For most mothers, the easiest way to feed your baby is breastfeeding on the breast, however it isn’t always possible for all sorts of reasons.You may need to or choose to express breastmilk rather than turning to formula alternatives. For many mothers who have premature babies or babies in special care, pumping may be the best option for making sure their baby is fed while keeping their supply going so they can breastfeed at a later stage. Other mothers might need to return to work and want to continue providing their baby with breastmilk. Still others may wish to share the feeding experience with their partners.
Expressing your breastmilk can also have some positive affects for breastfeeding such as resting cracked or sore nipples from a poor latching baby, helping to increase supply by stimulating milk production, and relieving over-full or improperly draining breasts to help blocked ducts or prevent mastitis.
On the downside, pumping can feel draining and lacks that lovely connection you get from breastfeeding your baby. Whatever the reason you might choose to pump, here are some tips to make it a more comfortable and easy process.
Tools of the trade
Get yourself a good pump. If you are planning to pump exclusively or frequently, a great pump can make a huge difference. A manual pump can be difficult, time consuming and tiring. A double electric pump, that is an electric pump that attaches to both breasts at the same time, can really speed up the process. Personally we love the Spectra breast pump and found it was one of the fastest and most efficient.
You may also need to try a variety of bottles to find one that works for your baby. Bottles come in a range of sizes, shapes and flow levels (how much milk comes out of the bottle at a time). Do some research on the right level of flow for your baby’s age and try a few different teats to testing out what works for your bub.
Make sure to clean and sterilise your bottles and pump after every use to minimise the chance of your baby feeding on anything nasty. Check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association advice on the proper methods of sterilising equipment and storing your milk.
Get hands on
While an electric breast pump is designed to mimic the sucking action of your baby to stimulate the ‘let-down’ reflex which releases your breast milk, a pump lacks that connection with baby and often a pump alone may not be as effective as using the following tips:
- Massaging your breast by stroking down towards your nipples can help stimulate let-down.
- For those of you who have breastfed before or you may even have noticed during your pregnancy, just thinking about your baby can actually trigger your milk to let-down. Try looking at some photos of your baby or thinking about them as you pump.
- Get comfortable. If you normally or previously breastfed, try to mimic the environment your usually feed your baby in, if you haven’t breastfed before and need to express for the first time, make sure you create an environment that is quiet, comfortable and free from distractions.
- Experiment with time. You might find it easier to pump a whole bottle of milk in one sitting on a regular schedule, however a lot of mums find they just can’t pump a lot of milk at a time. Try pumping for shorter sessions more frequently to see if it works better for you.
- Boosting your supply. Just as with feeding directly from the breast, sometimes your supply needs a little boost. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and try some milk-boosting products such as our yummy breastfeeding cookies.
The idea behind power pumping is to trick your body into producing more milk by emptying the breasts as fast as possible. It mimics what babies do when they are “cluster feeding” which is when baby is on and off the breast (I always experienced my babies doing this about 4.30-6pm every night) so as to signal to your body to increase supply. It’s not meant to replace your normal pumping routine but it’s designed to increase your milk supply within an established routine.
To power pump, find an hour in the day that you can pump uninterrupted. (Do your best to find time in the morning because that’s when many women’s milk supplies are at their highest.)
Within that hour, use this pumping pattern:
Pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes.
Throughout the rest of the day, pump the normal length of time when you would typically pump, ideally replicating baby’s feeding schedule if you are apart or the usual times that you would be pumping (for example, pump for 15 minutes every 3 hours).
Don’t let it get you down
Don’t lose self confidence in your ability to breastfeed. Pumping isn’t easy and some mothers with large milk supplies who breastfeed may well struggle to get enough milk to fill a bottle when pumping. Practice and trying some of these techniques can help.
If you are struggling with expressing or just need some support, talk to a lactation consultant or midwife or call a breastfeeding special support group such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association helplines for advice and support.