and flowing. Gently stroke in a downward motion towards the nipple and gently roll the nipple between your fingers.
  • Get support — whether it’s someone to watch the baby while you focus on pumping or a lactation consultant, a midwife, or your local childhood health nurse — they’re all there to help.

Pumping can seem like quite the tedious task, but it can actually be a great way to give you options as a breastfeeding mama. It allows you to still feed your baby breast milk and provide them with that wonderful nourishment, while also giving you some freedom to be separated from your baby when you need to be. Go easy on yourself while you figure it out. It’s another new skill you’re taking on and in time, it will become second nature.

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Care for mama: how to make expressing work for you!

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